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The 2011 Venice 'Carnevale'.

Southern hemisphere Rio is famous for its sun, samba and colourful carnival, but closer to home, cold climate Venice's 'Carnevale' has much to offer too. Venice had a truly glorious Renaissance golden age and in architecture, monuments and unique atmosphere at least, never lost its bling. And neither has its Carnevale, which is arguably the world’s most stylish, with locals taking great pride in their elegant commedia dell'arte costumes and intricate masks.

This year the partying started early, kicking off yesterday with a ‘Grand Toast’ in the Piazzetta San Marco, a city-sponsored event involving a wine fountain along Venice's Grand Canal with free-flowing drinks from 7 to 8 pm, reports BBC Travel . But the lavish parades and masquerade balls start next weekend and continue until the 8th of March. You don’t have to pay for an expensive ticket to a gala ball (entry can cost between 200 and 450 euros). There are plenty of events which are free and many for under 50 euros.

Try a Secrets of Venice tour of the town's narrow streets with roving Venetian actors recounting the city's most fascinating local legends in English, Italian or French, proving that being ‘led around the houses’ can be fun, especially if led by masked storytellers. Chocoholics may prefer the calorific 'Chocolate in Costume' event on the 1st of March. Thick hot chocolate starts flowing at 4 p.m. at the Caffé Lavena in St Mark's Square, accompanied by delicious cakes. Wearing a costume is de rigueur and part of the fun.

And don’t miss the grand finale at midnight on the 8th of March, bringing these pre-lent celebrations to an end. The ‘Silent Regatta’ is a parade of gondolas down the candle-lit Grand Canal to the music of a lone trumpeter. Balloons are then released in St Mark's Square signaling the end of Shrove Tuesday.

Easy Jet flies to Venice Marco Polo airport and Ryanair to Venice Treviso so book a flight and 'Cin-cin' (Cheers!)

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