A wonderland of canals, gondolas, palazzos and museums, we all know Venice to be a city of extraordinary beauty. In the words of Byron this ‘fairy city of the heart’ is probably Italy’s most iconic and mesmerizing, and one of the most coveted weekend destinations in Europe. Use our guide to steer you round centuries’ worth of magnificent art, alfresco supper spots and the best traditional bars. We reveal secret cultural gems – and those who can organise to take you there after-hours – how to keep children amused and where to buy the softest leather shoes.
Lose yourself exploring winding shadow-cast streets, or just sit in a café, the fresh breeze of the lagoon upon your face, and contemplate the majesty of a place where Casanova once lived and Byron wintered. And don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s not yet time to revisit Venice, for while in many ways the city has remained unchanged for years it is also in a state of flux with new hotels, museums and restaurants injecting a well-needed dose of modernity. La Serenissima’s foundations may be in danger of sinking, but when it comes to culture and art you can’t strike higher.
Where To Stay
The following hotels are very traditional places to stay in Venice. We’ve offered you many choices because rooms in Venice go very, very quickly, sometimes months in advance.
Away from the crowds of St Mark’s Square, the Cipriani has a quiet location on Giudecca Island. It’s the grande dame of Venetian hotels, as opulent as you’d imagine with lots of marble and little in the way of minimalist taste.
The service and food are superb (the outdoor Cip’s Club is one of the best alfresco restaurants in Venice), as is the outside pool area. A small shuttle boat is available around the clock to whisk guests across the lagoon to St Mark’s Square – a very exciting journey, but it is a wonderful thing to feel tucked away from the mass of the city on your own little island. Be warned, however, that many feel the Cipriani is a little tired in places, although yearly revamps during the hotel’s winter closing aim to fix this problem and it remains one of the most iconic places to stay in the city – undoubtedly the best suite is The Dogaressa in Palazzo Vendramin, while The Palladio suite has more glitz and combining rooms 403 and 405 makes a charming attic suite overlooking the lagoon. We recommend the hotel for summer visits when its unique location really comes into its own.
If, however, you’re planning a trip during the winter, then it has to be the Gritti Palace. Built in 1525 for the doge Andrea Gritti, this stunning palazzo turned 91-room hotel has a picturesque location on the Grand Canal, a lovely restaurant with a fabulous outdoor terrace and a fantastic collection of art and antiques. Check into one of the Grand Canal suites or, for something really special, the Hemingway Suite. Nothing about the Gritti should disappoint.
Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal, owned by the Benetton family, occupies three buildings: the Palazzo Dandolo (frequented by Casanova in the 17th century) which is used for public events, a small 30-room property and the Palazzo Selvadego which has 40 rooms. We also have to mention a restored 15th- century palazzo on the Grand Canal, Ca’ Sagredo. The beautiful ballroom, with its Murano chandeliers and frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo and Pietro Longhi, once hosted masked balls, while the 42 rooms and suites are exquisite, all with views over the Grand Canal and works by artists including Tiepolo, Sebastiano Ricci and Longhi.
Surprisingly for a city so steeped in tradition, Venice has recently emerged with a flurry of contemporary places to stay, often more intimate and more personal than their traditional counterparts.
Our favourite is the Aman Canal Grande, which opened in June 2013 in time for the Venetian Biennale. The palazzo, formerly known as Palazzo Papadopoli, in the San Polo district, has 24 suites spread across two adjoining buildings and is a triumph of design and comfort. It’s unbelievably gorgeous both in the beautifully redecorated grand public rooms and more intimately in one of the supremely comfortable bedrooms and suites. Ask for a room overlooking the Grand Canal or if you’re going to propose – the Tiepolo suite.
Ca Maria Adele is a 12-room hotel, elegant and slightly eccentric and our second favourite boutique hotel in Venice. Five of the rooms are themed, including the dark red Doge’s room and the pastel-coloured Fireside room – but all are wonderfully romantic and many people consider this their favourite hotel in the city. Its location close to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is good, though some may feel that it’s too far from the centre (it’s a 20-minute walk across the Accademia Bridge to Harry’s Bar). But the vaporetto is just outside the hotel, comes every seven minutes and takes just one minute to cross to the other side.
If you can’t get a room at Ca Maria Adele, try the art deco-inspired Palazzo Barbarigo, an 18-room, 17th-century palazzo with its own landing stage or, if you’re looking for a modern contrast to the traditional Venetian look, Ca Pisani. Housed in a restored 14th-century palazzo just behind the Accademia, this 29-room hotel has a modern-meets-art-deco feel with original 1940s and 1950s furnishings, paintings by key artists from the Italian Futurist movement and hi-tech gadgetry.
If you are a frequent visitor or travelling with children you may prefer to stay in one of the following. Oltre Il Giardino is a lovely family-run hotel set in peaceful gardens; it is the former home of socialite Alma Mahler, has six individually decorated rooms, and lies in the centre of Venice around 15 minutes walk from the Rialto bridge. Or, housed in a 17th-century palazzo that was once the city’s School of Painting, Hotel Flora is another wonderful family-run hotel with 43 rooms close to San Marco – the gardens are beautiful, the rooms spacious and the atmosphere friendly and relaxed. And Ca Gottardi, furnished in classic 18th-century Venetian style, occupies the main floor of the 15th-century Ca’ Priuli Palazzo. Owned by the Costantini family (gondoliers for four generations), this 10-room hotel has a great location between the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi and Ca’ d’Oro (formally the Palazzo Santa Sofia but always known as Ca’ d’Oro, ‘the golden house’).
Also Worth A Look
The 233-room Danieli is a Venetian landmark, but we’re not so keen. It was a little tatty, (although we hear the revamp by Parisian design maestro Jacques Garcia of Hotel Costes fame has restored some glamour,) and with its central location has hordes of tourists streaming past.
And while the Bauer, another of the big hotels in Venice, lacks atmosphere (although the bathrooms are the best in the city, so if that’s a priority stay here), its sister property, the 250-year old Bauer Il Palazzo, is wonderful and a good compromise if you want somewhere traditional but with contemporary touches. There are 44 sumptuously decorated rooms and 38 suites, a chic seventh-floor terrace and a health club with an outdoor Jacuzzi. The Grand Canal Suite 108 is the best in the house, with wonderful views over the Salute basilica. Offering a quirky alternative to traditional Venetian lodgings, DD724 has seven wood-beamed rooms with contemporary furnishings housed in an 18th-century palazzo. Behind the Palazzo Grassi is the 22 room Palazzina G, a sultry, Philippe Starck designed hotel which is totally over the top but wonderful. Opt for the 3rd floor suite which is accessed by private elevator and offers incredible vistas over the city.
With 10 rooms spread over two floors of an old building close to the Rialto bridge, Al Ponte Mocenigo is a great base for exploring the city. The huge rooms are lavishly decorated in 18th-century style with Murano chandeliers, exposed beams and huge beds (some four-posters). On the waterfront with views of the Giudecca Canal, Pensione La Calcina has 29 classically furnished rooms and a small bar/restaurant.
To experience life as a Venetian, rent an apartment. Views on Venice (www.viewsonvenice.com; book through firstname.lastname@example.org) is one of the best in town with 70 properties on their books ranging from romantic pied-a-terres to canal view apartments and breathtaking palazzi.
Another good bet is Venetian Apartments who have over 100 properties on their books including the Grand Canal Giglio, a two-bedroom ground-floor apartment on the Grand Canal. Legend has it that the palazzo was the once the house of Shakespeare’s tragic heroine Desdemona. Palazzo Castello Lusso (also available through Venetian Apartments) occupies the whole second floor of a 15th-century palazzo close to San Marco; it is beautifully decorated by the owner/architect and there are four bedrooms and four bathrooms.
More affordable apartments include the romantic one-bedroom Giudecca Mare Riva and the three-bedroom Terrazza Ca’ d’Oro. Also consider the piano nobile apartment at Palazzo Loredan, an exquisite privately owned palace on the Grand Canal in Dorsoduro. Three of the bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms, and four further bedrooms share two other bathrooms; it is available to rent through Bellini Travel. Many consider the Red House (also available through Bellini Travel) one of the best private rentals in Venice. This beautiful four-bedroom apartment has a private garden, a 20-metre indoor pool, a superb collection of contemporary art and a pool house with two further suites. The Palazzo Mocenigo is an exquisite 16th- century palazzo on the Grand Canal owned by the Bauer group, with five bedrooms and three bathrooms and available to rent in its entirety.
Where To Eat
Best Lunch Spots
One of our favourites, particularly if the weather is good, is to sit on the outside deck of the very fashionable Linea D’ombra on the Zattere. The food is wonderful, especially the pesce crudo and the wines are superb. But what makes it doubly special are the incomparable views over to the Guidecca.
Alla Madonna, known by many simply as ‘the Madonna’, is one of the most famous restaurants in Venice, and although it is very much on the tourist trail it is still a lovely trattoria with a fine seafood-influenced menu and relaxed atmosphere perfect for long family lunches (or indeed dinners). One of the loveliest things about Alla Madonna is that it’s a great place to take children.
Another favourite if you want a beautiful location and somewhere quiet is to go to i figli delle stelle, which is on the Guidecca. They only have 6 tables outside and if the weather is good you definitely want to be outside. If you lunch here, it is worth taking the vaporetto to San Giorgio di Maggiore and go to the top of the Benedictine church tower of the same name; you’ll see truly amazing views of all Venice and beyond the Lido.
Close to the historic Jewish ghetto, Osteria Bea Vita uses fresh seasonal produce for its well-priced lunchtime menu. Aqua Pazzo is famed for huge pizzas topped with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. Also recommended is Osteria San Marco, owned by an ex-Harry’s Bar employee. And for an alfresco Sunday lunch, try Locanda Cipriani. It’s on the lovely island of Torcello, and its wonderful atmosphere and menu have made Sunday lunch here very popular with Venetians.
For a quick, easy lunch, you can’t beat bacari, traditional Venetian bars where you order cicchetti (small appetizers) with your drink. Eat standing up and watch the world go past. Known to locals as the Bottegon, Cantinone già Schiavi has a lovely location on the San Trovaso Canal and a bustling atmosphere – take a plate of cicchetti and a glass of prosecco and perch on the wall outside.
Enoteca do Colonne has all manner of bar snacks from wonderful salted cod on crusty bread to tramezzini (small open sandwiches). Also try Ca’ d’Oro for melt-in-the mouth meatballs, and Vini da Pinto, a popular bacari with stallholders from the Rialto market.
Best Supper Spots
Thought by many to be the best restaurant in Venice, Antiche Carampane is a small trattoria with no menu, whose food (particularly the seafood) is always excellent. Great value with good service and fantastic food, Corte Sconta offers a traditional set Venetian menu influenced by whatever fish is on sale in the market; it’s also great for lunch.
Ruth Rogers of the River Café loves Al Covo, a fabulous seafood-focused restaurant owned by a charismatic American and her Venetian husband. The tiny Alle Testiere, also a seafood specialist, is always full and an excellent spot for a romantic meal. Owned by the president of the fishmongers’ association, Al Fontego dei Pescatori has wonderful raw fish antipasti, and the pasta (try the gnocchi with spider crab sauce) is delicious too.
Unusually for Venice, the tiny Vini da Arturo doesn’t serve seafood but is widely known for its large selection of meat dishes (the steak is divine); it’s also a surprisingly good choice for vegetarians. (Stop press: we have recently received negative reports about Da Arturo complaining about it being hideously expensive with highly arrogant staff). If you like oysters, hidden away down a small street is Ancora, a restaurant/piano bar with live jazz. Bringing a contemporary edge to the Venetian restaurant scene, Avogaria serves Pugliese cuisine in a modern, fashionable environment.
Best Alfresco Supper Spots
You can sit inside, but the following restaurants all have wonderful outdoor terraces, perfect for dining on a summer evening. Harry’s Dolci on the Giudecca is the much more peaceful sister restaurant to the overcrowded Harry’s Bar. Tables with white cloths sit on a pretty deck perched over the water, and being off the beaten track you can tuck into a plate of carpaccio and jugfuls of Bellini without having to trip over coachloads of people to get to the bar. Full of Italian voices, this is where the Venetians go for their Harry’s fix.
One of the most famous restaurants in Venice, the legendary Da Fiore is known for its seafood; on cold evenings ask for a table in the wood-panelled dining room or brave the elements and enjoy the views from its floating terrace. Cip’s Club at the Cipriani has an unrivalled location on an outside terrace over the water off Giudecca Island. Also try the terraces at the Monaco and Gritti Palace hotels. Finally, a boat ride away and well worth the trip, is Ristorante da Celeste on the nearby island of Pellestrina where you can sit on the seafront and eat some of the best fish in Venice on a deck built out into the sea.
Venetians rave about the ice cream at Gelateria Artigianale lo Squero (Dorsoduro 990; +39 041 241 3601).
Best Pre-Dinner Drinks
It’s expensive, busy and hardly a secret, but Harry’s Bar (San Marco 1323; +39 041 528 5777; www.cipriani.com) is a Venetian classic. Come for a Bellini (it’s where it was invented) and then decide what you think about dinner: some love it, others think the food is overpriced and overrated. The terrace bar at the Danieli (Castello 4196; +39 041 522 6480; www.starwoodhotels.com) and the terrace at the Gritti Palace (Campo Santa Maria del Giglio; +39 041 794 611; www.starwoodhotels.com) are where glamorous Venetians congregate for early evening drinks.
Best After Dinner Drinks
With a fabulous roof terrace and candlelit interior, the Dogado Lounge (Strada Nova, Cannaregio; +39 041 520 8544) has a moodily cool ambiance and a young, stylish clientele. Bacaro Lounge (Salizzada San Moise, 1345 San Marco; +39 041 296 0687) is a Milan-style cocktail bar. Venice isn’t a huge party city, but if you wish to dance the 947 club (Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo, Castello 4337; +39 340 477 3693) is the place to do it.
It’s the small boutiques and talented local artisans that make shopping in Venice special. If you want big brands, go to calle Valleresso.
You can find hundreds of beautiful silk scarves at Venetia Studium (calle Largo XXII Marzo 2403; +39 041 522 9281; www.venetiastudium.com), which is famous for Fortuny lamps made from silk. If you’re looking for eyewear, Ottica Carraro(calle della Mandola; +39 041 520 4258; www.ottica- carraro.com) sells reading and sunglasses at great prices.
Sete-Cento (San Marco 1459, Bauer Casa Nova; +39 041 520 7022; www.sete- cento.com; by appointment only & at Hotel Bauer), is the brainchild of Alessandro Possati (whose family own the Bauer hotel group), a wonderful atelier specializing in exquisitely tailored dresses and jackets with handstitched details. Buy handmade leather shoes from Giavanna Zanella (Castello 5641; +39 041 523 5500) who will deliver custom-made orders around two months later. For stunning designs from up-and-coming designers and gorgeous jewellery Hibiscus (calle dell’Olio 1060, near the Rialto market; +39 041 520 8989) is a great find.
Over the years, family-run jewellers Nardi (Piazza San Marco 69; +39 041 522 5733; www.nardi-venezia.com) provided the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Grace of Monaco with jewellery. Taylor also owns jewellery (including a snake bracelet given to her from Richard Burton) from Attilio Codognato (Calle del Ascension 1295; +39 041 522 5042), a favourite of Coco Chanel’s. The cocktail rings and ornate earrings are particularly lovely.
Bevilacqua (Campo Santa Maria del Giglio 2520, San Marco; +39 041 241 0662) is one of the oldest tapestry and silk makers in Venice and a must for fabrics and brocades. If you are interested in seeing the factory’s original 18th- century looms, ask for an appointment with the owner. At Fabrica Mario Bevilacqua (Santa Croce 1320; +39 041 721 566 – a strand of the same family) hand-operated looms produce beautiful fabrics and brocades and there is also a small shop. Buy a piece of Fortuny fabric from the Giudecca showroom Fortuny Tessuti Artistici (805 Giudecca, Fondamenta San Biagio; +39 041 522 4078; www.fortuny.com). It’s expensive, but the Fortuny fabrics are arguably cheaper than you’ll find elsewhere.
Venice is as famous for glass as it is for canals. To avoid fires, the city’s glass factories were moved to the island of Murano in 1291, where they remain to this day. At Mazzega (Murano, 147 Fondamenta da Mula; +39 041 736 888; www.mazzega.it) you can arrange (call ahead to do so) to watch the workmen blowing their designs. Expensive, stunning and highly covetable, Giberto Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga’s (www.giberto.it) beautiful handmade pieces such as vases and gold-finished glasses are available from fabric designer Chiarastella Cattana’s store (San Marco 3357; www.chiarastellacattana.com).
Marie Brandolini, aka the glassmaking Countess (she is married to Count Brandino Brandolini d’Adda), produces wonderful designs such as brightly coloured vases and Zanfirico glasses. Her work can be bought from L’Angolo del Passato (Dorsoduro 3276; +39 041 528 7896; www.lagunab.com) which also sells vintage glassware. Carlo Moretti (San Marco 1468, Campo San Moise; +39 041 523 1973; www.carlomoretti.com) is another name to know; his creations are outstanding and many believe his trademark ‘paper cone’ vases are the best in the business.
Augusto Rillosi (Dorsoduro 3280; www.augustorillosi.com) sells stunning rugs from India and Turkey. Madera’s (Dorsoduro 2762, Campo San Barnaba; +39 041 522 4181; www.maderavenezia.it) gorgeous olive wood and aluminium table utensils are made by a team of talented local and international artisans.
Hand-printed stationery makes a lovely gift: Antica Legatoria Piazzesi (San Marco 2511; +39 041 522 1202; www.legatoriapiazzesi.it) is the oldest stationer in Venice selling wonderful books and paper; also try Gianni Basso (calle del Fumo, Cannaregio; +39 041 523 4681) who uses antique printing presses. For classic Venetian masks go to Cartapesta (Barbaria delle Tolle, Castello) or Mondo Novo (Rio Terra Canal, campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 3063; +39 041 528 7344; www.mondonovomaschere.it) where Kubrick bought masks for Eyes Wide Shut. Il Prato (calle de la Ostreghe 2457; +39 041 523 1148; www.ilpratovenezia.com) is also very good for leather goods and stationery. Splash out on wonderful cigar cases with temperature controls or writing desk-sets crafted by the same manufacturer that Hermès use.
Best Arts and Culture
The area around the Accademia is a treasure trove of wonderful galleries and art collections, and despite the inescapable feeling that the glories of Venice belong to centuries past there is a surprising amount of truly superb modern art.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Dorsoduro 701; +39 041 240 5411; www.guggenheim-venice.it) is a must for anyone interested in contemporary art. Guggenheim lived in Venice for many years and is buried on the property and was the last person to own a private gondola. The collection has must-see pieces by the likes of Picasso, Kandinsky and Pollock. Robert Browning’s former home has been turned into a fabulous museum dedicated to the 18th century. Ca’Rezzonico (Dorsoduro 3136; +39 041 241 0100; www.museiciviciveneziani.it) feels like a private house, albeit one full of beautiful art and antique furniture. Palazzo Grassi (Campo San Samule 3231; +39 041 523 1680; www.palazzograssi.it) was the last palazzo to be built before the end of the Republic. It has been renovated by Japanese architect Tadao Ando and is now owned by the French tycoon Francois Pinault, whose private collection (including pieces by Damien Hirst, Cy Twombly and Jeff Koons) is on display next to travelling blockbuster exhibitions. Pinault’s latest project, a contemporary art centre known as the Dogana, (+39 041 523 16 80; www.palazzograssi.it) sits in what was the old customs houses. On show is Pinault’s own collection of paintings, sculptures and art installations for an initial period of 30 years
Over 50 stunning frescoes by Tintoretto can be seen at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (Campo di San Rocco, San Polo; +39 041 523 4864; www.scuolagrandesanrocco.it), a former school set up as a charitable institution for poor children and used as a meeting place by its wealthy benefactors. At Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni (3259 Castello, calle dei Furlani; +39 041 522 8828) you can see frescoes by Vittore Carpaccio. Ca’ Pesaro (San Stae, Santa Croce 2076; +39 041 524 0695) is a splendid baroque building with two museums, the Museo d’Arte Orientale and the Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna, where you can see paintings and sculptures by Klimt, Chagall, Kandinsky and Matisse, among others.
The Franciscan Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (San Polo, Campo dei Frari; +39 041 522 2637), built in the 1330s, is an extraordinary example of how beautiful a church can be – a visit is worth it if only to see wonderful Titians and Bellini’s beautiful Madonna and Child. Work by Bellini, along with Veronese, can also be seen at Santi Giovanni e Paolo (Castello, Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo; +39 041 523 5913), a Dominican church dating back to 1246.
One of the most famous opera houses in Europe, La Fenice (Campo S. Fantin, 1965; +39 041 786 511; box office +39 041 2424; www.teatrolafenice.it) reopened in 2006 after 10 years of renovations following a fire. Where Verdi’s Traviata was first performed over 150 years ago, seeing a performance here is a must.
If you’ve never been to Venice, these are the sights you simply must see. The Piazza San Marco is more often than not crowded, but it’s still one of the most beautiful squares in the world and home to the Doge’s Palace, the Church of St Giorgio, the Marciana Library and the Basilica of St Mark (+39 041 270 8311; www.basilicasanmarco.it). Go early in the morning to see the square without the crowds and hear the early morning mass at the Basilica, an exquisite Byzantine cathedral with an inside as stunning as the jaw- dropping 11th-century exterior.
Be first in line to go up the Campanile (the Basilica’s bell-tower) for amazing views over the lagoon – although it does get very crowded. Sign up for a ‘secret itineraries’ English-language tour of Palazzo Ducale, otherwise known as the Doge’s Palace (+39 041 271 5911/+39 041 520 9070; www.museiciviciveneziani.it; book in advance), which takes visitors into rooms not included in the usual admission price. You’ll see one of the most famous bridges in Europe, the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) over which prisoners caught their last view of Venice as they walked from the palace to the prison. Another noteworthy bridge is the Rialto, lined with small boutiques and a large market. And take in the views from the Accademia Bridge before visiting the Gallerie dell’Accademia itself (Campo della Carità, Dorsoduro; +39 041 520 0345; www.gallerieaccademia.org) with its works by the greatest masters such as Tintoretto, Titian and Canaletto.
San Marco is stunning but nearly always full of crowds; Campo San Polo is almost as big as San Marco, but much less busy. It has been used over the years for bullfights and masked balls and is a lovely place in which to relax and watch the world go by. Campo Santo Stefano, between the Accademia and San Marco, is lined with cafés and is as good a place as any to sit down, take time out and relax.
For over 100 years, the Venice Biennale (www.labiennale.org/en; 7 June-22 November 2009) has celebrated contemporary art. Not so well known is the Venice Biennale of Architecture (www.labiennale.org/en), a fantastic opportunity to visit palazzos and private buildings normally closed to the public.
For 10 days leading up to Shrove Tuesday the annual Venetian carnival takes place. There are concerts and masked balls throughout the city, although many Venetians choose to leave at this time (www.carnivalofvenice.com; 13-24 February 2009).
The annual Voga Longa is great fun, with over 2,000 rowing boats competing in a 30km race along the city’s canals; as the only day when motorboats are banned from the waterways, it offers a unique glimpse of the city (www.vogalonga.com; 31 May 2009). The hugely popular Festa del Redentore takes place on the third weekend in July. Thousands of boats head out into the lagoon to watch amazing fireworks. 21 November’s Festa della Salute commemorates Venice’s liberation from the plague. A temporary bridge is erected over the Grand Canal, over which pilgrims cross to light a candle at Salute church.
Best Of The Rest
Best Secret Gem
Housed in a fabulous gothic palazzo, the former home of Mariano Fortuny (set designer, photographer and fabric manufacturer) is now a museum filled with textiles, furniture and fabrics from the early 19th century (Palazzo Fortuny, San Beneto, San Marco; +39 041 520 0995; www.museiciviciveneziani.it).
Best Ways To Get Around
Venetians only take gondolas on special occasions and while undoubtedly expensive and touristy, a trip in a gondola does offer a unique perspective of the city from the water. Alternatively, if you just want to cross the river, jump on one of the traghetti which traverse the canal at several points. If you prefer to travel in style, a wooden 1950s Riva is the way to go – ask Jeremy Garson (see Best Secret Agents, below) to procure your privately piloted craft.
This is not from the Campanile in St Mark’s Square as you might think and as all the guidebooks say – you will queue and queue and squeeze to get up the tower with the masses for a view from the centre of Venice. Better by far is the church tower on Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, across the water from St Mark’s and a million miles away from the crowds; you’ll see the most wonderful panorama of islands from the top of the bell-tower. Just make sure you’re not up there admiring the views at midday when the bells toll over and over again… your ears will ring for days.
In the hot humid summer months, the beaches of the Lido (a sandbar 11 miles long) are packed with tanned Italians who flock here for the holidays. Smart Venetians rent one of the beach cabanas at either the Excelsior Hotel or the Hotel des Bains for the summer season. Both are right on the beach and good options for a summer lunch if you are visiting the Lido. Sant’Erasmo, an island close to Burano, also has a beach, accessible by private water taxi or vaporetto number 13 from Venice’s Fondamente Nove stop; there are various simple but good restaurants.
Best Secret Agents
Emily Fitzroy of Bellini Travel (+44 20 7602 7602;www.bellinitravel.com) is an expert on all things Italian and knows everything there is to know about Venice. She can organize custom-made itineraries that include private after- hours visits to places such as St Mark’s Basilica (to be serenaded if you wish, by the organist) and the Ducal Palace, special tables at the city’s best restaurants, dinners at private palazzos and visits to private ateliers including that of master glassmaker Archimede Seguso. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, ask her to arrange a private performance at La Fenice Opera House by a soprano of international standard.
Mauro Stoppa (+39 049 807 8032; www.cruisingvenice.com) offers 1-3 day tours of the lagoon on Eolo, a beautifully restored bragozzo (traditional fishing boat). Another brilliant fixer is Jeremy Garson (+39 339 567 9855 & +44 7802 751 719; email@example.com), an Englishman who lives in the city with his wife and children. He can organise the most lavish party or the simplest supper, can quietly open doors to a very private Venice, or set off fireworks for you over the Grand Canal.
Cannaregio is one of the most interesting areas of the city and the place where Venetians live and work. Away from the tourist hordes of San Marco you can explore the old Jewish ghetto, eat in neighbourhood bacari and see the frescoes at the Chiesi Sant’Alvise.
Best For Children
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection holds special Art4Family days aimed at introducing children to modern and contemporary art. The ‘day’ is more of an afternoon and is held every Sunday 3-4.30pm. While most programmes are conducted in Italian, there are plenty of English-speaking interns who can arrange other activities – book well in advance.
The Fondaco dei Turchi (Salizada del Fontego dei Turchi, Santa Croce 1730; +39 041 275 0206; www.museiciviciveneziani.it) is a 12th-century mansion that now houses theMuseum of Natural History. Children love the dinosaur skeletons, including that of a baby dinosaur and a prehistoric crocodile. Show your children how a gondola is made at the workshop (squero) of San Trovaso, one of the only three left in the city (Dorsoduro 1097, next to San Trovaso church just north of Zattere). It’s something of a tourist hotspot, so just wander over and watch the men at work. Pay an early morning visit to the bustling fish market near the Rialto bridge (Tuesday to Saturday). All manner of sea creatures are on sale and children love the atmosphere.
Leave the crowds of San Marco behind and explore some of the other islands in the lagoon. As well as Murano (famed for glass), Giudecca (where you can see the 16th-century church of Santissimo Redentore) and the Lido there is San Michele, home to the city’s stunning cemetery and a wonderful Renaissance church. Sant’Erasmo (see Best Beaches, above) is a wonderfully pretty and quiet place full of orchards and fields planted with crops. When it comes to eating out of town, you can’t beat Antica Osteria Cera in Veneto, (Via Marghera 24, Campagna Lupia, Veneto; 00 41 518 5009; www.osteriacera.it) a fantastic family-run, fish restaurant set in a bright, industrial unit. A favourite with well-heeled locals, the food is local, presentation exceptional and service near perfect. Burano and neighbouring Torcello and Mazzorbo make for a fantastic day trip from Venice – the former has some excellent restaurants, particularly the Gatto Nero.
Best Way To Take Your Leave
The most stylish way to leave Venice is on the Orient Express (www.orient-express.com), the legendary train which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2008. The train leaves several times a week throughout spring and summer, travelling through northern Italy, Switzerland and Austria on its way to Paris.
Death in Venice and other stories by Thomas Mann; City of Falling Angels by John Berendt; Casanova by Andrew Miller; Miss Garnet’s Angel by Sally Vickers; Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin (his Italian detective thrillers are among the best in the genre, and his police detective Aurelio Zen is unforgettable).
Don’t Look Now by Nicolas Roeg
August – it’s hot, sticky, overcrowded, overpriced and can be smelly. Also, there are mosquitoes. Unless you are involved in the annual film festival, it’s best to stay away and visit during the quieter, cooler months of spring or autumn.
Three Weekend Plans
Stay at: Gritti Palace
Friday night dinner: Al Covo
Saturday lunch: Corte Sconta
Saturday night dinner: Alle Testiere
Sunday lunch: Alla Madonna
Stay at: Cipriani
Friday night dinner: Cip’s Club
Saturday lunch: Osteria San Marco
Saturday night dinner: Da Fiore
Sunday lunch: Locanda Cipriani
Stay at: Ca Maria Adele
Friday night dinner: Antiche Carampane
Saturday lunch: Cantinone già Schiavi
Saturday night dinner: Harry’s Dolci
Sunday lunch: Locanda Cipriani