Venice's Hidden Gems

Iconic architecture, impeccable cultural connections and an air of faded elegance combine to make Venice one of the most romantic cities in the world. If you’re looking for the ultimate romantic destination then this is the perfect choice. Venice is undoubtedly a victim of its own popularity, with its famed gondolas and square-side cafés in danger of becoming a romantic cliché. The good news? There are still plenty of secluded streets, candlelit trattorias and secret viewpoints where you can enjoy the classic Venetian atmosphere without sharing the experience with other tourists.

Arrive with style

The best way to begin any trip to the City of Love is by boat. You can catch a water taxi directly from Marco Polo Airport and be whizzing down the Grand Canal within minutes, taking in those soul-searing views of the Rialto Bridge and countless peeling pastel palazzos along the way. At around €100 each way for three people, this unique form of transport doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re out to impress a loved one then it’s a far better option than an even pricier gondola ride.

Once in Venice, avoid the more established hotels (renowned from the 18th century onwards for their tasteless, overcooked food) and instead book into a backstreet boutique. Novecento Boutique Hotel (San Marco 2683/4, 041 241 3765) is a delightful, Oriental-style gem with a small number of pint-sized but perfect rooms and a riotous garden. Breakfast on the terrace here makes the perfect way to start the Day. Alternatively, B&B Bloom (San Marco 3470, 340 149 8872) presents guests with a bottle of fizz on arrival and boasts a softly-lit rooftop terrace with awe-inspiring views over the city.

Take a stroll

The key to catching Venice at its best is to pick your time of day. Early morning, when mist hangs over the canals and all but the most intrepid visitors are still in bed, sees the city at its most romantic. Set your alarm clock for 6.30am and grab a coffee at Caffè del Doge (San Polo 609, 041 522 7787) before exploring the delights of the Rialto market. Set against the backdrop of San Giacomo di Rialto, this famous foodie destination sells everything from fresh fish out of the lagoon to local artichokes and white asparagus.

If you’re not a morning person, leave it until after dark before attempting to see Venice’s most famous sights. There’s a myth that any couple who kiss on a gondola at sunset beneath the Bridge of Sighs will be eternally in love. Once you’ve wowed your other half with your knowledge of Venetian legend, take a stroll around St Mark’s Square and the Accademia Bridge – both at their best under the cloak of night.

During the day, escape the crush to explore some of Venice’s lesser-known neighbourhoods. The atmospheric Cannaregio area is a maze of quiet canals and narrow alleys where visitors rarely venture. To the south, Dorsoduro is also well off the tourist radar, despite a profusion of churches, impressive industrial architecture and edgy modern galleries.

Cultural secrets

It’s true: St Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace and La Fenice opera house are all staples of Venetian culture, but the crowds they attract put a damper on romantic overtures. If you’re keen to discover the city’s architectural and cultural heritage without joining the queue, then there are some stunning but still relatively unknown alternatives.

Start by exploring a selection of Venice’s hidden churches. The shabby charm of San Pantalon (Dorsoduro 3703, 041 523 5893) is enhanced by the baroque painting that sprawls across its lofty ceiling. Drink in the exquisitely rendered saints and angels before jumping on the bus and heading east past the old dockyards to the city’s municipal gasworks. Hidden in this unlikely area is San Francesco della Vigna (Ramo Al Ponte San Francesco, 041 520 6102) with its 15th-century painting, Madonna and Child Enthroned. You’ll find another beautiful depiction of the Madonna at Torcello Cathedral (Piazza Torcello) on the remote island of Torcello, which is well worth the extended ride on bus number 12.

For the ultimate quixotic evening, discover the charms of Musica a Palazzo (San Marco 2504, 340 971 7272). Set in the heart of an elegant Renaissance palace, this little-known opera house only seats around 70 people, but it’s famous for its stellar performances and old-world atmosphere. Many performances take place by candlelight with the audience following the singers from room to room, and tickets can be had from as little as €50.

Table for two

Eating out in Venice can be a little hit and miss. Yes, the city has its fair share of overpriced, tourist-centric restaurants, but there are also some truly delightful little trattorias as well as a scattering of Michelin-star standard eateries.

If it’s just a glass of wine and a quick bite you’re after, then a bacaro – the Italian equivalent of a tapas bar – should be your first choice. Canal-side bacaro Anice Stellato (Fondamenta della Sensa 3272, 041 720 744) offers bite-sized snacks for just a euro each, not to mention an impressive and well-priced wine selection. In nice weather, pull up a chair on the street outside the restaurant and enjoy lunch for two while admiring the views over the canal.

If you’re prepared to splash out on a classy dinner, then the Michelin-starred Met restaurant at the Metropole Hotel (Riva degli Schiavoni 4149, 041 520 5044) is the obvious choice. Dine on foie gras, goose and sumptuous chocolate dishes against a classically luxurious backdrop – but book as far in advance as possible if you want to nab a table. A wonderfully unusual alternative is Venissa (Fondamenta Santa Caterina 3, 041 527 2281). This gastro retreat involves a journey across the lagoon to Mazzorbo, where the restaurant sits amid its own vineyards and vegetable patches. Venissa is sure to score you a few romantic points – as well as wowing you with its delicious food and wine.

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