The palatial facades and peeling pastel backstreets of Venice are slowly sinking into the sea. Hanna Lindon shows you how to experience Italy’s Floating City before it goes the way of Atlantis.
. Few visitors to Venice
make it out of bed before breakfast, so sunrise is the best time to catch the city unawares. Kick off your 24 hours with a ramble down to the Rialto, home to Venice’s oldest bridge and setting for a 700-year-old street market. Later in the day you’ll have to muscle your way through flocks of tourists to reach the alien assortment of fruit and veg, but in the early hours of the morning foot traffic is mainly restricted to locals. Snack on the sweetest little strawberries you’ve ever tasted before nipping into the Caffè del Doge (San Polo 609, 041 522 7787) to fortify yourself with a cup of the black stuff. This high-roofed café does the best coffee and croissant combo in Venice, and its charitable roots make it something of a local treasure.
0900-1100. You haven’t got long now until the world’s biggest living museum well and truly opens its doors, so take the chance to enjoy a stroll along the banks of the Grand Canal from the Rialto before it’s standing room only. Gondoliers will be queuing up for your custom, but if you’d rather save your money then hop on a vaporetto (Venetian water bus) and whizz down to Piazza San Marco. It’s busy here at all times of day, but nothing can detract from the elegant and quintessentially Italian beauty of this famous square. Take the obligatory snap of Basilica San Marco, but don’t be tempted to stop for a coffee at one of the shady square-side restaurants unless you want to spend the rest of the day wondering where all your money went.
1100-1300. One of the best English-language tours in Venice inducts visitors into the architectural splendours of Doge’s Palace (Piazza San Marco, 041 271 5911). The ‘Secret Itinerary’ kicks off at 10.45am and 11.35am, and booking in advance is absolutely essential. It takes just over an hour to explore the fascinating network of archives, chambers, state rooms and prison cells, and tickets cost €20. All that culture is enough to make anybody hungry, and for a lip-smacking lunch in cosy surroundings you can’t do better than Le Bistrot de Venise (San Marco 4685, 041 523 6651). A short amble through paved backstreets from Piazza San Marco, it’s an arty little bistro that serves eclectic dishes based on 15th-century Venetian recipes.
1300-1500. With lunch out of the way, it’s time for a slice of what Venice does best: culture. Get back aboard the vaporetto and whiz over to the eastern Dorsoduro quarter, where you’ll find the Punta della Dogana (Dorsoduro 2, 044 523 0313) – an old 15th-century customs house reborn as Venice’s most eclectic modern art gallery. It showcases contemporary art from the Francois Pinault collection and seems almost out of place in this city of living history. For a completely contrasting experience, either wend your way west on foot through the jumbled backstreets of the Dorsoduro or climb back on a vaporetto and head to the Accademia Gallery (Campo della Carita, 041 296 7611). This holds one of the world’s most precious collections of old masters, with works by Tintoretto and Bellini taking pride of place.
1500-1700. The shopping scene in Venice isn’t all about glass figurines and carnival masks. The district of Cannaregio in the northwest even has (whisper it) a department store – although admittedly Coin (Cannaregio 5787, 041 520 3581) is the only outlet of its kind to be found here. Cannaregio, with its wide and modern Strada Nova, is probably the best place in the city to scratch a retail itch. The main shopping street itself is a little bland, but surrounding it is a network of boutique-rich backstreets where you’ll find the most elite (and expensive) designer shops. Explore a little further to discover the flaking pastel facades that characterise the old Jewish ghetto – an altogether quieter area of Venice, and a photographer’s paradise.
1700-1900. It’s about time to check into your hotel, and you couldn’t find a more luxurious place to drop off those shopping bags than the Palazzo Abadessa (Calle Priuli, Cannaregio 4011, 041 241 3784). As you might expect of any hotel with ‘Palazzo’ in its name, the prices are a little stiff – but as you relax amid period furniture and Venetian silks you won’t regret blowing the budget. There’s a private garden where guests can relax and soak up the sun and it’s well placed for exploring the city. A cheaper but equally exquisite alternative is the gorgeous little B&B Sandra (Corte Trapolin, Cannaregio 2452, 041 720 957), a 17th-century guesthouse with balcony views over the city.
1900-2100. A short walk from either place is La Bottega ai Promessi Sposi (Sestriere Cannaregio, Calle Dell’Oca 4367, 041 241 2747). This unpretentious restaurant in a tucked-away location is a local’s favourite, and serves up delicious seafood at reasonable prices. Gossip with the Italian intelligentsia at the counter or ask for a corner table to enjoy a quiet romantic meal. If you want to push out the boat and have had the foresight to book several weeks in advance, though, then head further south to the San Polo District and blow your taste buds away at Osteria Da Fiore (Calle del Scaleter, San Polo 2002, 041 721 308). This is the place where Venetians go when they’re feeling flush, and you won’t find more delectable cuisine anywhere in the city.
After 2100. Harry’s Bar (Calle Vallaresso 1323, 041 528 5777) is unequivocally the most famous drinking hole in Venice and it’s worth a look in for the historical associations alone. When you’ve drunk your fill of outrageously priced cocktails, follow the stream of students towards Campo Santa Margarita in Dorsoduro where the city’s hip young crowd drinks at café-bars until dawn. Orange (Campo Santa Margherita, 041 523 4740) is the bar of the moment – a sleek student hangout with a packed private courtyard.