Many people say Venice is like a woman. She captures you in her labyrinth, and encourages you to explore the canals with your instinct rather than a map.
Venice has always been my source of inspiration even when I am not looking for it. It’s where I go to escape, whether it’s to see exhibitions, concerts, the film festival, biennale of art, or simply move from bar to bar with the locals.
It is one of those cities that you explore with all your senses. It creates memories within each one of us that are unforgettable and personal.
Here, I want to share with you my memories of Venice, sense by sense, as well as some of Annas’, another explorer who has been fortunate enough to collect her own sensory memories of the city.
TOUCH: intimacy that you feel with the city itself.
Venice is a combination of stone, water, tiles and wood that keeps your fingers tips alive and constantly searching. More than a romantic city perhaps it is this sort of intimacy that you live without realizing. From the way you move so closely with others in the streets, walking side by side, there is an intimacy that develops without words. A sense of familiarity shared between glances. Travelling by foot allows you to stop; to talk, to sit or to drink at the bar without preplanning. Without the speed of trains or cars, it is this that emboldens you to explore, always further, knowing that your feet will get you home sooner or later.
Things to touch in Venice:
/ The Gold Beater,‘battiloro’, an endangered profession, for he is the last master of this trade in the city. He hammers gold until it is as thin as paper, applied to jewellery, artwork and illustrations.
/ Fortuny fabrics, these fabrics have one of the richest histories to date, created using a well-guarded secret that is still being used to produce Fortuny’s fabrics. A true example of artisanal work that has withstood the test of time in Venice and around the world.
/ Glass making in Venice is an art that you will not find of the same quality anywhere else in the world. The true masters are born in Venice and have an understanding and respect for the living nature of glass that cannot be understood easily until we see the process.
/ Bevilaqua, gives you a rare glimpse into the labour intensive and beautiful tools used that have made the famous Venetian styles. See how every thread is cared for and feel the touch of hand crafted designs.
TASTE: flavours that come with a history.
Perhaps it is the way of eating that is more important than the taste itself in Venice. Cicheti, that are only found in Venice and are eaten when standing up at bars. This relaxed, informal style, says so much about the culture of the city and generosity of the people.
The flavors have been influenced in more than one way by the sea. Long journeys of exploration in the past brought an influx of foreign spices creating a natural fusion that is unique. Meanwhile, it was the need of Venetians sailors to preserve fish at sea that inspired some of the most traditional dishes, like ‘Sarde in Saor’. Flavors are bold yet delicate combinations, intelligent in their simplicity, foreign but familiar, that return again and again in Venetian cuisine.
Things to taste in Venice:
/ Bottegon (Schiavi), set on the canal near the Zattere it is a timeless place, where you will always bump into someone you know or meet someone new, and in this sense, it could not be more Venetian.
/ All’ Arco, for cicheti there are very few spots that can compete with this place. But really it is the wonderful characters of the owners that brings me back here again and again.
/ Adriatico Mar, another Venetian hideaway with a small deck onto the canal, it serves interesting wines and fantastic sharing plates. Only really found by locals, it has a great selection of Wines and a small terrace onto the water. It closes early but is where everyone will be between 8.30-10.00
/ Al Timon, on misericordia it is a busy place for dinner but great to come and sit at sunset on the boat which is moored just outside.
SOUND: the invisible awareness of time echoing throughout the city.
The bells are what keep us going throughout the day. It becomes part of your subconscious contact with time, and only when you leave Venice you notice their presence or absence. From the innocent morning chimes to the last bell at midnight called the ‘Marangona’ of San Marco, signalling to us all, in such a definitive way, that the day has ended.
Daily sounds of Venice, change throughout the day, even from district to district. In the very early morning, the only noises that can be heard are those of the scavenging sea gulls, the rubbish collectors, and of course, the water. Moments later, you can hear the sultry sounds of people on their way to work as the steps speed up. Little by little, the rest of the city wakes up as tourists arrive in a crescendo of confusion.
Finally, the sound that is unmistakable and part of the very fabric of the city is the ‘oeeh’ of the Gondoliers and boat men travelling around blind corners. It is another language, young in its evolution but ancient in its history with Venice.
Things to hear in Venice:
/ The Fenice Theatre is world famous. Despite a history of fires and disasters, there is not a grand opera in the world that has not aspired to or taken place on this stage. If you plan ahead a little you may be able to book tickets for a truly memorable show during your stay.
/ La Voga Lunga, a traditional Venetian rowing festival started by locals on Burano, that has grown and grown. Anyone can take part nowadays but it is definitely a challenge. It takes place in the first week of June, and the sounds, as you watch from fondamenta, are of excitement as the whole city come out to support and watch.
SMELL: layers of perfume like architecture on the water.
The smells of Venice are a rare mix, like a clock they run throughout the city only in particular moments of the day. Mornings begin with the aromas of sweet pastries and dark coffee. Then there is, of course, the ever-present saltiness of the water. During the winter it can adopt a slightly damp but not quite unappealing smell and in summer the scents change once again. But it is the smell of an impending storm in Venice that really leaves an impression. It has a different effect on everyone but for me, it is inspiring.
Things to smell in Venice:
/ Palazzo Moncenigo, once upon a time Venice was known for its love affair with perfume and the talented masters who were constantly experimenting with new ingredients. Today it is where you can rediscover this.
/ Mascari, located near the Rialto market it is the last spice shop in Venice. From all over the world, the shop sellers have a knowledge of the alchemy of these spices that is truly awe-inspiring.
VISION: a city that changes with the light
Venice is undoubtedly beautiful. There is beauty in every corner, step, voice, tile and even the libraries and supermarkets are worth visiting. The colours, of the walls are a combination of soft yellows, gentle pinks, terracottas, large slabs of white, and dark humbling roots of wood.
However, it is actually those moments of transition, when the light fills the city that have stayed with me above all. Depending on where you find yourself and at what time, the light plays with you in different ways.
It is when the light strikes the water at sunset across the Zattere that you are left without words. It somehow awakens a fire within you to search for adventure, igniting your imagination.
Things to see in Venice:
/ Punte Della Dogana The restored building by Tadao Ando now holds contemporary works within this traditional architecture. It used to be the storage space for many Venetian Rowing boats.
/ Peggy Guggenheim Collection, as well as always showing something new there is also an exceptional permanent collection which makes it worth visiting at any time.
/ Santa Maria Della Salute, a roman catholic church. There is something about this one in particular that calms me and its location, in between San Marco and the Guidecca makes it a great place to get a sense of the scale of the whole city.
/ Harry’s Dolci has an incredible view back over Venice and if you are looking for a special occasion this is where you should come without a doubt.
/ Palazzo Ducale, it may seem too touristy at first, but it really is worth seeing. The detail in the Architecture and history are almost unbelievable.
MY TRAVELING TIPS:
Morning Coffee & Afternoon Tea:
L’Avena is opposite the famous Florians Cafe, equally as elegant and steeped in history, it is always fun to come here and get a coffee at the bar and watch people pass.
Torrefazione Cannaregio whilst this may not be as beautiful as L’Avena, the quality and variety of the coffee are well worth trying.
Giardini, this is a hidden gem on the borders of San Elena, which offers a rare retreat within a green house in both summer and winter. I would recommend coming here with a book and if you like there are also occasional yoga classes and art events held here.
Tonolo, this is one of the most renowned pasticcerias in Venice, but modestly so. It is full from morning through to afternoon, with Venetians working in the area stopping for a sweet break. The coffee is served in unique china cups and the quality and variety of their dolci are unlike anywhere else.
WHERE TO EAT:
Lunch & Dinners:
Trattoria Antique Carampane, despite having become justly famous over the last couple of years, the quality is still excellent and the atmosphere inside the surprisingly small space is always so friendly. It may be difficult to find, and in need of booking but you should pass a long lunch here.
Al Covo, one of my very favourite restaurants. I would save it always slightly for a special occasion, not because it is particularly expensive because it is in fact very fairly priced, but it is the whole atmosphere from start to finish that feels special. Again, it is hidden on the way to the Arsenale, but be sure to ask the chef what he recommends.
Da Fiore, another very typical Venetian restaurant specialising in Fish.
DRINKS & CICHETI:
Harry’s Bar, here it is worth asking for a Belli, and it is also another wonderful spot to observe people. An unchanged fragment of Venetian history, it feels timeless and you can’t help but sit up slightly straighter.
Ombra del Leone, another surprising find, it does not look like much from the calle, but it actually holds one of the most unbelievable views of La Salute. It really is one of those places that exists only in Venice.
Bottegon (Schiavi), set on the canal near the Zattere.
All’ Arco, for cicheti. But really it is the wonderful characters of the owners that brings me back here again and again.
MY FAVOURITES FOR SHOPPING:
There are not many places in Venice still selling the traditional “Frioulane” slippers, and two of these are owned by a father and son. Dittura Massimo and his father Gianni, own one shop close to San Marco and the other just at the foot of the Accademia Bridge.
Pied-A-Terre, just by the Rialto Bridge this is one of the very few other stores that sell Frioulane still. You are spoilt for choice with all the different fabrics and colours that can be found here.
Altrove, a relatively new and unique shop, here you can find original designs made predominantly in black and white for both men and women. Run by two talented women, this shop is not to be missed.
Rialto Mercato, Open every day apart from Sundays and Mondays it is at the very heart of Venice and Venetians. Here you can buy fresh fruit and fish from a market that has not changed for over 100 years.
Panificio Volpe, Located in the Jewish Ghetto, you cannot leave Venice without trying a few of these specialities.
Libereria Acqua Alta, I guarantee you will have never found a bookshop like this before. Not only is it tipping into a canal with a gondola in the middle, it is also piled high with books of every genre in every language.
WHERE TO SLEEP:
Ca Maria Adele, is at the foot of the Maria della Salute. One of those places that you see from the outside and wonder about, each room has been individually designed using Venetian materials and telling a different story.
Hotel Flora, extremely elegant rooms with very helpful and friendly staff.
Rent your own Venetian Apartment:
Bauer Gardens & Spa, These gardens are exceptionally beautiful. They are cared for in such a way that they still are allowed to seem wild. With the scents of lavender and rose permeating the air, you can lose yourself here for hours. There is also an incredible restaurant and spa within the hotel.
WHERE TO CAPTURE THE SUN LIGHT:
Misericordia, in the summer evenings, is also bathed in sunlight until late but people come here for aperitvo hour and it has a fantastic contagious energy.
San Elena, It is the beauty of the summer evenings in Venice that makes you forgive the unforgivable heat that persists throughout the day, and the best place to be on these evenings is San Elena. Walk up to the end of Venice and look back over the city as the sun sets. There will likely be no one else here apart from a few runners and fishermen.