June 2020: A nostalgic visit to three of Venice's less well known districtsMonday, 15 June 2020
Three of my favourite areas in Venice
Dolphins in the Grand Canal?? Not quite but if one place needed to pull the plug on tourism for a while, it was Venice. The water is now clear and fish have returned; the cruise ships aren't coming in; the trinket stalls have gone; and the streets and canals are only for the locals. What a dream, just like the old days.
Speaking of which, I have been satisfying my nostalgic yearnings by re-reading Jan Morris' ‘Venice’. It’s a tad old-fashioned, and a little bit stuffy, but it is still a very enjoyable read – a fascinating portrait of Venice in the 1950s.
Until we can get back there safely (hopefully not too soon) I’d like to indulge in a little nostalgia and share three of my favourite parts of Venice and the lagoon:
- The Garden Island in the lagoon
Canareggio is second largest of the six ‘sestieri’ or districts, of Venice. Canareggio is the closest sestiere to the mainland. It was a miserable swampland when first settled around 1000 AD and has been progressively reclaimed until the 1920s.
It has always been a peripheral area, a place of marginalisation, withdrawal and discretion. During the Middle Ages large convents were set up here; the foundry for casting canons was set up here for fear of fires; the Jewish population were locked up in the Ghetto here (sadly the first of its kind in the world); the Jesuits were sent here (the Venetians never trusted them); and the Middle Eastern traders were based here. Later the nobility built palazzos here, discrete weekenders that they used as gambling schools and ‘romantic’ liaisons. In modern times it has been a place for workshops, warehouses and cheap family housing, all of which gives a busy local buzz. Because most of it has been reclaimed over the centuries, it has a relatively regular pattern unlike most of Venice: a series of long, deep and parallel canals opening out to terrafirma, with a fondamenta (a wide paved ‘street’) on the southern side, gives a nice airy atmosphere.
Although only a ten-minute walk over small bridges and canals from the Strada Nuova, the busy strip that connect the railway station with the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square, Canareggio is relatively untouristed area, where you can relax and enjoy an aperitivo watching families passing by and kids kicking a footballs around the squares (why don’t they ever go in the drink?) and still be within striking distance of the big sights. It also has some real treasures: the Ghetto itself; the church of the Madonna del’Orto with its paintings by Tintoretto (who lived and worked in Canareggio) and the Scuola Grande della Misericordia, designed by Sansovino with paintings by Veronese.
Where to stay:
B&B Ponte Chiodo, Cannaregio, Calle de la Racheta. This gorgeous B&B has five lovely rooms, each different to the other and each with a view over a quiet canal. A generous breakfast is served in the pretty private garden. Doubles from around 100 euro per night
Hotel Ai Mori d’Oriente: Fondamenta de la Sensa. This lovely 4-star boutique hotel occupies a 15th century, Moorish palazzo and has twenty-one air-conditioned rooms. Doubles from 200 euro per night.
Grand Hotel dei Dogi, Fondamenta Madonna dell'Orto. This luxurious 5-star hotel, set in a 17th century palazzo, has sixty-four high-ceilinged, elegantly furnished rooms as well as several bars, a restaurant, private gardens and a free shuttle service to St Mark’s Square. Doubles from 190 euro per night.
Where to eat:
Osteria L’Orto dei Mori, Campo dei Mori. In a gorgeous square (well, triangle actually) on a quiet canal with tables outside, this excellent osteria has a Sicilian chef who celebrates local ‘lagoon’ cooking such as ravioli with smoked ricotta and baked seabass with ratatouille and basil sauce. Around 50 euro per person.
Osteria Ai 40 Ladroni, Fondamenta de la Sensa. The Osteria of the 40 Thieves is a relaxed restaurant on the ground floor of a Gothic building with tables out the front on the canal and inside in a private garden, serves classic Venetian dishes including sarde in saor (fried fresh sardine fillets marinated in softly cooked and spiced onions), schie con polenta (mini-prawns served with polenta), mixed fried fish and grilled squid. Around 30 euro per person.
Trattoria da Giggio, Rio Terà S. Leonardo. This fab small restaurant is one of my favourites, serving delicious dishes including fegato alla veneziana, liver cooked in the Venetian style. Bookings essential. Around 60 euro per person.
Il Paradiso Perduto, Fondamenta della Misericordia. Traditional neighbourhood tavern serving real, hearty Venetian fare at long wooden tables with regular live readings and music. Around 25 euro per person.
Garden Islands in the Lagoon
To discover an even more hidden side of Venice, jump on the 13 vaporetto from the Fondamente Nove on the outer northern side of Canareggio and take the 15 minute ride (past Murano and Burano) to the little group of islands clustered in the north reaches of the lagoon that have only recently begun to stir from a centuries old slumber.
Certosa is the first you come to. It’s a beautiful destination but also a great base from which to explore Venice itself – there is an excellent 3-star hotel as well as a number of good restaurants. It only takes 30 minutes to walk around the island, following a path that skirts the water and then cuts through a small stand of forest with rabbits and wild goats. Unfortunately, there is no sign of the Cisterian monastery that gave the island its name (Napoleon stripped it of its Titian and Tintoretto masterpieces before razing it to the ground). The abandoned 19th century munitions factory, however, has been fully restored and converted into a fascinating exhibition space.
The second island of the group is Le Vignole, a patchwork of fields at the tip of which are the remains of a 15th century fortification (unfortunately again currently closed to the public) that controlled the narrow channel between Venice city and the Lido.
Beyond this, is the island of Sant'Erasmo, the largest, and most interesting, of the group. For centuries, Sant'Erasmo has been the market garden of Venice, fresh produce from its extensive farms over to the markets of La Serenissima every morning. Nearly four kilometres long, the best way to visit the island is by bike, pedalling through the fields and vineyards as well as along the shores of the lagoon, with breath-taking views back over to Venice and the neighbouring islands. At the southern tip is the recently restored Hapsburg lookout tower, Torre Massimiliana, which hosts temporary exhibitions.
About half along the island is Sant'Erasmo village, a group of houses and a small church clustered around the waterfront and the vaporetto stop Capannone, near which you’ll find a lovely little hotel which serves local products and rents bikes and a lovely agriturismo which presents the best the island has to offer: fresh fish, fresh vegetables, local wine and occasionally even some fresh game.
It’s possible to buy local products directly from the farmers of Sant’Erasmo. One of the most interesting is La Maraveglia, an organic farm run by two young entrepreneurs where you can by zucchini, tomatoes, capsicum, beans, cauliflower, eggplants and the islands famous ‘castaure’ artichokes (open each day from 9.00 am to 07.00 pm each day). You can also visit the island’s only winery, the Orto di Venezia, run by Frenchman Michele Thoulouze, which produces 15,000 bottles a year using a variety of variety of Italian grapes including malvasia istriana (open from 08.00 am to 15.00 pm Monday to Friday).
It is also possible admire the islands from the water in a private boat. The Eolo is a 70 year ‘bragozzo’, a traditional boat that worked the lagoon. Skipper Mauro Stoppa offers day cruises with drinks, nibbles and/or dinner (www.cruisingvenice.com). Cristina Della Toffola also offers cruises in a bragozzo which takes up to 9 people. Cost for the entire boat range from 380 to 420 euro, aperitivi included (www.veneziainbarca.it).
Where to stay:
Venice Certosa Hotel, Isola della Certosa: A simple but comfortable 3-star hotel. The service is friendly and relaxed. The hotel has a busy air to it with patrons and workers at the neighbouring marina and boatyard dropping into the bar and the very good restaurant. A great Venetian experience. Double from 80 euro per night.
Il Lato Azzurro, Via dei Forti, 13, Sant’Erasmo. This ‘agriturismo’ is a laidback place set in the green of St Erasmus. The rooms are a tad austere but perfectly comfortable, each with ensuite bathrooms and views out over the gardens. It has its own restaurant. Double room from 70 euro per night.
Where to eat:
Ristorante Il Certosino, Isola della Certosa: This restaurant is associated with the Certosa Hotel. It specialises is fresh local seafood and has comfortable local ambience. Around 35 euro per person
I love Chioggia, it is salty piratical sort of place, to paraphrase Charles Dickens. It closes the southern end of the Venetian lagoon and is the second largest settlement on the lagoon, after Venice herself. One of the main fishing ports of the Adriatic Sea (famous for its mussels), Chioggia has a large daily fish market. The main town is on the island that closes off the southern reach of the Venetian lagoon. It is a charming knock-about town that maintains much of the characteristics of its big sister but without the crowds.
Chioggia is considered the poor cousin of Venice but this is unfair. It is a very interesting and town in its own right. It has regular ferry connections to Venice and is a good place from which to explore the lagoon (as well as the coastline to the south).
Chioggia has a remarkable longitudinal urban structure with three canals and a parallel wide main street with smaller canals peeling off like the bones of a fish. It has an interesting natural history museum with extensive collections of shells, fish, crustaceans, coral and fossils, as well as the Museum of the Southern Lagoon with extensive archaeological and ethnographic collections (it is over four centuries older than Venice) but the real pleasure of a visit here is just wandering around soaking up the atmosphere.
Where to stay:
B&B Ca’ dell’Angelo, Corso del Popolo. This very comfortable B&B is on a canal in the centre of Chioggia. It has three large, light suites, each of which has a private bathroom and a kitchenette. Double with breakfast from 80 euro.
Hotel Grande Italia, Rione S Andrea. This 4-star hotel has a great location on the waterfront, looking north into the lagoon to Venice. It is set in a handsome 19th century palazzo and has a range of rooms from economy to suites with lagoon views. Doubles with breakfast from 120 euro.
Where to eat:
There are a number of good restaurants, such as Bella Venezia (Calle Corona 51, in front of the fish markets) and La Taverna (Via Cavallotti 348, a bit more upmarket), which serve excellent local cuisine, however, if you are feeling adventurous and would like a uniquely local experience, La Vecia Casa is the place to go. Not a traditional restaurant, more a family home, this institution is hosted by Fernando Villan, is one of the town’s great characters. There is no menu, you will be served whatever is going, typically grilled catch of the day with salted potatoes followed by a freshly baked almond tart. There is also no fixed price – you pay what you wish.