A perfect day in… Venice, Italy
BLOG: I know it’s not ‘new’ or ‘trendy’ but Venice is one of my favourite places in the world to visit. There is something about the city that makes me believe in love. I’ve visited numerous times and every time the magic and romance of the city envelops me. Now, I know it’s got a bad reputation for being a bit smelly in the summer months, but I just laugh at people who say this – give me a New York alley that doesn’t stink in the height of summer.
Anyway, now that I’ve mentioned its one indiscretion (and actually, it’s not even that bad!) Venice is a magical place, wandering the tiny streets often not knowing where they lead makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland.
Of course, Venice is a massive tourist haunt and in peak season it is hard to move for the families, seniors and honeymooners pouring off cruise ships armed with cameras and baseball caps. But it is possible to get away from the hustle and bustle on the main areas and absorb Venice’s beautiful charm whilst also ticking off all the main attractions.
My perfect day in Venice:
Arrive in style:
The usual way to get to Venice is to fly into the San Marco airport on the mainland about 12km north of Venice and then get the crowded vaporetto (water bus) into the heart of the city. Leaving from the airport every 30 minutes they cost €15 single or €25 return and takes just over an hour to San Marco. For budget seekers, this is a cost effective way to get to the city. This time I was with a ‘Venice virgin’ and we decided to splash out the €100 to get our own private water taxi. I was a bit sceptical at first, doubting it would it be ten times better than the water bus but it was for a special occasion. How wrong could I be? It was AMAZING. I felt like James Bond (secretly, we mean Amal Clooney). For the first part of the journey you speed through the wide open lagoon bouncing off each wave, before the taxi slows as you enter the Grand Canal. The view of the picturesque buildings from the taxi is breathtaking, so ornate and beautifully haphazard they don’t seem real, almost like paintings. The taxi stopped directly outside our bed for the night, the Hotel Rialto, below the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal.
With the Rialto Bridge on our doorstep it was an obvious first stop. The most famous bridge that crosses the Grand Canal, it is a tourist landmark worth seeing. The Rialto fish market is definitely the place to come at Saturday lunchtime, bustling with Venetians doing their weekend shopping. There are numerous places to grab a bite to eat with Muro being a favourite – the chef sets up a stall in the middle of the Campo serving the dish of the day – we sampled some deliciously fresh crispy fritto misto and a glass of wine for under €10 each. And people complain Italy is expensive!
An afternoon of culture:
If you don’t have that much time in Venice the Italian habit for squeezing as much as possible into a small space means you are in luck. You can see its most famous sites in one area. San Marco is the heart of the town, with the most famous sights they tell you about in the guide book. Standing in the middle of the magnificent piazza San Marco is an experience in itself. Napoleon referred to it as the ‘drawing room of Europe,’ which is still fitting today.
Like the pizza here, everyone wants a slice. It often seems most of Europe’s tourists are wandering around the beautiful piazza but the atmosphere is electric. Within the square you have the beautiful cathedral Basilica di San Marco, the Venetian Gothic architecture of the Doge’s Palace and Torre dell’Orologio (the clock tower). Just outside of the square is the Bridge of Sighs, one of my favourite tourist places. It was built to link the Doge’s Palace to the prison. The unusual name was supposed to refer to the sighs of prisoners, taking their last look at freedom as they glimpsed the lagoon through the small windows.
Do NOT miss Trattoria Ca’ D’oro Alla Vedova – make sure you ring and book this cosy restaurant as the queue tails up the road when the doors open at six. Believe it or not, this favourite eatery is not a tourist trap. It’s mostly crammed with locals filling the bar area eating the succulent polpette (homemade meatball) at the bar with a glass of red. The food here is some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten and a quarter of the price you would pay in piazza San Marco. A plate of antipasti costs €6 and a main pasta dish costs €10. Desserts are €5. The menu is small and traditional. Dress code: casual.
Venice is notorious for its lack of nightlife, however, the Venetians love to drink. It’s not unusual to see locals around the fish market with a glass of prosecco firmly in hand at 10am. Hey – don’t judge! When you’ve been up since 4am, 10am is a respectable drinking hour.
The best way to spend an evening is an Italian style bar crawl – wandering from bacari to bacari enjoying the delicious small plates of cicchetti (tapas-like snacks for €1-€2). Unless you want an overpriced drink and a view of the same sunburnt tourists you saw earlier, I’d avoid the bars around the Piazza San Marco. But if you can’t resist the tourist trail, another alternative is Harry’s Bar on Calle Vallaresso – the place the Bellini was invented in the 1930s and a favourite watering hole of Hemingway.
One of my favourite spots is the local hangout Osteria Al Timon Fondamenta Ormesini (Cannaregio). A small bar and restaurant with tables on the canal and a moored boat alongside acting as a floating terrace. PassportstampsUK officially deems this the perfect setting to order the deliciously luminous Aperol Spritz. FACT.
For a later night head to the Campo Santa Margherita, a bustling student square filled with places to eat and drink cheaply well into the early hours.
PHOTO: All rights reserved by Justin Kenneth Rowley