One of the world’s most jaw-dropping cities, Venice has been attracting the Euro
jet-set who are drawn to the cultural hub for its ground-breaking art scene, as well as its hedonistic carnivals and cultural celebrations for centuries. And this canal-crossed city, built atop wooden pillars sunk deep into the waters – and invariably dubbed ‘The World’s Most Romantic’ or ‘Most Beautiful’ – has the distinct honour of being listed as a World Heritage Site in its entirety (as in, yes, the whole city is something to be treasured and preserved).
Having been, throughout its long and chequered history, a superior maritime power; the setting for plenty of famous literary works, including many by Shakespeare; the birthplace of Vivaldi, and the place from which some of history’s most enlightening artistic movements have emerged – including the Renaissance – no trip to Venice is complete without hitting both the tourist trail and the winding alleyways off the beaten track…
A slice of Piazza
Every twist and turn in Venice will lead you past some of the most impressive buildings in the world, where Byzantine, Ottoman, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque all combine with awe-inspiring results. Make your first stop St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) – which Napolean famously dubbed “the drawing room of Europe”. Here you’ll find attractions you’ve long seen in the movies, including St Mark’s Basilica, the 15th-century Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio) and the imposing early 16th-century buildings that line the square known as the Procuratie Vecchie.
Take time to enjoy tea in the square (be warned: prices are extortionate, and if the café has a quartet playing, you’ll be charged a ‘music fee’ too), and soak up the atmosphere, before hitting the high-end stores that surround the Piazza, such as Gucci, YSL and Chanel. Moving through the Square into the adjoining Piazzetta di San Marco – it connects the south side of the Piazza to the waterway of the lagoon – you’ll find the famed Doge’s Palace, with its Gothic arcades and red Verona marble pillars. It’s an elaborate residence-turned-museum where you can view works by Venetian masters, including Titianand Calendario.
Crossing the bridges
The water-way filled city is as famous for its bridges (there are 409) as it is for its glassware and masks, of which you’ll be sure to leave with many. And the most recognisable bridge is of course the iconic Rialto, which crosses the Grand Canal, and is home to rows of tiny shops on either side (unfortunately selling the usual tourist tat).
Also be sure to cross over – and then under – the Bridge Of Sighs, which connects the old prison rooms to the Doge’s Palace. Interestingly, famed British poet, Lord Byron, gave the bridge its name, saying that convicts being taken to their cells would no doubt sigh at their last view of Venice. And local legend has it that lovers who kiss on a gondola at sunset under the Bridge will enjoy eternal love – although this ‘legend’ may be a bid to encourage tourists to shell out the non-negotiable Dh700 you’ll be paying for a basic 30-40 minute ride.
Famous fine dining
Having attracted so many famous (and infamous) visitors over the years, it’s no wonder that drinking and dining at some of Venice’s bars and restaurants will see you sitting in very celebrated seats. Among the best places to visit is the legendary Harry’s Bar on Calle Vallaresso, which, since it was opened in 1931, has hosted the likes of Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin. It’s also home to the classic Bellini cocktail, and the delicate dish, Carpaccio.
The Hotel Cipriani is another gem, harking, as Harry’s does, back to the golden age. And editor, Gemma, highly recommends a spot on the terrace at the hotel’s laid-back yet beyond chic, Cip’s Club, which has unique views across the lagoon of the panoramic St Mark’s Square (the hotel runs its own boat service across to it) – oh, and she also spotted actress, Leelee Sobieski staying there. Alternatively, for a chilled-out trattoria, head to the Osteria di Santa Marina on Castello 5911, Campo di Santa Marina, where a bistro-like vibe pervades, and you can enjoy both great food and top service.
“My tourist times were between the hours of 10pm and 2am. It was the only time I could really wander and have a look around. It’s beautiful, really a magnificent place. That’s the sort of Venice I like to see, as opposed to the going into the gondola and putting a flower in my teeth or something. I like the nighttime Venice, I like the quiet Venice, where it feels like the ghosts are around.” Johnny Depp
To gondola or not…?
…That is the question. Travellers on a budget may balk at the fixed price of around
Dh700 (€150) for a 30-40 minute ride on what, at times, can be, crowded canals.
However, the ride will take you past gorge buildings, abandoned palaces that have been left to the tides of water and time, and will also make for some fantastic photo opportunities. Spread the cost by sharing – although it is far better a deux.
Treat your ears
Vivaldi’s home town is keeping his memory alive, and there are plenty of classical
concerts to be found throughout the city. Be sure to check out the programmes at
La Fenice, the Teatro Malibran and the Teatro Toniolo. Oh, and catching the Gregorian chanting on San Giorgio is another must. teatrolafenice.it
Go for carnevale
One of the events that Venice is most famous for, the annual Carnevale, sees the city don its ornate masks and head off in a social whirl to a myriad of dinners, events and balls – as well as join parades throughout the city. venice-carnivalitaly.com/
Stay here: Budget - La Calcina
About as budget as you’ll get in Venice, La Calcina is right on the Giudecca Canal but in the quieter area of Zattere, and the familyrun pensione offers great value for money. The 29 rooms boast polished parquet flooring, traditional furniture and a mini bar, and you can enjoy a daily breakfast and dinner at the in-hotel restaurant, La Piscina. Prices vary with the seasons.lacalcina.com
Stay here: Mid-range - Hotel Continental Venice
A nobleman’s home-turned-hotel, this historic three-star option on Lista di Spagna, is well-placed, and you can stroll into the heart of the city. With 93 rooms – some with views over the Grand Canal – you can request accommodation with a living room, and dine on Venetia, Italia and international cuisine at the in-house restaurant, Venice Cannaregio restaurant. hotelcontinentalvenice.com
Stay here: Luxury - Hotel Danieli
With opera legend, Maria Callas, Grace Kelly and Greta Garbo all serving as muses for the interiors of the hotel’s Historic Suites, a stay at the 221-room Danieli, which is made up of three palaces, is a lesson in high-class Euro-luxe. Dine at the Terrazza Danieli, with its views across the Grand Canal, enjoy the marble column, chandelier and stained glass surroundings, and take time out from the bustle of the city at the Venice Lido, where you’ll have privileged beach access.danielihotelvenice.com
The Tourist, Casino Royale, Don’t Look Now, Death In Venice, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Moonraker.