Destination: Italy: Venice
Read: Just Back From Venice, an update from Spring 2012.
Update: Autumn 2010
No matter how many times I’ve visited Venice, the first glimpses of La Serenissima—the moment when the vaporetto turns into the Grand Canal and the faded palazzi rise from the lagoon like pillars of another era—always leave me speechless. As a travel writer committed to seeking out the new and as someone who deeply appreciates that Venice doesn’t want to be seen as a static museum, I nevertheless always have a moment when the watery city’s myth and history get the better of me. But then, as soon as I step off the vaporetto and, most important, get off the beaten path and out of the tourist hordes, I am fully back in a vibrant city that moves mindfully and willfully to its own rhythm.
Locals will always tell you that the best way to discover Venice is to get lost in its labyrinth of streets—and they are right. For starters, there’s a maddening number of location descriptions (calle, campo, campiello, rio, ponte, sotoportego, to name just a few), and each of the six sestieri (neighborhoods) has its own numbering system. One tip I really benefited from on my last trip is to follow the house numbers stoically and ignore the street names altogether. For example: fabled restaurant Da Fiori is located in Calle di Scaleter, but it’s easier to find it if you track the numbers until you reach San Polo 2202. Don’t get frustrated: losing the way is part of the fun—and romance—of Venice and the worst that can happen is that you reach a canal and have to backtrack.
Another thing to accept early on is that everything takes time in Venice. Waiting for the traghetto, riding the vaporetto, finding a destination—all takes longer than you think. And it should. Venice is a city the reveals its treasures slowly, layer after layer. To learn the place, you have to succumb to its rhythms (languid), sounds (feet and water) and scents (the sea). If you rush, you will miss the details: the secret garden, the alley that spills into a sunny square, the street where locals still string up their laundry. The best sestiere to get lost in is San Polo, a place full of neighborhood charm, scenic squares and restaurants like Antiche Carampane.
Other favorite finds on this trip included:
WHERE TO STAY
Ca Sagredo: This Grand Canal–facing luxury palazzo has museum-worthy works of art, and its restoration took nearly a decade
Palazzina Grassi: Bad-boy French designer Philippe Starck¬ ventured, for the first time, into Italy with this striking boutique hotel (Johnny Depp stayed here during the filming of The Tourist).
WHERE TO EAT
Cip’s: Located on a terrace floating on the Giudecca, this restaurant of the venerable Cipriani hotel has stunning views, a surprisingly laid-back and congenial vibe, and serves beautifully prepared Venetian cuisine.
La Corte Sconta: Near the Arsenale, this is a wonderful lunch spot thanks to a covered courtyard setting and a daily changing menu of special, delicious seafood dishes.
Alaska: Arguably the city’s best gelateria, tucked deep into Santa Croce but worth seeking out for such seasonal, unusual flavors as celery and ginger.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Punta della Dogana: François Pinault’s contemporary art museum, on the tip of the Dorsoduro, is worth seeing for the stunning architecture by Tadao Ando who turned the massive former customs building into one of the world’s most beautiful gallery space, as well as for his amazing art collection. Read more about this special Venice museum.
BEFORE YOUR TRIP
There are countless books—fiction, non-fiction, memoir, children’s—written about Venice but my favorite new discovery before this recent trip was Venice is a Fish, by native Venetian poet and novelist Tiziano Scarpa. It’s evocative, funny and deeply personal, and makes you want to discover Scarpa’s insider Venice.
Venice has a marketing problem. Some of the most stunning art exhibitions and events are barely advertised, so unless you have a super-motivated concierge, it is easy to miss things. A great website to research ongoing events is Venezia News (www.venezianews.it), which you can search by date and find out about even the most obscure of shows, which are often the ones to catch in this art-filled city.
Update: Summer 2008
In addition to the scarcity of American visitors, the talk of the town in Venice is that Mayor Massimo Cacciari has finally won his battle against the pigeons, or as he calls them “flying rats.” Over the past decade, many strategies have been suggested and tried, from catching them in nets at night (to the horror of animal activists) and adding birth control to their feed to fining people up to 500 euros for feeding them anywhere outside of Piazza San Marco. The city had become overrun with the disease carrying creatures (at one point it was estimated that there were 120,000 birds, almost three per resident), but generations of tourists flocked to Piazza San Marco to pose with the birds. Also, the licenses from the corn sellers brought in thousands of euros a year. However, once it became clear that the birds weren’t only a health risk, but were also destroying the façade of St. Mark’s basilica with their corrosive droppings, the mayor was finally able to ban even the lucrative corn sellers. Last week, a few unknowing tourists still scattered bread crumbs but they were greeted by a mangy and aggressive swarm whose ranks seem to be thinning by the day.
WHERE TO STAY
ON THE HORIZON: This fall Amanresorts will begin transforming a historic palazzo on the Grand Canal into a twenty-some room city hotel, and Francesca Bortolotto Possati is expanding her hotel empire with a palazzo on the Giudecca that will have two-bedroom apartment suites.
VALUE: With a weak dollar and strong euro, it’s nice to know that there are reasonable options from apartment rentals to family-run pensiones.
WHERE TO SHOP
Probably the most exciting news in Venice fashion in a decade is the new couture house Sete-Cento, founded by Alessandro Possati. Seek out his atelier and other of the city’s craftsmen who make exquisite products by hand such as the flamboyant shoe designer Giovanna Zanella the cult printer Gianni Basso, where Danielle Steel and Scott Turow come for stationery; legendary jeweler Attilio Codgnato and rising stars, the Attombri brothers.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Families should tour with one of our favorite guides who can bring the city’s history to life for kids and parents with tours of the secret passages of the Doge’s Palace, tales of how Venetians robbed the grave of St. Mark, scavenger hunts around the ubiquitous lion symbol and visits to craftsmen in their studios.
Stop in at the Fortuny Museum, where the permanent collection shares space until July 21 with the paper dresses of Isabelle Borchgrave, a Belgian artist.
Bike around the Lido or spend a day sailing with Mauro Stoppo on his restored fishing boat.
WHERE TO EAT
AL FRESCO: Eating at a shaded table on a lively campo or on a small lane is a summer pleasure. Favorites: Antiche Carampane, Ancora, Aqua Pazza, Art Blue Café, Bancogiro, Da Fiore, Florian, Quadri, La Rivista.
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