The walled town of Foiano della Chiana in eastern Tuscany claims to hold the oldest carnival in Italy. It dates back to 1539. As is often the case, this Carnevale requires almost a year to prepare. In the old days participants threw chestnuts and salt cod to the eager spectators who lined the parade route. History does not record when this largess ceased.
You may be surprised that the Florence Carnevale is by no means the most important one in Tuscany. But it is a really good place to start. Sunday is really the best day to enjoy the activities. You'll find floats departing from Piazza Dante and multigenerational parades in the major squares and along the Lungarno Vespucci. One of the biggest events is the "Florence Carnival in the world" parade from Piazza Ognissanti to Piazza della Signoria that features floats coming from three dozen countries in five continents.
The town's four districts compete for the best float, many of which feature (or should we say mock out?) well-known personalities. The main square hosts a public reading of the previous year's major events. Then an effigy of Giocondo, King of the Carnival, is burned in the guise of purifying the local population. In contrast the city of Lucca near the Tuscan Riviera is a recent entry in the Carnevale business. Their event includes shows, concerts, and parties in beautiful palaces and villas. Lucca is also home to Italy's largest festival devoted to comic books but that's in November.
Arezzo, a largely medieval hilltop city of about one hundred thousand in eastern Tuscany hosts the "Carnevale dell'Orciolaia," whose centerpiece is a parade with floats through this lovely city. You need not be Italian to recognize some of the most popular floats.
Tuscany's most famous and unusual carnival is held in Viareggio, an elegant Riviera resort about 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Florence. This Carnevale is considered to be among Italy's very best. It first started in 1873 and the locals have never missed a celebration except during the two World Wars. Blacksmiths and carpenters employed by the local shipyards proudly create memorable floats. Some of these take months and months to build and can house an unbelievable 200 people. These floats are often satirical and treat a wide range of Italian and international and celebrities. Given the time and effort involved in creating these world-class floats, don't be surprised that you will pay an admission fee.
Levi Reiss has co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet but he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches various computer classes in an Ontario French-language community college. Check out his wine website http://www.theworldwidewine.com with a weekly column reviewing $10 wines and new sections writing about (theory) and tasting (practice) organic and kosher wines.