365 Degrees Piazza San Marco.
From land to water, paths traversed will inspire your imagination, transporting you step by step into another era.
Venice forces you into a time warp. Normally I would prefer a getaway with a cross between more trendy dining and dancing venues with just a dash of romance thrown in. However, It’s impossible to escape romance here, this place just begs you to dress up for dinner, smooch on a bridge and spend most of the afternoon having lunch and drinking rosé wine. You just have to go with the flow.
Before we get to the fun stuff its nice to actually know Venice as a landmass. I’ve been a few times and am surprised that I have not got to grips with how Venice sits within its surroundings. Lets start with an Ariel view. Imagine flying over any coastline with a thin outer strip of land almost enclosing an inland bay, in this case called a lagoon. The lagoon (bay) is large, 210 square miles. Take the Jersey Shore! (Very loosely imagine this but it is a similar ‘lay of the land’). There is the main landmass, the open bay, then the strip of beach enclosing the bay that divides the bay from the sea. Venice is an island divided into two parts by the Grand Canal, sitting within the lagoon. Venice was built on a sandy spit in the lagoon on sand, mud and wood pilings (now petrified).
How do you get to Venice if it’s an island? Travel Guru answers the question. Most fly, and then use some form of water transport to get there. The Airport is small. When you arrive there no need to get a taxi. You can walk to a covered walkway about three minutes from the airport to the waterbus or water taxis. Depending on where you are staying it may not make sense to take a ton of luggage. This is a great town for dressing up but if you are bringing several suitcases make sure to pick a hotel with on site water taxi access so you can be dropped at your door! I still have bad memories of a girl’s trip where we schlepped many bags up and over the Rialto Bridge.
There are several other ways to get to Venice. You can hire a car and park on Piazzale Roma, in the artificial TronchettoIsland. From there you can go to the historic town and San Marco square either by foot or by the No.2 vaporetto, the public water bus. The only reason to do this is that you are going somewhere else after Venice very early before the car hire is open. You can also get a train. There are many options here from different cities for instance from Paris you can get the Thello overnight service, which also goes to Milan. This train deposits you right near the Grand Canal at the station Venizia Santa Lucia. Personally I am a road trip person but you can’t beat a train for convenience.
FYI there are other Islands in the Lagoon with accommodation and a more ‘fishing Village’ aspect. If someone had told me I would have stayed around longer to experience the contrasts. Look up Mazzorbo, a quiet island with a thriving vineyard. Try the Venissa Ristorante Ostello it’s a six room locanda (guest house) with a completely different feeling to the bustle and glamour of Venice. Apparently the food and atmosphere are both fab. You can get to Mazzorbo in 35 minutes from Venice on the LN vaporetto (waterbus) from Fondamente Nove.
The fun thing about Venice is the endless exploring, mostly on foot ie; walking or by public transport, (boats). If you see yourself endlessly being carted about by water taxis and gondolas think again. Each water taxi is 60 euros no matter how far and each gondola 160 euros for a loop that lasts about 40 mins. We persuaded a gondolier to take us in the direction of our hotel, in a straight line, for 40 mins this costs way more. The water buses are reasonable about 6 euros for a ride and you can get passes …but in August they are packed so we mostly walked and splashed out for taxis in the evenings.
Again, this is seriously a ton of walking, even if you think you are in superior shape do not wear flip flops or after several hours pounding the pavements, your lower back will go out. As I like to look ‘together’ whether I am going to The Chanel Store or a back street Osteria, trainers seem a touch gauche… as do Teva sandals. I sported Todd’s and still suffered. Good Luck. However, If you chose to stay close to St Marks square you avoid the walking but pay more for a hotel and will never make it off the tourist route to the back alleys and back water ways, which is the whole point of Venice.
There are so many choices of places to stay in Venice. If we had been alone we would have stayed at the Hotel Cipriani the Gritti Palace, or the Danieli. On this trip we were a bunch of friends and there was no need to spend the cash. The prerequisite for us was a balcony in our room and an area to sit by the water.
I found a perfectly nice hotel, Hotel Ca Nigra and managed to reserve my room with a balcony that had a direct drop into the canal.
The rooms were very clean and had a simple Venetian atmosphere with a modern twist here and there. Ca Nigra was a bit quirky and a little lightly staffed, particularly at breakfast– but I just had coffee, which was Italian and seriuosly good. Ca Nigra is also in a great area for cool local restaurants and shops but quite a walk from St Marks Square, (San Marco).
On every trip I constantly scope out Hotels mostly first for position and ambience. Later in the trip I spotted a perfect option right on the water with a terrace for lunch. I never made it inside but Palazzo Stern is reasonably priced and worth investigating. It is located next to Ca’ Rezzonico water bus stop.
The back alleys and small waterways were worth the miles we walked. Small boutiques, galleries and restaurants are literally around ever corner. This is really the best part of a trip to Venice, every turn led to a new finding! Canals are the major arteries, the water alleys connect everything but buses don’t use them, only the taxis.
You can see a good part of Venice in three days, less if you skip the alleys and just settle for the glitzy areas and a couple of museums, that would be a pity though. Just be careful if you set out late in the morning, quite a few shops close from 12.30 to around 4 pm, which is quite a chunk of time. If you are coming from the states bear in mind you will be seriously tired in the morning- hellooo jet lag!
Best to get up lateish, have coffee on the terrace overlooking the canal, do one museum or point of historical interest somewhere between 10.00 and 2.00, (you have made a reservation of course), have a late lunch, (again you have a reservation) and then head to the shops when they open. Then before heading to the Hotel either grab coffee at a cafe, or perhaps have a cocktail overlooking the canals or lagoon. Go home to change and head out for cocktails and a late dinner. You will be up till about 2.00am. Be warned in the summer the tourists are everywhere and it’s is very busy past noon.
Hate to nag but you must have reservations for the museums and good restaurants in the peak season–even the local type.
If you do have any energy take a run around Venice in the early morning, it’s the best time to see it without hoards of people blocking the views. Fill up with a deserving lunch with unbelievable pasta at one of our local lunch spots, Ostaria Da Riobo, sit outside by the canal.
Again, do plan ahead for museums as its almost impossible to get same day on line reservations. An inside tip–if like me just for once you couldn’t deal with being totally organized, I heard from a reliable source that you can get ‘same day’ tickets for some museums by lining up at the central museum offices as soon as they open.
Look for the office under the archways opposite the Basilica in St Marks Square, (all the way across– this is a huge square) and hope for multiple entry tickets. Apparently this can work well depending on the time you get there and availability. We instead decided to line up 8.45 am for San Marco Basilica as we had set out fairly early before the crowds.
San Marco church opens at 9:30-17:00 Monday through Saturday and 14:00-17:00 on Sundays. It took awhile but luckily just as we were loosing interest a guide turned up, scoured the line and took people who wanted to do a paid, guided tour to the front. Needless to stay we went with her, it was about 15 euros more per person and well worth it. Sometimes things work out. BTW–Wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulders or they may not let you in!
Above is the view from the balcony of St Marks Basilica. In between these columns at the edge of St Marks Square convicts used to be executed. Locals avoid walking through the middle. So did we.
After the sightseeing and then some heavy shopping we decided to get a Gondola home and did not want to go on one of the usual ‘loop’ routes. The Gondolier we hired was fit and young (!) he took us in a straight line towards the Hotel for double the rate (40 mins max). This is not an easy transaction as they hate to do this– mostly because they have to come back for 40 mins and they may not get a ride ‘off route’.
Personally I just couldn’t get my head around ending up where we started with no progress made! It was also time for a cocktail (which can make you a wee bit grouchy) so our Gondolier thoughtfully stopped at a local restaurant he knew, grabbed us a bottle of prosecco and some plastic cups, heaven! Many Gondoliers learn their trade from a family member, ours actually went to Gondola school and now owns his own Gondola which cost him about 35,000 Euros. Every year he takes January off and totally loves his job. Very cool. Mind you, nothing beats zipping about in a wood trimmed motor launch!
After making it most of the way back to the Hotel in the Gondola, we walked the last few alleys with a skip in our step. Tonight we were going to drink Bellini’s and eat Carpaccio (rumored to have both started here) and indulge even further on the most fabulous chicken liver risotto, at the Bar/ Restaurant Harry Cipriani. This is, for me, the Number 1 bar in Venice. Exciting stuff. Note about booking this bar. Book ages in advance and also call and make a point of contact and for god sake get a name. INSIST on an email conformation or you are screwed. This is the trickiest place in Venice to tie down to a reservation, particularly if you want to eat in the bar.
The bar At Harry’s really is a scene but do understand there is no view; the view is of the people who have managed to secure a reservation at the height of the season. Some dont’s… Don’t go on a past memory from when you were with your sister on a binger (even IF your mother was there–long story). Don’t go with 10 people. Don’t go in an un cool outfit. This is Venice you can go for it–dress up.
I had remembered the chicken liver risotto correctly but NOT the size of the bar. Somehow my brain crossed the downstairs bar with the upstairs restaurant in an uprescedented mind merge. I thought the bar was bigger. It’s very, very small. You don’t want to go upstairs. It’s all about the bar. However the bar (staff) couldn’t handle 9 Americans at once wanting Bellini’s– and damn it… one irritating small woman wanting a Cosmo! Truth is we overwhelmed the bar and the Italians around us were looking sort of stiff (and they can be VERY disapproving).
We moved on to the Hotel Monaco where we had a lovely lunch the day before. As we departed the cry went up at Harry Ciprianis, “how could they give up that table, god forbid! These Americans”. ANYWAY we know when to cut and run and felt no remorse. Hotel Monaco is right next door to Harrys Bar and has one of the best terrace views in Venice. As we knew the Maitre D’ he waltzed all 10 of us to the front rails just as the sun was staring to go down. Unheard of on a crowded night at peak season–:)
The food here is fab but the balsamic vinegar literally stands up in a rounded mound on the plate, it was truly divine. If you can get past the vinegar and bread you may have room for the yummy food.
The next day some of our party made it to the Doge’s Palace but I had done this before and as choices had to be made– I chose to return to the Peggy G museum. As far as museums go in Venice , for me the Peggy Guggenheim Villa and Museum is the Number 1 thing to see. Thats a tough pick in Venice but this museum takes you right in, making you feel like you could have lived here and lived the ‘Peggy life’, hanging out with relatively current artists and having a total blast–no problem. (Sadly no time in this life that’s for sure…)
This ‘exuberant’ sculpture (it was hard to find the right word), is titled ‘The Angel of the City’ its definitely my favorite at the museum. Looking out over the canal it commands the best position. 🙂
Shopping in the city is easy. As you wander through the city look for hand made paper goods, hand made masks for all the balls you go to (!) and great hair clips. Obviously all the big name stores are here but in the back alleys there are some great custom jewelery stores and tiny boutiques. There is no point naming them, you have to discover them for yourself, that’s the fun part!
Murano glass and lookalikes are everywhere– not my cup of tea unless you are going for a red glass chandelier to fit into a minimalist decor. Good luck finding it. You can find tasteful tumblers like those pictured below but you have to hunt.
Moving on towards our ultimate dinner experience we boarded the boat in the early afternoon to The Cipriani Hotel. Note: although this hotel was originally a Cipriani family establishment it is now a member of the Orient Express Group.
Hotel Cipriani is for me, the number 1 place to stay. Old world Venice, oozing refined glamour. To some it can appear dated but it has great ambience. Remember, when you stay here you are away from the city. Just a quick complementary ride away but you are not right on the main Island. Which, quite honestly actually feels like a blessing.
This Hotel exudes ambience and I was definitely in love. Yes it’s a bit dated here and there but that’s truly part of the charm. We were a bit put out as we arrived too early for the bar situated at the enterance so we wandered about the property exploring. A really cool chef on break saw us and guided us to the pool bar.
He took us through a myriad of winding back hallways, (more chance to observe the inner workings of the Hotel), then just as we arrived, annoyingly, the pool bar was just closing in anticipation of the other bar at the entrance opening …angry growling sound. However we persuade the staff to serve us a couple of bottles of wine and sat down before dinner to admire the late evening sun and enjoy the ambience. The pool sits under a distant canopy of buildings and closer canopy of manicured shrubbery. The bar area adjoins the pool with indoor and outdoor terrace seating.
When you consider where you are and how you arrived (water taxi though the canals then the Ciprani launch across the lagoon) the next step is to contemplate your upcoming dinner on the deck at Cips Club overlooking Venice, across the lagoon. This is the number 1 spot for dinner on a fine evening. If you do this right dinner will be perfectly timed to happen during sunset and I guarantee you feel pretty damn special and rosy about the cheeks. Go. I loved the Cipriani logo toweling hand towels in the loo. I loved the snack with the wine. I loved that I left my scarf there and had to come back for lunch. I loved this place!
Inevitably you will end up boating along the Grand Canal. It seperates Venice and can be a pain to cross but your photo op’s are endless. Even if you are on a super quick trip make sure you take a ride down the Grand Canal to St Marks Square and sit at a café and watch the people go by.
Pick a spot close to the Lagoon for the best people watching.
And get a gelato!! Yummy!
With those of you with more time, some of the best hangouts are back in the alleys.
We ate at Ae Oche Pizzerie and Cucina, which was good, truthfuly it was mostly because of the Osteria and bar it was next to. It was jammed every night with clientele spiling out onto the street. So fun. On their business card under Osteria da Filo- is the slogan -wine’ n’ music-. So fun and all the locals go.
Leaving Venice wasn’t easy but as we were heading to Croatia to sail the Islands we weren’t feeling too sad, plus the water taxi ride across the lagoon to the airport was an event in itself.
Don’t forget to buy ready made Bellini’s at the airport, they come in various sizes. I think I’ve seen same brand in America too. The small ones purchased in pairs make great gifts for those who didn’t get to go!!
All pictures are Copyright 2013 Trendy Girl Travels
(except where specifically credited to other people)