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48 hours in Venice, by land and water
Italia!

48 hours in Venice, by land and water

Posted Tuesday, 16 May 2017   |   1794 views   |   Leisure Interest   |   Comments (0) From the pages of Italia!, Sara Scarpa takes us on a tour of her native Venice, following a route that accentuates the close relationship the city has with the water that surrounds it…

From its very beginnings, Venice has always been an amphibious city. Its fish-shaped body floats on water and it is impossible to think of the city without associating her land with the lagoon and her many canals, water channels and streams.

The city rose from the water: many centuries ago people from the Veneto fled from the mainland to the lagoon to seek refuge from their enemies on the sandy islands surrounded by marshland. Venice was built upon hundreds of small, flat islands which were later connected by almost 400 bridges. The Venetians had to build solid foundations for their city by driving wooden stakes into sandy grounds and constructing wooden platforms on top of these.

Venetians were, and still are, islanders, and their connection to the lagoon and to the sea has always been, and still is, inevitable and necessary. It is this ‘marriage’ between land and water that made it possible for Venice in the past to become economically and politically powerful, and this is what still today largely contributes to making the city so unique.

It is very apparent, when you are in Venice, that you are always surrounded by water. When you are walking around the city you will cross many canals and get on and off the vaporetto (public water bus) frequently. The best way to see the real Venice is from a Venetian perspective, and for this you cannot avoid moving around by boat. I would highly advise you to hire a small boat for a day or two to get a better feel of the city rather than always sharing the crowded public boats. With your own boat, you will see places tourists cannot reach and will live a whole new experience. If you don’t, you will definitely be missing the opportunity to fully understand the complex identity of the city. Hiring a boat is not as difficult as you may think; you can hire a boat with little experience via different private companies.

Day 1: From San Stae to San Marco – The Hidden Gems

 

I presume you have already been to Venice, but if not, I would recommend you to refer to my previous articles and blog as I really do not want you to miss out on that part of the city! As I have previously covered the areas of San Pietro di Castello, via Garibaldi, the Arsenale and the more central parts of Venice, I will start this tour from a new district, Santa Croce, and, in particular, San Stae. At the public boat stop, you can admire the richly decorated façade of the Church of San Stae, an abbreviation for Saint Eustachius, the church which Ruskin once called “ridiculous” because of its baroque architecture which he greatly disliked. It is not my favourite church either, but it does contain some remarkable works of art, including a Martyrdom of St Bartholomew by a young Giambattista Tiepolo.

 

However, this is not the reason why we are here. I brought you here to let you step into the world of elegance and luxury in which 18th-century noble Venetians lived. In Palazzo Mocenigo, you will be surrounded by furnishings and paintings of that period with mannequins dressed in18th-century costumes which recreate the past atmosphere and transport you back in time. The museum observes the evolution of fashion and interiors and hosts an interesting history of perfume. Palazzo Mocenigo, once the residence of one of the most prestigious Venetian families, is today a fantastic museum and also the seat of the Study Centre of the History of Fabrics and Costumes.

 

But let’s step away from the 18th century and go back to the vaporetto at San Stae. By boat you can take in the central section of the Canal Grande. You will pass in front of Ca’ Pesaro, the International Gallery of Modern Art, which is just next to the church, and on your left you will see the magnificent Ca’ d’Oro (Franchetti’s art collection); then, on the opposite side, the famous Rialto market and the most photographed bridge – Ponte di Rialto! Once you have passed under the late 16th-century bridge, on your left you can see Palazzo Loredan, where once lived Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia. Soon after, on the opposite side, you’ll see Palazzo Papadopoli, which today houses the fabulous Aman Resort, where George Clooney recently married. The volta del canal (the turn of the canal) is breathtaking – Palazzo Balbi and the Ca’ Foscari university (yes, I did study here!) on the right and the Palazzi Mocenigo on the left, and a magnificent view over Rialto.

 

Get off at San Samuele, just after Palazzo Grassi (the contemporary art museum) and you will be just opposite Ca’ Rezzonico, the famous museum of 18th-century Venice. This is well worth visiting but for now we will keep walking, leaving behind us the Palazzo Grassi and the church of San Samuele, where Casanova was baptised and gave his first one and a half sermons. We take the calle on the right and walk past the palace where he was born, the places where he grew up, and where he had his first sexual experience, with the Savorgnan sisters. We then stop at the nearby Campo Santo Stefano, a peaceful, large square with a majestic Gothic church.

 

After visiting the 16th-century cloister of Santo Stefano, we walk in the direction of the Square of Sant’Angelo and if you turn round you will notice the heavily leaning bell tower. Towards the end of Calle della Mandola, which is dotted with pretty shops and a very interesting bookshop specialising in Venice, turn left and follow the directions to the Fortuny Museum. Shortly you will enter a quiet and tranquil street where stands my dream home, Palazzo Fortuny: I return here every time I am in Venice. This is a different world and I love its cosy atmosphere. This palace is charming – you walk in dim light surrounded by beauty everywhere you look. You can visit the rooms created by Mariano Fortuny and sit contemplating the luxury of the objects surrounding you – the famous lamps, the paintings, the fabulous furniture – all wrapped in the rich, wall-hung tapestries. This eclectic collection and the palace are magical and you wish you could just have the place to yourself: to lie in peace on the big sofa, immersed in beauty. But do not despair as beauty is waiting for you outside – this is what I always have to remind myself when I need to get up from my favourite sofa!

 

So let’s walk towards Campo Manin. In the middle of the campo stands one of the few monuments in Venice dedicated to a person. It represents Daniele Manin, the Venetian patriot who fought against the Austrians, a hero of the Italian unification, and at the base of the statue the winged lion, the symbol of St Mark and of Venice. Follow the very discreet, almost hidden, indications to the right of Corte Contarini del Bovolo. This is a hidden gem: a small courtyard with an elaborate external spiral staircase which is an extension to the Gothic palace of the Contarini family. The name refers to the spiral form of the staircase – in fact, bovolo in Venetian is a small, edible snail. The tower is a mixture of Renaissance, Gothic and Byzantine styles.

 

It is now time for a drink and, of course, some food. As usual, one of my favourite osterie happens to be just around the corner, Enoteca Al Volto. My dad used to come here on his lunch break with his colleagues many years ago and we are often here together still nowadays. We always opt for quite a few traditional cicchetti such as crostini with baccalà (salt cod), sarde en saor (a Venetian dish of marinated sardines with onions and pine nuts) and the first spritz all’aperol!

 

Now refreshed and recharged we are ready to continue. We pass the Bacino with its many gondolas. Some gondoliers are resting, some joking and some inevitably flirting with the tourists. And after the porch, we are in the heart of Venice, St Mark’s Square. This time we skip the Basilica, the Campanile and the Ducal Palace to spend some time admiring the capitals of the columns of this last one. Try and spot my favourite, I can tell you that it is the one telling the story of love, life and death, the alpha and the omega where everything starts and ends.

 

For the evening I recommend to go for a stroll and a drink in Via Garibaldi, where you will find the real local Venetians. My favourite restaurant in this area is the Trattoria Giorgione for its food, for the atmosphere, but most of all for the voice of Lucio Bisutto, who entertains his friends and customers with typical Venetian songs.

Day 2: Back to the Sea – The Lesser-Known Islands of the Lagoon

 

San Francesco Del Deserto

 

This remote island in the northern lagoon between Sant’Erasmo and Burano hosts the medieval monastery started by St Francis at the beginning of the 13th century. It is a serene environment with wonderful cloisters, two churches (a 15th-century church and a modern one), pretty gardens, flowers and numerous cypresses and pines. A small community of Franciscan friars inhabits the island and one of them will kindly guide you around the monastery and the gardens explaining (only in Italian, be prepared!) the story of the monastery. Surrounded by nature and tranquility with a magnificent view over Burano and the lagoon, listen to the birds singing and you will be far away from the hustle and bustle. If you want to keep away from it for longer, you can even stay overnight at the monastery. Unfortunately, it is not served by public transport but it can be reached by boat – ideally you could rent one or, alternatively, you can opt for a short journey on a private boat from Burano. If you are visiting in the summer, drop me a line and I can always take you there by boat myself!

 

Sant’erasmo e Le Vignole

 

These islands can be reached by public transport but are still very isolated. Sant’Erasmo is the biggest island in the lagoon. Like Le Vignole it is mainly occupied by vegetable cultivations, vineyards and orchards. In the past, Le Vignole was nicknamed ‘the island of the seven vineyards’ and it used to be the place of vacation for the Venetians from the mainland. Today, Venetians love to come here by boat with friends to enjoy traditional fresh dishes at the Trattoria Le Vignole. Sitting at the outside tables overlooking the lagoon they can enjoy the catch of the day with some local wine. Venetians like to continue relaxing by going with their boats to the nearby bacàn – the shallow part of the lagoon with sandbanks and muddy terrains which is used as a temporary beach to put their umbrellas and deck chairs. When the tide changes, the beach disappears and the marsh-dwellers return to land. I have always wondered if this is one of my favourite beaches because of its strong connection to Venice or just for the fact that I am far away from the crowds. Perhaps both!

 

Cavallino – Treporti

 

This is a peninsula dividing the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea, which includes Punta Sabbioni, Cavallino, Treporti and Lio Piccolo. Every summer the place, mainly Punta Sabbioni, is invaded by millions of visitors who choose to come here for the beach, for the camping, and also because staying here is much cheaper than staying in the centre of Venice, but still close enough to be able to visit the city and its islands. You won’t have enough time to visit all three islands and the peninsula in just one day, but this offers a great alternative if you would like to spend a day cycling surrounded by nature in the Venetian Lagoon. Take the motonave from Lido to Punta Sabbioni and cycle to Treporti where, near the small main square, you can have a fabulous lunch at Locanda Zanella. Then you can cycle further, all the way to Lio Piccolo, while enjoying a stunning view of the lagoon. Here you are fully immersed in unspoiled nature. With the exception of a few buildings and a church with a bell tower, the village is mainly agricultural and offers an interesting bird life – you might even spot flamingos and herons. Bird watching might not be what you think of when you think of Venice, but this is a city of land and water, and the sea birds are as much part of it as its people and historic architecture.

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Italia! is the world's best-selling magazine for lovers of Italy - for people who holiday there, who own or wish to purchase homes there and for those that have a passion for the country's people, culture, food and drink.

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