Pick a tower – the campanile in St Mark’s Square will do, or the one on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore – and make your way to the top. To the east, thin strips of land protect the fragile lagoon from the waters of the Adriatic; to the north, the peaks of the Dolomites – snow-capped in winter, fading into heat haze in summer – heave into view. And at your feet, the world’s most improbable city is laid out, glimmering. Venice has always been the stuff of dreams. For holiday-starved visitors, hungry for difference, it’s a mesmerising place in which to rediscover the delights of travel.
Having revelled in La Serenissima from a great height, it’s time to savour her at ground level. You’ll want to (re)visit the famous landmarks of course. St Mark’s Basilica might seem rather too obvious a destination, but think again: those acres of glistening golden mosaics are heart-stoppingly splendid. If you find yourself wondering how many works by grand masters you can stomach the moment you spread your travelling wings again, visit the Accademia Gallery; you might find that the answer is a whole marvelous, dazzling gallery full.
Between one peerless sight and another, be aware that one of Venice’s greatest joys is simply walking. The colours, the reflections, the echoes, the churches along the way in which any shadowy side-altar could harbour an exquisite masterpiece – these are the things that make this watery wonder simultaneously the simplest and the most sophisticated of city breaks.
As you proceed, you could make a restaurant your goal. Famous for its uninspiring tourist traps, Venice also harbours some real gems. Splash out on the ever-changing fishy fare at Alle Testiere, a gourmet’s delight you’ll need to book well ahead: the secret is out. Or go for Michelin-starred Local, where Venetian classics blend with subtle exotic touches.
You’ve been aloft, you’ve pounded pavements, all that remains is to take to the water. A gondola ride comes with a hefty price tag (€80/£67 for 30 minutes) and, for some tastes, is a trifle cheesy, but don’t be too put off: a fish-eye view of the city’s crumbling palazzi along quieter waterways is memorable.
Not convinced? There are alternatives. Venice’s vaporetti waterbuses are a means of getting from A to B, certainly, but they can also be an attraction in themselves, especially if you climb aboard at quieter moments and grab an outside seat. The 4 and 5 lines circumnavigate the city centre, passing along the wide Giudecca canal and out into the northern lagoon, where the dramatic cemetery island of San Michele rises into view. Line 12 plies across the wide lagoon to the smaller islands of Murano, Burano, and impossibly atmospheric Torcello, with its few fascinating reminders of a once thriving community. A three-day vaporetto pass (€40/£34) makes it easy to hop on and off the boat wherever you spot something too fascinating to miss.
There are eating options, too, at the end of a watery ride. La Palanca, by the vaporetto stop of the same name on Giudecca island, is a local bar with excellent food (lunch only) and the best city-encompassing view from its quayside tables. For greater sophistication, Venissa, on the island of Mazzorbo, offers Michelin-starred treats in a sprawling walled garden.
The Daily Telegraph