Heads up: some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you click and make a booking or purchase, I’ll make a commission (at no extra cost to you). I partner with companies I personally use and the $$ goes towards creating more awesome, free travel content.
Along with a number of other bloggers, I was invited to Puglia for the 61st annual Carnevale di Manfredonia, for a weekend of celebrations, Italian food, elaborate costumes and colourful characters. It was my first ever Carnival and now I know why so many people look forward to it! I may not have made it to the one in Rio yet but this was certainly a good first experience.
As I chatted with the other bloggers on the Manfredonia trip (who were Italian and Dutch) on the bus ride from Bari airport, I excitedly declared it was my first ever Carnival.
“This is your first ever Carnival? You mean in Italy right?”
“No…this is my first Carnival anywhere in the world.”
‘You don’t have Carnival in the UK?”
“Well no, besides Notting Hill Carnival- which is in August- I can’t really think of one.”
“Why don’t you have Carnival?”
I paused…trying to think.
Another blogger finally helped me out…”Because the UK isn’t a Catholic country”.
Carnival is essentially a festive season that occurs just before Lent, typically involving public celebrations, parades, costumes, masks and elements of the circus. It’s usually held in areas with a a large Catholic population, so Protestant areas don’t tend to have such a thing as Carnival.
About Manfredonia Carnival
Each year people flock to the famous Manfredonia Carnival, an annual celebration that began here in 1952. Manfredonia is a coastal town located in the Puglia region of Italy, on the south of the Gargano Peninsula. I was invited on a 3-day trip to experience this festival and everything the region has to offer.
Farrata & Festival Snacks
In the days leading up to the festivities we tasted various foods only eaten at this time of year, including home made “Farrata” which are savoury pies filled with ricotta and spelt (spelt is farro in Italian, hence the name “Farrata”). We visited a popular little shop in the town called Casa della Farrata, where we watched a demonstration of how they are made.
The lady worked the pastry several times through a little pastry roller, so that it can be stretched out thinner and thinner every time. She then placed a scoop of the ricotta and spelt mixture onto the pastry, wrapped it up like a little parcel, and then painted some egg on top with a pastry brush to glaze the surface.
Even though we were due to eat dinner, in Italy I just can’t refuse food because it tastes far too good! So I helped myself to a fresh Farrata as well as some other little festival treats, such as fried polenta and fried custard cubes. Naturally, this was all washed down with a good glass of wine from the region.
Costumes, Floats & Festivities
All the children from the nearby schools spend weeks, if not months, making their elaborate costumes for the annual Carnival parade. If you visited a haberdashery around Easter time, you’d be hard pressed to find one that wasn’t extremely busy making all the costumes for the event. On our first night in Manfredonia we saw lots of kids wearing their costumes around the town, having just come from a rehearsal at the football ground. They seemed so excited about the upcoming parade, which is clearly a highlight of the year.
We also saw the giant paper mache floats, which form part of the parade. It takes around 1 month of working day and night to make these floats, mainly with the help of volunteers. The main fictional character of the Carnival is ‘Ze Peppe’, a cheerful man who comes to Manfredonia to have fun with the people. He drinks and eats too much, and eventually dies of pneumonia and is cremated during the celebrations.
There are different floats each year and the theme for the 61st Carnival was ‘tourism’, so the other three characters were; a chef making spaghetti and seafood dishes for the tourists; a farmer whose tractor has broken so he is using horses; and a tourist riding a giant fish with a fisherman and a surfer riding alongside him. I love the way the tourist is depicted as the typical stereotype- a sunburned ginger with a Hawaiian shirt and a camera round his neck!
Saturday Night Party
The Saturday night of the Carnival was a huge party and bigger than anything I ever imagined. The streets were filled with people who had turned out to watch the extravagant parade. We sat at the end of the parade route, where two local television presenters warmed up the crowd and introduced various music acts. Children dressed in costume ran around picking up confetti and throwing it in the air, clearly excited to be up past bedtime.
When the parade finally arrived, the presenters introduced each school or community group individually, and when the lights went down they performed their carefully rehearsed dance routines in costumes lit with fairy lights. The first school had an ‘ocean’ theme, so the kids were dressed as fishing boats, lighthouses and sea creatures.
Next there appeared to be a ‘land’ theme, with scarecrows, poppies, fire and plants from the region. And so the themes went on…there was a fairground theme and even a ‘Despicable Me’ theme.
After the excitement of the parade we ventured back into town to enjoy some aperitivo and watch the celebrations unfold. Everywhere we looked there were adults and children wearing elaborate fancy dress outfits and dancing in the streets. Lots of the bars had live music outside and I even saw a pop-up bar in the street. The partying during Carnival is all in good spirit and there’s such an electric atmosphere.
Carnival was quite the experience and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was so nice to see people of all ages just letting go and having a really good time. Unfortunately I had an early flight in the morning, but I would have loved to continue the party into the early hours. Next time I’ll bring a costume!