Photo courtesy of Ryan Neeven
Venice is the most unspoilt city in Europe. Its extraordinary location rising from the waters of the lagoon, its romantic history and the magnificence of its buildings makes La Serenissima an irresistible triple threat. Nobody can fail to be touched by its mesmerising beauty, charming dimensions and confounding labyrinth. Don’t worry, you’ll be in good company….
COFFEE AND CAKES
To wake up early in Venice is to have the city to yourself. Walk through Piazza San Marco and down the Riva degli Schiavoni before the stalls set up their wares and the queues amass with their selfie sticks in front of the Doge’s Palace and the Danieli. Well-heeled Venetians like the Campo Santo Stefano by the Accademia Bridge choosing Bar S. Stefano with its ruby red signage rather than the much buzzier bar next door run by a tribe of ferocious lady baristas. For proper pastry shops, head for Pasticceria dal Nono Colossi in Dorsoduro which is family run and specialises in Venetian focaccia with a crunchy sugary crust. Alternatively, for standing room only we love Pasticceria Rizzardini near the Rialto for a cappuccino and homemade almond cake known as ‘lingua di suocera’ (mother-in-law’s tongue). The Café at the Guggenheim has had a facelift and its leafy, shaded garden is a marvellous place to cool off on a hot summer’s afternoon. Finally, if all else fails you might as well embrace the spirit of your fellow visitors and sit outside Café Florian with a hot chocolate and listen to the orchestra. Or act like a local and stand at the back of the café by the bar for a tenth of the cost of sitting outside.
Many people are unaware that Venice has a unique tapas culture known as cicchetti, that can be found at discreet holes in the wall throughout the city.
Do Mori, has actually been serving ombre and cicchetti beneath its ceiling of hanging copper pots for centuries, have a quick francobollo (a miniature tramezzino, the size of a postage stamp). Naranzaria, with a ringside view of the Grand Canal is more upmarket and specialises in wine and dishes from the far-northern Friuli area with outstanding sushi from the nearby fish market. Al Mercà is a miniscule hole-in-the-wall serving excellent prosecco sur lie and tiny little panini stuffed with everything from sfilacci di cavallo (shredded horsemeat) to artichoke and Robiola cheese.
Located in the labyrinth of long narrow streets that used to be the red light district of Venice (it is in fact housed in a former retirement home for elderly prostitutes.) Francesco and his mother rule the roost, and guide you through what is fresh from the market. Ignore the menu; eat everything (and don’t forget to ask Francesco if he has any moecche hidden away)
Small cosy restaurant with just nine tables is the perfect for dinner à deux and must be booked months in advance. The secret of Alla Testiere, is the blend of skill and enthusiasm that Bruno and Luca bring to the restaurant. The menu is clever and delicate but essentially Venetian and Luca really knows his wines.
Request a table downstairs at the back so you can quietly observe those around you and watch Claudio and Elvio and his team dance between the tiny tables like ballerinas at the Fenice. Frequented by a host of famous foreigners from Hemingway onwards, Arrigo (Harry) Cipriani has maintained the loyalty of Venetians who come to feast on the first castraure artichoke buds of the season, the very buttery risottos and the incredibly good puddings.
Terrace of Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal
If the sun is shining, and only if the sun is shining have lunch on the terrace of the Monaco. The view overlooking the Salute is unbeatable.
Tucked away behind Riva degli Schiavoni, Al Covo is still attracting gourmands from Venice and beyond. Wild locally caught fish, courgette flowers from the neighbouring island of Sant Erasmo (Cesare has been known to row there in the morning to pick artichokes in time for lunch). Save room for the outstanding desserts made by Cesare’s charming wife Diane (originally from Texas but you would never guess).
La Corte Sconta
The little vine covered courtyard at La Corte Sconta feels like a real discovery. The antipasto is endless making it perfect for a long lazy lunch.
Vini da Gigio
Tiny family restaurant on a quiet canal just north of the Ca’d’Oro is enchanting, the cosy, wood panelled rooms are perfect for a romantic dinner. Service can be slow but you’ll understand when you see the size of the kitchen. Baby razor clams dressed with garlic, hand rolled pumpkin ravioli and an excellent rendition of the classic fegato alla veneziana (liver in sweet onion sauce) make for a very rewarding dinner. The wine list is one of the best in the city but make sure it’s topped off with a sgroppino – the lethal vodka and lemon sorbet beloved of Venetians and us.
This tiny bacaro only has a smattering of tables which adds to the buzzy informal feel. Run by Andrea Lorenzon (love him or leave him), replete with bow tie and Groucho Marx spectacles is a passionate advocate of the Slow Food Movement and changes the menu daily. Braised chicory from Treviso, with shavings of pork, interesting wine pairings and a fixed price show really good value in a city that is not known for cheap and cheerful.
Doesn’t get more local than this. For only 15 Euros Marisa offers the best set lunch in the city and is on quiet canal, just off the main stampede from the train station. No menu, on booking you will gruffly be informed whether it is fish, meat or, in the winter, game. Packed full of locals, everything is absolutely fresh and cooked to order by the team of old ladies who run the kitchen. There are only a handful of tables in the cosy, wood-panelled interior but in the summer the street outside is filled with tables and chairs which makes it an equally enjoyable spot. We adore it but it certainly not for everyone and certainly not for a romantic moment.
DINING THE ISLANDS OF THE LAGOON
Less expensive than Arrigo Cipriani’s other Venetian establishment Harry’s Bar, yet with a nearly identical menu and spectacular view of the city from waterside terrace. The service is superb and it is the perfect spot for dinner al fresco.
Resident Muranese sisters, Giovanna and Caterina have made Acquastanca our favourite lunch spot on Murano. A breath of fresh air amidst the tourist tat of glass shops and idle restaurants that line the main canal of Murano, Acquastanca is housed in a former bakery and retains the original brick walls. The bar at the front is always full of locals (surely a good sign) and often retired Harry’s Bar employees who occasionally lend a hand. Our last visit included tuna tartare followed by sensational ink black gnocchetti, baked taglioni with radicchio from Treviso and some sensational puddings. Be sure to mention that you are friends of Bellini Travel.
TORCELLO, BURANO & MAZZORBO
An oasis of peace and only half an hour by boat from the masses in St Marks. Prosecco-making legends, the Bisol family have invested heavily in reviving the ancient Dorona vines which grow under the shadow of a church tower in the delightful walled garden, the bottles made by glass maker Carlo Moretto are as pretty as the wine is good. Meanwhile the family has recently opened the Osteria which focuses on rustic recipes of the Lagoon. The Osteria also has a very good wine list featuring wines made on the Lagoon or in the neighbouring hills. The Osteria is cosy in winter and at warmer times guests sit on the waterfront under big white umbrellas.
Located in the former lace school on the enchanting picture post card island of Burano. This is a delightful place to come for a bustling family lunch especially at weekends. The walls are covered with paintings by local artists and the food, especially the risotto da Romano, is delicious. In the summer months the restaurant is invaded by Italian wedding parties but this adds to the friendly atmosphere, noise and fun.
One of Italy’s most delightful restaurants, a table in the garden is a must (actually don’t bother going if the sun isn’t shining) and even better under the vine covered pergola. Famous for its delectable tagliatelle verdi, washed down with a Bellini and carafe of pinot grigio from neighbouring Friuli.
APERITIVI, DIGESTIVI AND DANCING
Cantinone già Schiavi (El Bottegon)
It looks like a wine shop. Perfect for an evening glass of prosecco, especially in the summer months when locals and ex-pats spill out onto the canal-side walk and adjacent bridge. The only place in Venice that sells fragolino bianco – an illegal delicious white strawberry digestivo. Very local and very Venetian.
One of the great institutions in Venice and open surprisingly late for a city that is normally asleep by midnight. In addition to the traditional bar area which serves oysters, salami and local cheeses, as well as numerous wines from the Veneto (make sure you ask advice from Mauro Lorenzon the irrepressible owner and local character), there are additional tables and chairs in the bottle-lined restaurant for those seeking a more substantial supper.
B Bar at the Bauer Hotel
A resident DJ serves up classic hits to a mixture of both young Venetians and visitors – this is one of the only places to dance until late in the city. Open until 3am most nights. Closed in the summer months.
Calle delle Botteghe that leads onto Salizada San Samuele is our favourite place to shop in Venice. Here you will find our friend Chiarastella Cattana and her gorgeous textiles, napkins and clothes along with paper thin glasses by Yali Murano (if you ask Chiarastella nicely she’ll take you to the Yali glass studio around the corner which is fantastic). Farther along is print and photographic specialist Giorgio Mastinu, jeweller Antonia Miletto in her pretty orange shop then old favourites such as Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella for a large bar of Melograno soap. Recently opened next door to Santa Maria Novella is the chic spectacle shop Ottica Manuela, less you forget it was the Venetians who invented spectacles.
Opposite, is Alma Zevi who founded her gallery in 2016 is definitely one of Venice’s coolest up-and-coming gallerists and one to watch. The gallery regularly hosts artist residencies where new bodies of work are produced in response to the city’s unique cultural heritage.
Inside this tiny, scruffy, dimly-lit shop surrounded by printing presses you will find the most exquisite business cards, book plates and stationery. Gianni Basso was an apprentice to Armenian monks at the age of 14 and runs the only shop of its kind in Venice. Gianni is not a fan of the telephone or internet so you need to visit him in person, if you mention Bellini he might just turn around your order in time for you to take home. If not it will appear mailed in brown paper and knotted with twine.
The charming bespectacled Bruno Amadi has run his tiny workshop/glass store for the past 36 years. Much loved by the Venetians and those who understand glass this is a wonderful place to build a collection. Bruno is forever designing new pieces but the flecked, long-beaked birds of the lagoon are perpetual favourites, not to mention his enchanting vegetable collection including porcini mushrooms, chicory leaves, borlotti beans and peas bursting out of their pods. Persevere if at first he doesn’t want to let you into his shop!
Finally, the women’s prison on the Giudecca has a terrific shop Process Collettivo selling the beauty products, silk prints, and much more on Rio Terà dei Pensieri (just opposite the entrance to the Frari). Well worth a visit and for a very good cause.
READ & WATCH
J. G. Links
John Julius Norwich
Daphne du Maurier