When my husband and I were planning our first visit to Italy last year, he said that he wanted to spend a few days in Venice. “Really?” I said. I’d heard that Venice was crowded, touristy, expensive, a bit like Disneyland with canals and various water craft instead of rides. It can be all of those things, but once there we soon realized that it is so very much more.
Once known as La Serenissima (The Serene Republic of Venice), it remains to this day a place unlike any other. Other-worldly and magical, mysterious and magnificent, Venice seduces the senses. There’s a pervasive sense of history, of love and conquest, of duels and danger, of piety and opulence, and of decadence. My husband described it beautifully as “a mix of romantic and sinister.”
The “romantic” part is obvious. Go out and wander, get off the beaten tourist track (easy to do!) and you’ll get a sense of the latter as you pass through the dark, narrow calles that open up onto quiet and charming piazzas where locals sit and sip and converse. Allowing yourself to get lost is the best way to find the essence of Venezia.
* When making hotel plans, check out the family-owned boutiques. Many of them are quite web-savvy & have amazing pedigrees — like the Pensione Guerrato, which is part of a palace built in 1227!
* Purchase a multi-day Vaporetto pass. These hop-on, hop-off water buses are the quickest way to get oriented when you first arrive, to get from point A to point B, and one of the most economical ways to get to the outer islands.
* Bring a camera! It’s almost impossible to take a bad picture in Venice.
* Hire a gondola, but first grab a bottle of chilled Prosecco and some bread to enjoy along the way. The view from gondola level is not to be missed, and the gondoliers will fill you in on local history and myths, and may even break into song. Just be aware that it can be HOT in the mid-day sun, and either wear a good shade hat or go earlier or later in the day.
* Bring a good pair of walking shoes or sandals.
* Enjoy a Spritz (pronounced “spreetz”) the official drink of Venice. Made with white wine, carbonated water, Aperol or Campari (more bitter but I prefer this version), a lemon peel and an olive, it’s very refreshing on a warm day.
* Make dinner reservations. Restaurants, especially the good, popular ones do fill up quickly.
* Seek out local artisans for glasswork. A lot of what is sold as “Murano glass” is actually imported from China.
* Go into churches if they’re open to the public (just be sure you’re dressed appropriately). Some of the most amazing architecture, history and artwork can be found in the churches.
* Dress in layers. The weather is changeable from day to day, and even at times from hour to hour. As I’ve noted in previous travel posts on the Une Femme blog, my gorgeous Karina Dresses travel and layer well!
* Overschedule. You’re going to want to just wander, stop and listen to a street musician, take a Spritz break, just stand on the quay and watch the boats, take in the aura of the place.
* Expect to take pictures of street performers without giving a tip.
* Expect to find a gondola if it’s raining or if the wind is up. Apparently it’s dangerous for the gondolas in choppy water.
* We weren’t expecting to fall head-over-heels in love with Venice, but we did and are hoping to go back again soon!