The all-year round Venice Carnival experience, complete with £5k costumes
The Venice carnival is a spectacle that more than three million visitors to the ancient city every year.
In 2023, the event will take place February 11 to February 21 and already hotels have been booked out.
For those who can’t make the multi-day party, Metro.co.uk tested a new year-round carnival experience, that offers a taste of what the extravaganza is like….
‘These costumes can cost up to £5,000 to make,’ dressmaker Arnisa tells me as she fits me into an elaborate dress fit for a queen.
I’m in an atelier in Venice (Atelier La Bauta), which is somewhat of an Aladdin’s cave, decked out with carnival masks, opulent outfits and accessories harking back to Casanova’s era.
Having never been to the famed carnival in Venice, I wanted to get a taste of what the celebrations would be like, so I signed up for a carnival experience with the hotel I was staying at, the Baglioni Hotel Luna.
This historic residence, which sits on the Grand Canal, makes for a luxurious base to explore all Venice has to offer, with St Mark’s Square, luxury shops and more on the doorstep.
Believed to be the city’s oldest hotel, the palazzo dates back to 1118 and once sheltered the Knights Templar.
Thanks to a multi-million-pound makeover, this venue is as beautiful as ever, with 104 rooms and suites decked out with sumptuous damask wallpaper, Murano glass chandeliers, brocade fabrics and modern amenities, from bendable reading lights by the bed to flatscreen TVs.
Many of the rooms have unrivalled views of Piazza San Marco, the lagoon, and Venice’s outer islands.
I checked into the residence for a two-night break in Venice with my partner, and it did not disappoint, with friendly service, plush interiors, an insanely-decadent breakfast room complete with a museum-worthy ceiling fresco and a restaurant serving up fine dining cuisine.
Our room was a king room with a balcony offering top views of the neighbouring garden, the canal below and the Grand Canal beyond.
The concierge arranged our Carnival Experience for the second day of our stay, and we were instructed to meet a private water taxi at the front of the hotel for 8am.
From there, the boat driver took us up the Grand Canal to a stop close to the dress maker. Armed with a map, we found the small store.
The husband-and-wife team, Armando and Arnisa, told us how they had met at university and turned their love of historical clothing into a business which they have been running for more than 20 years.
Now they are one of Venice’s most popular costume stores, renting out accessories for the Venice carnival, movies and more.
Arnisa told me that clients reserve outfits up to a year in advance of the carnival, with enquiries flooding in from all over the world, from Australia to Wales.
While I was fitted into a dress, shoes and wig, my partner was decked out in equally fine attire in the other room.
My outfit consisted of an underdress, topped with a corseted dress, heeled shoes and a towering Marie Antoinette-style wig. A velvet choker and small bag topped off the ensemble.
Meanwhile, my partner’s get up included a wig, stockings, knee-length trousers, heeled shoes and an embroidered jacket.
One we were suited and booted, a photographer arrived for our photoshoot.
Galivanting through the streets of Venice dressed in 17th-century clothing certainly made for a surreal experience and tourists asked to snap photos of us as we went.
The photographer was highly professional and took us to a spread of beautiful tucked-away locations to get some unique shots.
While we felt slightly ridiculous dressed in period costume, the photographer put us at ease, and gave us precise instructions as to how we should pose.
Admittedly, being mid-August, the velvet outfits did prove a little hot in the baking sun but the photographer tried his best to lead us to shadier spots, under archways and little passageways close to the canals.
After about an hour or so, we returned to the atelier to undress and return to the realms of the 21st century.
Although we were apprehensive about what the whole thing would be like, we agreed it had made for a highly memorable experience with up to 100 photos serving as a unique souvenir.
Another feature of our Venice trip that stood out was a meal at the Baglioni’s Canova Restaurant by Sadler.
This ground floor restaurant makes for a sublime spot, and in warm weather be sure to reserve a spot outside the front of the hotel.
The menu changes regularly, but offering an idea of what you can expect, our meal consisted of a medley of row fish, roasted squid, pasta sheets with fermented sage and butter, pan fried crustaceans, an artfully-presented lamb chop fillet, a wodge of cheesecake and a twist on a tiramisu with hot chocolate sauce.
Each course was accompanied by a perfectly paired glass of wine, thanks to our very jovial waitress. We were certainly ready to roll to bed after the multi-course feast was mopped up.
Before checking out of our palatial residence, I also dipped into the hotel’s spa on the second floor.
If you’re looking for a spot of pampering during your Venice sojourn, this facility is well worth checking out with a number of rejuvenating treatments on the menu.
After working up an impressive step count in the car-free city, I plumped for the Awakening in Venice treatment, which included an energizing leg and foot massage with aromatic plant oils and a facial treatment.
The massage was indeed one of the best I’d had in a long while, and the firm pressure prevented me from taking a snooze.
Two nights down, my partner and I ventured to another part of Venice and bid our luxurious lair a fond farewell.
I’ve been to Venice many times (in fact, my middle name is Venetia such was my parents’ love for the city!) but I certainly discovered a new side to the city – wigs and all – thanks to a stay at the Baglioni Hotel Luna.
How to plan your own Venice adventure
British Airways and Ryanair run regular flights to Venice from various airports in the UK. Priority Pass enables you to gain lounge access for a premium airport experience.
If travelling from Stansted, the Stansted Express enables you to travel from London to the airport in just 50 minutes. Uber is another option when it comes to convenient airport transfers. If travelling on an early morning flight, check into the Radisson Blu at Stansted, with premium rooms, a wine bar, two restaurants and a fitness club on offer.
Once landed into Venice, there is the option of taking the Water Bus Alilaguna into the city or for a memorable experience, opt for a private water taxi with rates currently around €120 for a one-way journey.
To book a stay at the Baglioni Hotel Luna visit www.baglionihotels.com. For more details around the Carnival Experience visit www.baglionihotels.com/experiences
Other luxurious and unique places to visit in Venice
For a grand occasion visit the highly discreet seven-star Grand Canal Aman Venice, where George Clooney tied the knot.
This ultra-luxe hotel is housed within the Palazzo Papadopoli, which oozes grandeur. The palace is still privately owned and the owners, Count Gilberto and Countess Bianca Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga, reside in private apartments on the top floor.
If you don’t make this spot your base, make sure you dip in to sample the artfully presented cuisine and the expertly made cocktails while gawping at the interiors.
The hotel’s first-floor dining room is adorned with twinkling chandeliers, lappings of gold leaf and stunning frescoes, transforming you back to a time of opulent romance.
Book a table inside and feast your eyes on the interiors along with a symphony of artfully presented dishes. An example of dishes includes red prawn carpaccio, burrata cheese, spider crab ravioli and lobster summer salad.
Post dinner, make your way to the bar area, where expert mixologists will rustle up a drink to suit your tastes. The Count’s Martini – which he enjoys as a tipple before bed – is a must-try for martini-lovers!
If you’re a fan of wine, sail over to Venissa, which serves as one of the few vineyards on Venice and keeper of the rare Dorona grape.
The picture-perfect complex, which is located a short walk from the colourful island of Burano, boasts two beautiful restaurants (one Michelin-starred) with home-grown ingredients plucked from the gardens and views over the vineyard.
The homemade focaccia bread is the perfect thing to nibble on while indulging in a glass of Venissa’s buttery, saline-rich wines or a pour of light Bisol prosecco.
If you can’t snag a seat in the Michelin-starred eatery, the Osteria Contemporanea is well worth dipping into.
The menu features a concise mix of Venetian-inspired treats, from creamed cod to a cicchetti selection.
Food tasting menus are also available, paired with an interesting selection of wines.
Dining aside, wine tastings make for a delightful afternoon, accompanied by a comprehensive tour by one of the knowledgable staff members.
And, if all of the wine leaves you feeling a little woozy, there are boutique hotel rooms on the site and scattered around Burano in the form of self-catering apartments.
Don’t leave without taking home one of Venissa’s limited-edition bottles, which come decorated with shimmering squares of gold leaf.
They don’t come in cheap as the vineyard only produces some 4,000 bottles a year, but make for a lasting souvenir repurposed as candle holders.
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