About Venice, Italy
VIVA VENEZIA, Vacations, Hotels, Tours, Flights & Cruise Holidays
The moment I first laid eyes on her I was smitten by La Serenissima. Who would not be seduced by this fantastic mirage rising like a Venus from the lagoon? Nothing succeeds like excess could be her motto—from the golden mosaics of the Doge’s Palace to the marvelous Tintoretto-painted ceilings on the Sculoa di San Rocco.
Venice is like a treasure chest brimming with precious exotica from all over the world. This fantasy isn’t far from reality, actually. The city was built by merchant princes whose navies ruled the eastern Mediterranean and dominated trade routes between Europe and faraway eastern lands.
So, if La Serenissima seems to be a tapestry woven of silk, velvet and lace imbued with saffron, cinnamon, amber and silver filigree, it’s because those riches and more first entered the western world through her labyrinth of waterways. Probably nowhere else on earth does East meet West with so much panache.
Is Venice a tourist Mecca? Sure it is. And no better place to drop your Euros in style. But I’ve also found some inexpensive ways to immerse yourself in the many charms of La Serenisssima. Read on.
The “You Only Live Once” Splurge List
Posh Cocktails and More at the Gritti I recommend a splurge at the Gritti Palace on the Grand Canal across from the Santa Maria del Salute church. Sit out on the Riva Lounge terrace, outfitted like a yacht, and sip a Bellini made with Champagne and white peach purée. A drink here will set you back about €20 but the ambiance and people-watched are worth the Euros. Check out the Aqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo Spa for more indulgences.www.thegrittipalace.com
Let’s do Lunch
Female chef Mara Martin presides over Ristorante da Fiore, one of Venice’s finest. Wine Spectator calls da Fiore the best restaurant in Venice. Patricia Wells includes it on her list of the world’s top five restaurants. Gourmet writes that the Martins serve the finest Adriatic seafood of any Italian restaurant. Formerly a tavern, the tiny gem is tucked alongside a small canal not far from Piazza San Polo. Dinner can be pricy but the daily lunch menu, €50, includes three courses, a glass of wine, bottled water and coffee. Martin’s fritto misto is sublime, as is her risotto with porcini mushrooms and prawns.www.dafiore.net/en
Laundry & Lace
Buy exquisite hand-made lace at Emilia on Burano, the fisherman’s island known for its houses painted in assorted crayon colours with ever-present laundry hanging from the windows. Dine on divine Piscean platters at the romantic Riva Rosa restaurant, owned by the same family. www.rivarosa.it
Torcello, Birthplace of Venice
Make a pilgrimage to the island of Torcello, where Venice began back in the sixth and seventh centuries. Back then, locals of the northwest Adriatic fled to the lagoons from the attacking barbarians. Visit Torcello’s remarkable cathedral and marvel over the Byzantine mosaics and then linger over lunch in the glorious garden of the Locanda Cipriani, another property of the Cipriani family. If you linger too long over your linguine, the Locanda has five charming rooms. www.locandacipriani.com
The Ultimate Operatic Experience
Enjoy live opera in the 12th century Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto on the Grand Canal. Guests and performers move from room to room for each act. At Musica a Palazzo chose from the Barber of Seville, La Travolta or Rigoletto performed weekly. Cost is €75 www.musicapalazzo.com
The Ultimate Floating Cliché
Shell out about €80 (more in the evening) for a 40-minute ride in a sleek black gondola gracefully maneuvered through the narrow canals by a dashing gondolier. It’s reputed that a naked Lord Byron swam home in the Grand Canal after a night on the town while his servant, carrying his clothes, followed behind in a gondola!
The “Cheap Thrills” Save List
Pasta to Go
If you spot folks forking fresh pasta out of white cardboard cartons not far the Piazza San Marco ask them how to get to Dal Moro’s. In a city where prices can be prohibitive, Dal Moro’s (Calle de la Casseleria) dishes out several kinds of homemade pasta and sauces daily from a hole in the wall for about €6. It’s fantastic.
The Best Ride in Town
Venice has been flabbergasting visitors for centuries. Entering the city via the Grand Canal is a staggering experience whether it’s for the first time or the tenth. Walt Disney could not have improved upon this architectural fantasy of Romanesque and Renaissance palaces, domed churches and arched bridges, all bathed in that rich radiant light that is Venice’s alone. Hop vaporetto number one at dusk, just as Venice’s iconic lamplights are casting their mauve glow against the misty sky. Pass the floating palaces, their grand salons illuminated by Murano-glass chandeliers and their lacy facades seeming to melt into the watery mirror below. Fantasize about masked balls at Carnevale.
There’s a mysterious and quirky side to Venice that adds to her allure. Where else would the world’s most famous lover have caroused and become imprisoned in the Doge’s palace for possessing books on magic? Casanova and his cellmate, a renegade priest, escaped by gouging a passage in the ceiling using a steel bar which they concealed in a Bible under a heaping plate of gnocchi. Take a guided “Secret Itineraries” tour through narrow passages of the Doge’s Palace and see the tiny cell where Casanova was imprisoned. Tour costs €20 and must be booked in advance. www.palazzoducale.visitmuve.it
Stand don’t Sit
When in Italy drink your espresso or cappuccino the way the locals do— stand at the bar. At most places, the price of a coffee doubles if you sit at a table. My favourite coffee bar, Caffé del Doge, is on a small street (Calle dei Cinque) near the Rialto Market. Another good one is Torrefazione in Cannaregio (Rio Terà San Leonardo 1337)
Schmooze with Venetians
Discerning drinkers love Al Mercà, a cupboard-sized bar crammed with 60 different wines, including top-notch Prosecco, priced from about €2 to €3.50. They also serve delicious little buns filled with salami, mortadella, and my favourite—cream cheese studded with black truffles and prosciutto—for about €2. There’s no seating and it’s elbowroom only at Venice's friendliest place for a sip and a snack located on Campo Bella Vienna at the Rialto Market.
Grazing Venetian Style
Join gondoliers in rustic bacaros (wine bars) all over town for an inexpensive glass of wine and a selection of cichetti (savoury snacks) such as marinated artichokes, a cod mixture spread on polenta squares and mini sandwiches— basically anything you can put on a toothpick. These places are especially popular at lunch and cocktail hour. Try Cantina Do Mori, San Polo 429, near the Rialto Market.
Enjoy simply delicious Italian dishes served in a cozy atmosphere at Pane Vino e San Daniele Rialto (Calle dei Botteri). Start with an antipasto board of cheese, San Daniele prosciutto and house-made focaccia bread. The pizza and pastas are also great. Wash it all down with some Friuli wine. www.panevinorialto.it
Cheap and Cheerful Gondola Ride
If a gondola ride seems a bit steep, consider taking the traghetto (means ferry in Italian). Basically it's a gondola without the brocaded chairs and bow decorations powered by two oarsmen. You can cross the Grand Canal from various points, including Santa Sofia, near the Rialto Fish Market, for just €2. The journey takes about one minute, but you can honestly boast that you’ve ridden a gondola in Venice.
Try this Martini
While elbowing your way through the throngs in the tiny allies around the Rialto or San Marco area can be fun for awhile, it’s nice to know your hotel is somewhere far from the madding crowds. Casa Martini is an upscale B&B less than a ten-minute walk and only one small bridge from the railway station. Located in the Cannaregio region, here you’ll find fewer tourists, more locals and much more peace and quiet.
Rooms are spacious, beds are comfortable and there are two lovely rooftop terraces where you can sit with a glass of vino and contemplate the wonder that is Venice. You’re just steps away from plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants.
Another plus: just five minutes away, is the Gligi vaporetto stop with service on Alilaguna boats to and from the airport (about €15one-way). Warning: if the receptionist on the second floor is not available, you must get yourself and your luggage up a formidable flight of stairs.
Take the Alilaguna shuttle to and from the Marco Polo Airport from various docks around Venice. It’s much cheaper than a private launch. A ticket from San Marco to the airport, for example, costs about €15. www.alilaguna.it
Wander & Wonder
Enjoy the local morning market at the Rialto Bridge where you can bargain for Carnevale masks, leather goods and admire the catch the day. Then allow yourself to get lost in the maze of narrow passageways, bridges and canals in this oldest part of town. Keep in mind as you stroll around Venice’s 400 bridges and 117 islands, you’re actually walking over a petrified forest. The thousands of wooden poles pushed into the mud to create foundations over time have become petrified and are stronger than steel.
In Venice, truth can be stranger than fiction. Where else could Charles Dickens write, “The gorgeous and wonderful reality of Venice is beyond the fancy of the wildest dreamer? Opium couldn’t build such a place, and enchantment couldn’t shadow it forth in a vision…it has never been rated high enough. It is a thing you would shed tears to see.”