The Carnival in Sardinia is a unique event in Italy because of its attractiveness and its ancient traditions. The old customs are strongly felt, combined with the mysterious archaic culture that unites man, nature and wildlife. The Carnival parades are celebrated in many different places of the island, but especially in the small mountain villages of Barbagia they takes the most ancient and fascinating forms, such as in Mamoiada, Ottana and Orotelli. Without forgetting the biggest event of the Sartiglia di Oristano, let’s find out which parades you can’t miss.
Carnival is celebrated in the weeks before Ash Wednesday, between February and March.
The uniqueness of the Sardinian Carnival: most interesting facts
- Traditional masks: the Carnival in Sardinia is characterised by traditional, meaningful masks, such as the Mamuthones and Issohadores of Mamoiada, the Boes of Ottana, Sos Thurpos of Orotelli, all with similar aspects but different nuances and details.
- Processions and cavalcades: Cavalcades are an important feature of the Carnival in Sardinia, such as the Sartiglia in Oristano and the Sa Carrela ‘e nanti’ cavalcade in Santu Lussurgiu, one of the most spectacular in Sardinia.
- Centuries-old costumes and traditions: Carnival in Sardinia is also an opportunity to celebrate the centuries-old traditions of the island, with meaningful costumes linked to paganism.
- Unique atmosphere: The atmosphere of the Carnival in Sardinia creates an intense ritual experience that attracts many visitors from all over Italy and abroad.
The magic of carnival in Sardinia’s small towns: Which ones should you see?
- Tempio Pausania: the festival par excellence with its famous papier-mâché floats and themed masks.
- Mamoiada: here is celebrated the famous carnival of the Mamuthones and Issohadores, a true symbol of Sardinia.
- Ottana: with the traditional masks “Boes e Merdules’ in the ancient fight between manand animal.
- Orotelli: the parade of the Sos Thurpos, the men with hoods and blackened faces.
- Oristano: the famous Sartiglia di Oristano, one of the most famous events in Sardinia.
- Santu Lussurgiu: the spectacular equestrian parade through the narrow streets of the village.
Carnival of Tempio Pausania
Papier-mâché allegorical floats
It’s one of the most famous and entertaining carnival floats made of papier-mâché. The biggest festival in the north of Sardinia takes place in Tempio Pausania, a small municipality in Gallura region. The main character is King George, who parades through the streets of the town and is celebrated by the people. The final epilogue – in which he’s burned in the square as a rite of reconciliation – represents the end of the evil and the beginning of a new cycle with the approach of spring.
During the Tempio Pausania carnival, the city is transformed into a huge music-festival with food stands and folk shows. The festival attracts numerous visitors from all over Sardinia and Italy, fascinated by the fun and exuberant atmosphere.
WHEN: Sunday, February 12 to Tuesday, February 21. The highlights are the parades on Sunday, February 19 and Tuesday, February 21 with the grand finale of the competition floats.
Carnival of Oristano
The Carnival of Oristano is famous for the traditional Sartiglia horse parade that takes place on Mardi Gras. The Sartiglia is a historical exibition that celebrates the medieval tradition of the city and whose origins date back to the 1600s.
A procession of horsemen parades through the streets of Oristano performing games of skill on horseback. The highlight of the festival is the race to the star, which the riders must pierce with a lance while riding at high speed. The Sartiglia is one of the most important events in Sardinia and shouldn’t be missed.
WHEN: February 19 Sartiglia of the peasants of Gremio and February 21 Sartiglia of the carpenters of Gremio
Carnival of Orotelli
The Carnival of Orotelli has very ancient origins and is known for the traditional parade of Sos Thurpos. The masked men called Sos Thurpos (The blind men) goes through the streets of the village representing figures from peasant life and the world of sheep breeding.
They wear black coats whose hood reaches almost over their eyes, cowbells hang from their belts and – unlike other Barbagian costumes – they don’t wear the classic wooden mask, but have their faces blackened with ash. During the parade, the audience is also involved, caught with the rope and offered a drink as a symbol of a good omen.
WHEN: from Saturday, February 11, to Sunday, February 26. Sunday, February 19 Sos Thurpos parade and family masquerade contest (awarding prizes to the funniest masked family). Tuesday, February 19, Sos Thurpos parade and pentolaccia in the evening. Sunday, February 26, grand finale with the Sos Thurpos parade, ox cart, masked group competition, pentolaccia and cattas for all.
*Pentolaccia is a traditional game in which blindfolded players must hit and smash a hanging container, usually filled with candy, with a stick.
Carnival of Ottana
Boes e Merdules
One of the passionate carnivals in Sardinia comes from this small village in the heart of Barbagia. The ‘Boes e Merdules‘ parade, like many of the ancient Sardinian carnival rituals, represents the struggle between man and beast. Note the traditional costumes made of sheepskin fur and the peculiar wooden masks.
The boes, representing the Taurine masks that symbolise strength and vitality, carry large cowbells that weigh almost 20 kg. During the parade, the merdule (shepherd) tries to keep the boes (the ox) at bay with ropes and a stick. This ends in a kind of fight until the Boe is finally caught, symbolising the supremacy of man over the animal.
The Ottana Carnival parade attracts numerous visitors from all over Sardinia and Italy, lured by the unique atmosphere and centuries-old traditions. The festival is also an opportunity to celebrate the culture and history of the village of Barbagia.
Carnevale di Mamoiada
Mamuthones and Issohadores
The masks of the Mamuthones aren’t only part of the carnival of Mamoiada, but represent the identity of all Sardinia. Dressing up the Mamuthones is by no means easy, because the ritual that characterises these costumes, with their black wool skins, wood-carved mask and almost 30 kg of cowbells, is very elaborate.
During the procession, they make their sound to the rhythm of their cadenced steps. The Issohadores precede them and capture the spectators with ropes so that they participate in this archaic and symbolic rite.
WHEN: February 19-20-21. The parade on Sunday, February 19 and Tuesday, February 21
Sa carrela ‘e nanti
Spectacular acrobatics on horseback characterise the Carnival of Santu Lussurgiu with the wild horse race through the streets of the mediaeval village called “Sa carrela ‘e nanti“. Riders dressed in Sa Mascherada with painted faces cross the narrow streets of the village at full speed in daring acrobatics. One of the oldest horse races in Sardinia is an excellent opportunity to discover one of the most characteristic villages halfway between Oristano and Bosa.
WHEN: The official races with riders in traditional costumes and masquerades take place on February 19 and 21, with the grand finale on Shrove Tuesday.
What is the weather like in Sardinia in February/March?
Don’t worry about the weather in Sardinia in February and March, it’s just cool and windy with a few possible rain showers. Average temperatures of 10-15°C during the day keep you bright, while at night drop to 5-10°C, perfect to watch the stars on clear winter evenings. However the sun always shines in Sardinia and good days charge you up like a glass of pure Sardinia grappa “filu ‘e ferru”!
What’s the best time to visit Sardinia?
Where to stay for Carnival in Sardinia
Precisely because Carnival is celebrated in the off-season, it offers the opportunity to discover the authenticity of the old villages, often located off the classic tourist routes. We recommend this period for a tour of the old villages and have selected here some of the special (inland!) places to stay.
Here is how some guests of these facilities have described their experiences::
Ovostolai Cottage – Fonni
“The holiday with my son was fantastic! The fireplace warmed our hearts and sleeping on the loft was a dream come true. The nature and the animals made the place even more beautiful and enchanting. This experience deserves to be repeated at least once a year, even more!” 10.10
Agriturismo Usurtala – Orani
“The beautiful, quiet place offers many opportunities to enjoy nature. Incredibly friendly and helpful staff, and the breakfast varied and rich. Agriturismo Usurtala is within walking distance of the village of Orani, with its beautiful Costantino-Nivola Museum, and close to Monte Gonare, which at 1083 metres offers breathtaking views. In other words, an unforgettable experience for nature lovers and those seeking relaxation!” 9.10
B&B Catedda – Sedilo
“Excellent accommodation with great welcome, hearty breakfast and the opportunity to dine in the owner’s restaurant which we enjoyed very much. I’d highly recommend this B&B 9.10
Activities between February and March in Sardinia
There are many activities you can do between February and March in Sardinia, here are some ideas:
- Rediscover the carnival traditions in Sardinia: this is the ideal time to visit some of the oldest and most atmospheric festivals on the island. Don’t miss the parades in the small communities of Barbagia.
- Visit historical cities: the charm of the sea in winter never betrays, so it’s an excellent opportunity to spend a few days in cities like Cagliari, Alghero and Olbia, which offer a rich culture and history and have many attractions to offer.
- Excursions in nature: Sardinia is famous for its natural beauty, with breathtaking landscapes and many opportunities for excursions in the mountains, along the coasts and in the natural parks. Spring is just around the corner and nature offers enchanting landscapes.
- Wine and local food tasting: Sardinia is famous for its excellent products, including wine. Why don’t you take advantage of that to do a wine and restaurant tour?
Sardinia out of season: transport and connections
Transport is the island’s real sore point. Poorly connected, especially in the winter period, it reflects all the problems of insularity. However, some fixed connections remain, such as the ferries from the cities of Olbia, Porto Torres and Cagliari.
The airports of Alghero, Olbia and Cagliari maintain several flights to the peninsula and some connections to Europe.
The most frequent flight connections:
The international routes start their full operation at the end of March, so we have connections to the main European cities up and running again.
The best option for visiting Sardinia is to rent a car, whether you arrive by plane or ferry. With a car at your disposal, you can explore the island freely at your own pace and schedule.