There’s a sight around every corner, down each walkway and canal that evokes an ‘aaah’. You’ll feel as if you’ve just stepped in to a period movie set … no that’s not quite right, for Venice is authentic, and lived-in … it’s like stepping in to a timeless oil painting.
Last year we spent a weekend in Venice, it was my second time, but it didn’t matter, for Venice never ever disappoints.This utterly unique city, fashioned from gold and Istrian stone, perched on waves and straddled by canals filled with bobbing gondolas, astounds.
Even her decayed wood, flaking stucco walls and slowly sinking buildings devoid of perpendicular angles, seem to have an imperfect charm .
Here are some of my top tips for and some of my favourite photos:
1) Go in September
The the crowds thinner, the rooms less expensive and the weather is warm and the sky azzure.
2) See the views from up the Campanile (bell tower)
The view from the top of the tower reveals Venice in context. The islands in the lagoon, the mainland and the alps in the distance, the red tiled roofs, domes and the crowds that look like scurrying ants, and at this height, there’s not a selfie stick in sight.In case you’re wondering, there’s a quick lift that gets to the top, fast.
3) Get lost and enjoy it.
118 small island and 417 bridges – let’s face it, you will get lost, and because the paths are narrow and straddled by high buildings, your smartphone will, most of the time, lose signal. So why not take a compass with a detailed map and justify all those scouting years?
Another way I’ve often used to navigate on travels is to use the sun and shadows: at noon in the northern hemisphere, the sun will be due south, the rough direction of the main square, St Mark’s. At sunset, your facing west. Watch the shadows of the clouds.
The better alternative is, for the hell of it, to just get lost. You’re bound to find the edge of the city sooner or later and might discover something on the way.
4) Enjoy the seafood.
Naurally seafood is a specialty for this city on the sea. Sardines, cod, shrimp, lobster, squid manifest themselves in delicious sauces all freshly caught the night before, except on Monday because fishermen take Sundays off.
Visit the fish market at Rialto Bridge, nice and early, and even if you don’t go to buy anything, it’s a wonderful way to do something the locals do and enjoy the bustle in front of you.
Here I’ve tried squid ink linguine for the first time.
5) Chill out in St Mark’s square
St Mark’s Square is the central piazza of Venice, where tourists congregate. Three major attractions are here: the Basilica (We went on a Sunday morning service), the Doge’s Palace and the Bell Tower. The square abounds with restaurants and cafes where we sat and sipped and listened to an orchestra play Take That. It’s touristy…
6) Go to a classical music concert
I don’t know a lot about classical music, but the older I become, the more I like it. There’s a certain therapy in it, a timelessness that pulls on emotions too readily, perfect to unwind to, ideal to lose yourself in the moment and there’s nothing more special than Vivaldi in Venice.
We got some tickets at the Chiesa San Vidal to hear the Interpreti Veneziani with a beautiful rendition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Why not ask at the tourist information office for what’s on?
7) Spend a day on the Vaporettos.
Vaporettos are hop-on hop-off water buses and with a 24 hour pass you can use them all day long up and down the Grand Canal. Details are on the official site for tourism in Venice. Once you get your favourite seat, Venice unfurls her rich tapestry right in front of you.
8) Go nocturnal
Walk the streets at night, when the crowds will have gone home and you’ll find Venice cloaked in mystery. The dark lapping waters, the limelight shimmering in the sea mist, strange shadows and canal-side rooms that reveal ornate and exquisite interiors, illumined from huge chandeliers All very noir but in a non-sinister way. And if doing stuff is your thing, there are theatres, operas galore, a casino, or the live orchestra at Venice’s oldest cafe, Cafe Florian, or Harry’s Bar
9) Go on a gondola
People are in two minds about the gondolas. Some say they are too touristy and at 80 Euros for half an hour, are overpriced. I’m of the other school, you see the buildings from another angle, and the pace on the water slows things down as you glide along to the gondolier singing. Unwind. Chill. Put your feet up and eat a cornetto. Marvel at their expertise, manoeuvring such a long, asymmetric vessel with a single oar, around tight corners on unruly waves while holding a tune.
And just for the record we stayed at the lovely Hotel Scandinavia filled with 18th century style furniture, brocade fabrics and Murano glass lamps. Our room overlooked one of the oldest squares in Venice where every morning a fruit seller set up his stall. I wish I had remembered to take my water colour set, but that’s for next time, for there will be a next time, and when it comes, it will be just as astounding as the previous times, for Venice, Venezi-aaahh, never disappoints, of that I am sure.
What have been your highlights of your visit to Venice? What are your top tips?