Venice is known as La Serenissima (from her official title of the Serene Republic of Venice) for good reason. Even while sinking, the northern Italy city of legend has been a cool capital of art and design for centuries. Dramatic location (built on and around 450 bridges and 120 islands) and romantic ambiance aside, many flock to Venice for its art, architecture and design attractions, especially every second year when the Venice Biennale gathers contemporary artists and their fans from all over the world. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of a few days in this historic and atmospheric city.
There are specialty items that you can only get in Venice. One of them is hand-crafted carnival masks. The maker of record is Mondo Novo, Palazzo Corielli, via Cardinal de Lai, 2 MALO, where Guerrino Lovato is the purveyor of traditional papier maché Venetian masks worn during the run up to Easter at a series of balls or masquerades. The museum workshop displays masks which are for sale online. Another must visit shop is La Bottega dei Mascareri, San Polo 80, where brothers Sergio and Massimo Boldrin craft commedia del’arte masks and others based on Tiepolo or Longhi paintings.
Another especially Venetian commodity is glass. The island of Murano has housed master craftsmen in glass since the Renaissance and the factories (check out Tommasi & Figli for a great selection of decorative and useful Murano glass pieces) and museum are still worth a visit. Nearby Davide Penso, F.ta Riva Longa, 48, makes exquisite glass jewellery and beads, and conducts classes.
After glass and masks, paper is probably the craft with the biggest presence in Venice’s lively centro storico. Visit Legatoria Piazzesi, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio 2511c, for beautifully bound notebooks and hand tinted cards and stationary. The Venetian outpost of the Italian chain Il Papiro, at 5275 Castello, is also worth a visit for marbleized paper boxes, folios and journals.
The art deco style Ca Pisani Design Hotel, Rio Terrà Foscarini, 979A , is set in a 14th century building a few minutes walk from the iconic Piazza San Marco. An elegant favourite of the art set, it’s also close to many of the most interesting galleries and museums.
The truly budget conscious may want to consider the San Giorgio Maggiore Benedictine monastery where you can pay the monks whatever you can afford for a room in a 16th century monastery not far from St Mark’s Square. There’s no WIFI, website or email so try calling 39-041-241-4717. The monastery sits on its own small island in the Grand Canal.
Galleries and Museums
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 704 Dorsoduro, houses the late American heiress’s personal collection of 20th century art in her unfinished palazzo on the Grand Canal. Enjoy viewing Guggenheim’s masterworks by Chagall, Picasso, Dali and other modern-era greats, as well as temporary travelling exhibits, in rooms of classical perfection.
For pre-19th century art, visit the Gallerie della’Accademia, Campo Della Carità, 1050. Here you can feast your eyes on the work of Venetian masters Bellini, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto, Titian, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Longhi and many others.
Where to Eat
Venice is packed with neighbourhood osterias, bacaros (small bars) and trattorias, many of which offer small tapas-style dishes (cicchetti) and drinks in close quarters indoors, or on canal-side terraces outside in fine weather. But there are several restaurants working to create a more contemporary Venetian cuisine that are worth checking out.
Among them, Ogio, Salizada dei Spechieri, 4877, in what was once the Convento dei Crociferi, has an inexpensive canteen style lunch room serving innovative dishes with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, a more formal dining room for blow out dinners.
Le Spighe, Via Garibaldi 1341, Castello, offers a vegan, vegetarian and organic take on Venetian cuisine. It’s casual, with a few tables and a flourishing takeaway service for picnics. The menu changes daily according to what’s available and fresh in the market.
Speaking of markets, head to the famed Rialto Bridge on the San Polo (western) side of the bridge. There has been a market on this site, Campo della Pescheria, 30125 San Polo, for almost a thousand years, and it’s still going strong. The Rialto Market is best known for the freshly caught seafood, but also sells fruit and vegetables. Go early because the show is over by noon.
The sites of Venice are many, but contemporary art lovers should take advantage of biennial orgy taking place in the Giardini district from June through November. La Biennale di Venezia invites artist representatives of many countries to create work installed in architect-designed pavilions scattered throughout the Giardini gardens and in the former Venetian military dockyard known as the Arsenale. In addition to exhibits there is a full roster of talks, parties and special events at venues all over Venice. It can be a physical workout so plan ahead, don’t expect to see everything in one day and pack snacks.
How to get there
Many major airlines fly direct to Marco Polo airport frequently, including Monarch, Easyjet and British Airways. The direct train from Rome takes about 3 hours.
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All photos courtesy of respective locations.