VENICE (Reuters) - Nestled on a gentle lagoon, Venice is a world treasure whose timeless beauty encourages all manner of excess - including the prices at Carnival time.
The rest of Italy and the euro zone may be tightening their belts as a result of a debt crisis, but visitors to Venice in the two weeks before Lent begins can still indulge in a whirlwind of masked parades, costume balls, parties, brunch with "cicchetti" and live entertainment.
Local correspondents help you to spend 48 hours at one of the world's most historic carnivals running until Feb 21. (www.carnevale.venezia.it/)
7 p.m. - Book in advance at one of the intimate bed & breakfasts that have sprung up in Venice in the past few years. The Campiello Zen offers rooms for 160-210 euros ($43,800) in a 16th century building in the quiet district of Santa Croce, close to the Rialto bridge.
8 p.m. - It can be difficult to find a good restaurant at affordable prices in Venice. The "Paradiso Perduto" in the Cannaregio neighborhood is a haunt for lovers of Venetian food and live music. Chet Baker and Keith Richards have performed there. For a calendar, check out their Facebook page(here)
10 a.m. - The easiest way to move around Venice is by waterborne buses. The functional ferries whisk visitors around one of the most fascinating waterways in the world, the Grand Canal, which attracts 24 million people every year. A ticket for 48 hours costs 39 euros, including a round trip to the Marco Polo airport.
11 a.m. - Go and explore Saint Mark's square, which Napoleon said was "the most beautiful drawing room of Europe." Your attention will move from the Byzantine-style Basilica and the Clock Tower to the silent masked figures whose long gowns almost float on the stone pavement.
1 p.m. - Off the beaten track, book a table at Anice Stellato, a restaurant in the back streets of the Cannaregio district specialized in seafood. Guides suggest their grilled swordfish with thyme and sea-bass in sweet paprika sauce.
4 p.m. - If you want to rent a costume, you can choose between the ateliers of Stefano Nicolao, one of the most respected artisans in Venice, or studios with scenic names such as Tragicomica and Mistero Buffo. Prices can go from 180 to 350 euros for a costume accessorized with masks.
The ateliers are not for tourists and buzz with activity, so you should be willing to rent one of the period costumes that make the Venice carnival so distinctive.
7 p.m. - For the evening, the calendar offers all sorts of entertainment. Try seeing the float parade with over 300 masked costumes which snakes through Venice towards Burano island. The procession takes just over an hour, so prepare in advance.(www.actv.it)
9:30 a.m. - To escape the crowds, wander through the spacious squares, or "campi," and the "calli," the small streets of the Dorsoduro district, crossing the Grand Canal at Ponte dell'Accademia.
10 a.m. - Taste the typical carnival "fritole," fried doughnuts with raisins that also come filled with custard or zabaglione. Venice offers many good pastry shops, but Tonolo, in Dorsoduro, deserves a visit.
11 a.m. - Embrace the cheerfulness of the carnival and stop for a glittering makeup session with one of the young artists dotting the streets of Venice. Prices vary from 5 to 10 euros.
1 p.m. - For a light lunch, enjoy an "ombra and a chicheto," a glass of wine and an appetizer, at one of the numerous osterias in Venice like Bagolo, in Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio, or the Aciugheta in campo SS. Filippo e Giacomo.
2:30 p.m. - Book a ticket for the final of the "Best masked costume contest" at the Gran Teatro of San Marco. The contestants parade on stage, competing to show off their costumes, masks, wigs, feathers and caps.
6 p.m. - For a last indulgence, taste a selection of the best wines of the region Veneto and admire the colorful wine fountain in Piazzetta San Marco, the open space close to the Doge's Palace overlooking the lagoon.
Reporting by Antonella Ciancio, editing by Paul Casciato