The old town of Annecy is lined with canals and arched with stone bridges, it is befitting the title of the Venice of France – and once a year in February (occasionally March), just a short time after Venice’s annual carnival, Annecy hosts its very own Venetian Carnival, a time when folk descend from the mountains and cross the borders of Switzerland and Italy – some dressed in traditional masquerade attire and others beguiled by novel costumes – backdropped by mountains, canals, a lake and an 800 year old prison.
The origins of the Venetian carnival in Annecy can be traced back some 20 years to 1995, when the city paired with Vicenza in Italy and set up an organisation (Aria) to manage relations, and all Annecy/ Italy events – including the carnival, public events, an Italian film festival and more. Since its humble beginnings with just 30 masked revellers, all from Annecy, traipsing through the town, the Venetian Carnival in Annecy has risen to some 400 participants – as witnessed this past weekend. Many of these come from all over France (we met a couple of unofficial masqueraders from Switzerland in a restaurant – see pic below) – including several from Remiremont which was the first French city to host a Venetian style carnival. The carnival runs for an entire weekend, with a sneak preview on the Friday evening before the main event begins on Saturday – this year held on a small road in the borough of Novel in north Annecy. The main event however takes place throughout the old town and the rest of central Annecy.
We took a leisurely stroll through the town at a little after 11am on the Saturday and the streets were already full of silks and chiffons, as well as theatrical masks hiding behind trees and moving as a promenade through the cobbled streets of the old town. Around the edges of the lake on the Pont des Amours, tourists and photographers had already gathered in their tens to catch their first glimpses of the Venetian Carnival in Annecy…. and the crowds only continued to grow.
As the day progresses, the masqueraders make their way through the town and through the gardens by the lake, over the various bridges of the old town and pose by the churches and monuments of the town. By the mid afternoon of the Saturday – the town was incredibly full of not just tourists and masqueraders, but of what seems like hundreds of photographers – many of which are assigned to accompany the the various men and ladies as they make their way through town – many shouting commands and requesting poses of all types. I won’t lie – it can get a little tiresome… but it’s the price we pay…
We spent the better part of the afternoon and evening drinking wine and indulging in the odd cocktail or two around town – so we woke slightly later than planned for Sunday’s festivities, though when we did – the sky was grey and the rain was pouring hard and heavy and the town looked almost empty in comparison to the Saturday (despite the weekly Sunday food market). We decided to take a walk regardless and found that the old town was completely devoid of the costumed masses from the day before…. A little later on we found out that, when it rains, the crowds are steered towards the dry sanctuary of Bonlieu just a short stroll out of the old town.. and so we went in search.
The Sunday, truth be told was a little more like an out of control circus than a carnival. The masqueraders all followed a short route from the town to Bonlieu, stopping briefly for photos whilst quite literally hundreds of photographers ran around in circles trying to get photos. Outside of the Bonlieu was a literal mass of hundreds upon hundreds of people – and many hundreds more stuffed inside Bonlieu to watch the catwalk of costumes as they took to the stage to have their participation and a description of their costumes announced over the P.A. I assume that this only happens when it rains and the costumes are usually announced in a more accommodating outdoor venue by the lake – but regardless it was still quite eye-opening – watching desperate photographers attempting to stop for photos in the middle of the road, pushing through crowds and chasing plague doctors through the streets….
The last day, possibly due to the weather, possibly because of shoddy organisation, was a bit of a let down – but then I really don’t like tightly condensed crowds…. wet crowds at that. Though it’s still a fascinating event – and for fans of the original carnival – it’s an intriguing diversion – a slightly smaller Venetian Carnival taken out of the corroding backstreets of Venice and placed amongst the mountains of the Haute-Savoie.