Destination – Venice
One of the most beautiful cities in the world, Venice is dazzling in the summer sunshine. So breathtaking is the architecture, winding canals and alleys that Germany agreed to exclude it from their WW2 bombing campaign. A midweek break presents a romantic experience that a few could resist, meandering along Venice’s beautiful canals, streets and waterways without the additional crowds that tend to come at weekends.
During my recent trip to Venice I stayed at the Palazzo Barbarigo — a former family palazzo dating back to 1569 and stunningly located right on the Grand Canal. With just 18 bedrooms and in a contemporary Venetian style with rich velvet curtains, feathered bedside lamps, vast mirrors and elegant chaise longues seductively placed under the huge windows overlooking the water.
Barbarigo is one of the new generation of intimate guest houses and a refreshing alternative to the familiar grand dame hotels. It also has some spectactular views from its suites overlooking the canal which will inspire you to get out exploring and soaking up Venice’s unique atmosphere. It is worth taking a water taxi to arrive at Barbarigo, as the approach from the canal is beautiful, and the alternative route via Vaporetto and then on foot through a warren of winding alleyways is not to be recommended on a hot day whilst carrying luggage. The Barbarigo is one of many Palazzos now converted into boutique townhouses and I have a long list of others to try out and on my next visit I plan to stay at Palazzo Stern. One of the more traditional palazzos, it is one of the few hotels to have a terrace right into the Grand Canal, and a leisurely breakfast or evening aperativo here would be a delight, shared only by other guests in residence, and the tranquillity a privilege in peak tourist season.
Try crossing the grand canal by Traghetto – a gondola with standing passengers – just remember not to give your tourist status away by sitting down and taking photos.
The Vaporetto or water bus system is really excellent, but a Gondola ride remains high on the list of romantic things to do and is an extravagance Venetians only indulge in on their wedding days. If you prefer to avoid the full spectacle of the experience then follow the natives, and try crossing the Grand Canal by Traghetto — a Gondola with standing passengers — just remember not to give your tourist status away by sitting down and taking photos.
Lunch at the iconic Ristorante Grand Canal at the Hotel Monaco is a great refuelling spot and being next to the San Marco Vaporetto it is easily accessible, although its canal-side location with views of the Santa Maria della Salute does inevitably draw the crowds — its staple seafood dishes are its best. There is also an excellent bar serving a lighter menu where I shared a starter of Prosciutto San Danieli followed by Insalata di Pollo with a glass of crisp white wine – a perfect start to the afternoon before moving on to see the sites and browse some of the luxury fashion boutiques in this area.
One of the most well-known and well-loved bars in the world, the original Harry?s Bar in Venice has inspired not just the Carpaccio, but also the famous Bellini. Opened by Giuseppe Cipriani in 1931 and located right on the waterfront at St Mark?s bay, Harry?s Bar is steeped in legend, tradition and reputation. The Bellini was named after the fifteenth century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini and mixes white peach juice and Prosecco, and the Carpaccio of Beef features a plate of trimmed sirloin sliced wafer thin and dressed with a Jackson Pollock spray of mayonnaise mixed with lemon juice, and was prepared for an Italian Contessa who was practising a diet free from cooked meat. The dish was named after another Italian painter Vittore Carpaccio who was famous for his love of deep reds, and a trip to Harry?s Bar to sample both the Carpaccio and the Bellini should lie right at the top of a ?things to do whilst in Venice? list. Ignore the price tag, this is the perfect prelude to a great evening — the Venetians know and are prepared to pay through the nose for the finer things in life, and Harry?s Bar represents one such occasion. Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles and Truman Capote have all been famous patrons, enjoying its sophisticated and lively atmosphere which has remained relatively unchanged throughout its history, and even today it has an army of regulars who will appear several times a week simply to enjoy what they deem to be the best in Venice.
…dropping by for a 7.00am mass with the early morning sunlight emblazoning the mosaics … it is still possible to glimpse the real Venice.
Osteria Enoteca San Marco makes a superb dinner recommendation and a memorable experience — its exposed brick walls, atmospheric lighting and glass counter filled with regional cheeses and jams creates a warm ambience that is seriously popular and rightly so. The focus is on quality spirits and wines with some excellent Veneto labels and more than 300 varieties offered by the glass. Combining an Osteria and Enoteca, the menu is simple — customers can stop off and sample some wines and cheeses at the bar or book ahead for the fantastic Osteria. The management team here are apparently new and seemingly intent on making a name for this refreshingly unpretentious restaurant and sending a message to the often overpriced Venetian restaurant scene.
The beautiful Rialto Bridge is one of the most iconic sites in Venice, and perhaps best seen by Vaporetto in the morning sunlight giving you not only the perfect view,
but enabling you to avoid the hordes of crowds that flock to its bars and markets. Returning to explore fully in the evening, there are a number of watering holes favoured by the locals in this area. Do Mori is actually one of Venice?s oldest bars, being some 458 years old, and serves a mouth-watering selection of Cicchetti and Ombre, whilst Naranzia has quickly earned an excellent reputation for its unusual partnering of Asian inspired food with the regional wines of the Veneto. Another recommendation is Bancogiro, which will serve you some exquisite fish dishes, and refreshingly free from the regular roll call of traditional pasta. Al Merca is a favourite with the locals who call in during the day for a drink and a snack, whilst in the evening its selection of Spritzers and Prosecco make the ideal accompaniment to the stunning antipasti and Panini.
Entering Piazza San Marco from the western end, and being confronted by the glittering and magnificent Byzantine cathedral has been one the most jaw-dropping moments for countless visitors to Venice, but the 11th century exterior with its soaring domes, statuesque horses, and elegant spires is only the beginning. Inside the Basilica 1 ½ square miles of dazzling and painstakingly-assembled mosaics cover the interior walls and ceilings, and a myriad of other treasures testify to the Venetian love of all things ornate — and to their propensity for looting. In the crush of visitors it is easy to lose sight of the Basilica?s real function, but dropping by for a 7.00am mass with the early morning sunlight emblazoning the mosaics, and hearing the congregational prayers it is still possible to glimpse the real Venice and remember that San Marco remains a practising place of worship.
A contender for Europe?s oldest coffee house Caffe Florian is situated at the end of Piazza San Marco, and rather like London?s The Wolseley is one of the original grand café houses. Opened in December 1720, Florian attracted many of Venice?s notables of the day including the playwright Carlo Goldoni, Goethe and Casanova who was no doubt attracted by Florian being the only coffee house to admit women, and later Lord Byron, Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens were frequent visitors. Sipping my caffe I watched as the regulars made a steady stream past me and the other tourists, heading for the rear bar area, where they sipped Campari and indulged in some fast paced Italian gossip. The locals can often be seen crowding into small pasticcerie and this will generally be an indication of a great rear bar, where they can grab a quick drink and a snack before heading off again — or perhaps lingering a little longer over the irresistible tapas-style Cicchetti and a Spritz al bitter, a cocktail of Campari, white wine and soda.
A cultural visit to Italy can often result in Renaissance overload but at least one gallery should be on the list for first time visitors and the Galleria del Accademia is definitely a good starting point. A repository for centuries of Venetian art houses and collections of city lagoon masters, including Paolo Veneziano, Mantegna, Giorgione, Titian and Tintoretto, the Accademia never disappoints. Look for the beautiful narrative works like Bellini and Carpaccio?s Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto, and remember all the galleries have restoration programmes so it always advisable to check that what you want to see is available before you arrive.
Challenge your senses by contrasting a visit to the Accademia with a visit to see the Peggy Guggenheim collection. Located just off the Grand Canal at the Palazzo that was her former home, the collection houses a staggering 300 pieces of art largely collected during the onset of World War II, and featuring impressive works of Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract genres. Or even more arresting still, make a visit to the Spazio Vedova. The former studio of Emilio Vedova, a prolific painter of the 1960s and 70s, the Spazio is famed for its development by architect Renzo Piano. Making a feature of the studio?s unusually long and narrow proportions, Piano incorporated a rake into the floor to create a sense of perspective, and to allow light to filter from the rear of the building, whilst exhibits hang from futuristic robotic arms, which move and rotate the collections, seemingly bringing them to the viewer. Whether your passion is modern art, or if you make a visit purely to offset Renaissance fatigue, you cannot fail to be impressed by this progressive concept, and will emerge into the daylight eager to resume your meandering around the city.
Spending a little time in researching some of the less obvious galleries can reap great rewards and can reveal some unusual and special exhibitions. Just opposite the Accademia, The Istituto Veneto di Scienze is exhibiting some collective examples of Picasso?s work until 12th July, exploring the complex relationship between the artist and his first patron Ambroise Vollard, displaying some of Vollard?s letters alongside Picasso?s work. Attracting fewer tourists, visiting some of the smaller galleries will allow you to view in the luxury of your own quiet company. Visiting in April, I could have imagined myself in a private viewing, and the peace and tranquillity coupled with the stunning art and beautiful setting made this occasion one of the highlights of my trip, and a truly memorable occasion.
Venice has so much to offer it is easy to spend every day enjoying the art, architecture, food and wine? but there could be fewer more romantic settings in which to enjoy some of Italy?s beautiful music. Vivaldi is Venice?s most famous resident and there will always be a concert somewhere to embrace his uplifting compositions. I was fortunate enough to find an intimate performance of his Quattro Staggioni, performed in the Chiesa di San Vidal (San Vidal Church) by Interpreti Veneziani, a chamber ensemble who specialise in Baroque music and performs more than 200 classical music concerts each year at the church. Veniceconcerts.com will inspire you with their listings of all the exciting forthcoming productions, whilst a gentle stroll will often unearth some of the more intimate performances.
Venice is best explored with a spontaneous timetable, its most beautiful corners often unearthed during a meandering stroll enjoyed simply for the pleasure of seeing where it takes you. If you prefer the security of a map the best one to take is the Venice A-Z Calli, Campielli e Canali Edizioni Helvetia) which is published only in Italian. It is not light and will add some weight in your luggage, but it is absolutely failsafe, and will ensure that even when you feel the romance of being ever so slightly lost, you can be sure of reaching your hotel without becoming footsore.
Venice is just two hours from London, and you can arrive at Marco Polo ready to embrace the Italian glamour in your own Mustang chartered from TAG Farnborough Airport, costing £13,600 and requiring no refuelling. Extend your midweek break into the weekend with an overnight stay at Aviator, enjoying dinner in the Brasserie before relaxing in the spacious tranquillity of a Sky Suite, followed by a long lie in and leisurely breakfast the following morning. Our Weekend Romance ?Greed? experience costs just £505 for two people and includes a 5 course Tasting Menu dinner and a champagne breakfast in bed, as well as a welcoming candlelit turndown.
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