There is something ethereal and regal about Venezia (Venice) that manages to captivate you completely. Maybe it’s the unique beauty of the city built on water that doesn’t seem to be real, maybe it’s her glorious past when, ruled by the dodges, she dominated the trade between the East and West, be it the melancholy of the realization that the splendid city is quietly sinking into the waters where it once came from.
In Venezia one can’t but think of the passage of time and, sadly, some of the destruction it brings. Part of it comes from seeing the damage that the water has done to the buildings, and from knowing how little we can actually do to prevent it. The other part, however, is something that is a wider topic than that of Venezia only - how to conserve the authenticity and historic beauty of the unique places of the world heritage in our time of globalization, mass tourism and immigration. It has become increasingly more difficult to find genuine Venetian products and, in fact, to meet local venetians on the streets of the city. Cheap counterfeit products and replicas made in China - and other similar locations - have found their way to the shops and markets, and many locals have been forced to move away from the center due to the ever rising prices.
Probably we as single persons can’t offer a complete solution to all of it, but there are definitely a few things that we can do, such as to show our respect to local people and their customs, to realize that these breathtakingly beautiful cities are our ultimate task to preserve, always and everywhere prefer local products and spots, from restaurants to when bying yourself a gift to bring home. Less is more here – one pricier local product is a million times more valuable than ten cheap souvenirs. And one thing I really would like to understand – what on earth makes people to buy those counterfeit Gucci and Prada - or similar brands - bags from street vendors? First of all, it shows no respect for the work of others, as somebody originally has made that design and produced it, thus deserving to be paid for it. And there’s even no ego value in it. Part of buying the luxury brands is also the favorable self-image it creates, but with the fake ones, there’s none of it. You won’t feel any better, as you yourself will always know where it came from, and trust me, you won’t also fool others. My recommendation is to rather go for a local genuine leather work, if at this point of your life you are not able to afford the prices of real luxury brands, and I guarantee that you will feel much prouder about it.
However, all of it doesn’t make the splendor of Venezia to fade, let’s just together try to safeguard it. I have been an admiring visitor of that city several times, this time for a longer weekend, and would like to share with you some of my recommendations for visiting.
Rialto bridge and market
Everyone is aware of the famous Rialto bridge attracting visitors from all over the world. And it’s definitely a place to cross, whilst admiring the beautiful canal views on both sides. However, it’s also worth to pay a visit to the city’s legendary Rialto fish market, located not far from it. Especially, of course, when planning to stay in a place that allows cooking. You can see rows and rows of fresh fish and seafood sellers, offering an excellent produce to cook with.
Cannaregio taste hunting & cicchetti
I must say that in Venezia it may take time at first to find a decent local restaurant or bar and not to get stuck in some tourist trap. Genuine little trattorias and corner bars tend to be somewhat hidden and not easily available on the main streets where you typically meet restaurants with picture-menus (a red flag for a tourist trap in most cases!), offering an international food selection with a little bit of everything in it.
In Cannaregio, however, I have found quite a few of those genuine spots where also locals go and where you really feel the care of owners put into every detail, from the local Venetian food to the atmosphere and service. Just take your time to observe where the locals go and follow in their footsteps.
Things not to miss in Venezia are for sure the fegato alla veneziana (liver in the Venetian style) and spaghetti al nero di seppia (pasta dish with the black squid ink), as well as their famous tradition of spritz or wine and cicchetti at the local bar. The last means ordering a glass of wine (very typically a slightly sparkling white) or a glass of local Select spritz together with a selection of cicchetti, a Venetian “tapas”, if you wish. Among them can be the much-written-about triangle-shaped sandwitches, tramezzini, but also fried fish or octopus, meatballs, fried mozzarella and many others. You can order and eat directly at the counter or take a seat, as you wish.
Piazza San Marco and il Palazzo Ducale
How could I potentially write a guide to Venezia without this legendary landmark? Showing the glory of dodges who once ruled here, il Palazzo Ducale is always a must-go when in Venezia. Here the recommendation is definitely to do a pre-booking and to purchase your ticket online in advance, as you can easily wait for hours in the queue without it.
But not only the palace, towers and cathedrals make the Piazza San Marco so magnificent. It’s well worth to go for a walk there during different times of day, so you see how the atmosphere changes with the light. The main square of the city is opening on the Canal Grande, so in the morning you can see the sunsplashes reflecting on the water, whilst when the nigth comes, there’s nothing more magical than to see the gondolas on the backdrop of the dark blue water and sky, lights from the nearby lanterns adding another mystical note to it.
A visit to the Piazza San Marco wouldn’t be complete without visiting this historical meeting place of both Venetians and the city’s distinguished guests, throughout already a few centuries. Established in 1720, it has its unique charm, being among the most celebrated caffès in Italy. Be prepared that the price level of Florian reaches 13-15 euros for your coffee or cappuccino, but as a unique Venetian experience, it’s well worth it.
Ca’ d’Oro (Palazzo Santa Sofia)
This 15th century palace is now home to the Venetian art gallery, named after its last owner, baron Giorgio Franchetti, who throughout his lifetime gathered an impressive art collection, as well as personally oversaw the extensive restoration of the palace in the 19th century. Originally the palace, one of the oldest in the city, was built between 1428-30 for the Contarini family, who provided Venezia with eight dodges.
Walking around in its picturesque inner court whilst admiring the marble walls and floor patterns, is a good start to get aquinted with the palace. From there you can follow the staircaise upstairs where you will be surrounded by the Venetian, Italian and European masters’ Renaissance art, from paintings to wall carpets, sculptures etc. The name of the palace “Golden House” comes from the embellishments made of gold that once decorated its walls.
The celebrated opera house of Venezia, being right there among the most historical of the country, together with the La Scala of Milano and San Carlo of Napoli, for instance. What could be more Venetian than an opera night in a long evening gown in the midst of that unique atmosphere?
However, if that is not an option, you can also enter the opera house during certain hours by buying on the spot the ticket and taking the tour.
Vaporetto to Torcello, Burano, Murano, Lido
When staying a touch longer and wishing to go outside of the immediate center of Venezia, taking a vaporetto to one of the nearby places is a lovely way to see more of the city’s surroundings, equally beautiful. Be it the Lido beach area, quiet Torcello, charming Burano with its colorful houses, or the home of glass makers, Murano. Murano is also a great place to shop for this famous Venetian glassware, as when bying it directly from the factory shops, one can be sure of its genuine origins.
For those who would like to admire the more hidden canals of Venezia on the water, taking a gondola ride is something I would recommend. Gliding softly on the canals, enjoying the views, taking photos – perhaps with a nice glass of wine with you – is definitely a special and romantic experience that you couldn’t have elsewhere. 30 minutes gondola ride for two costs 80 euros, unless prices won’t change considerably, and you can take it from countless places by the water or by the bridges across the city.
Grazie ed alla prossima, la bella Venezia ducale!
© Luminata 2023