Venice was stunning, I hadn’t expected to enjoy our trip there quite so much, but wow! My favourite discovery has to be that it is in the Prosecco region of Italy – something I didn’t know before, but something that we grasped with both hands during the visit (hence the name of this blog!).
This trip was 4 days, at the beginning of April and was my husband’s birthday present! Definitely a good way to celebrate a birthday in a city where Prosecco is de rigeur! From what I researched, there isn’t a bad time to visit Venice, but shoulder seasons are good – less people and not too hot (so it won’t be smelly). We were lucky with the weather – we had a little bit of rain on one day, but the rest of the trip being warm enough to just have a light weight jacket on to keep cosy. On our final day it was scorchi (that’s an Italian word I hope) and so we crammed in all the water-based bits in the sunshine and warmth!
We flew with BA, don’t we always, but this time from Gatwick as the difference in prices between here and Heathrow was staggering. We fancied a proper breakfast this time and so ate at Jamie’s – great service and great food – somewhat surprising for an airport!! The flight is just over 2 hours and I’m glad I got a window seat – great views of the mountains and the flight into Venice is lovely (F seats) across the low-lying bay.
On arrival this is where it gets fun! Don’t get a taxi, or a hire car, or even a train! Venice is happily a city with no cars or bikes. Look around you – there is a lot of water! So the best way to travel is on the water! 10mins walk from the airport is the boat station! You have a choice here – either a private water taxi (€110) or the Vaporetto ferry which is maybe €15pp. We chose the latter on the way into Venice as the weather wasn’t sunny and balmy and so we didn’t really want to either sit inside a posh boat, or stand outside in the cold. The Vaporetto takes a while but our boats route was down the grand canal so it was a great introduction to the city.
Our hotel was the Novecento Boutique Hotel – it was a real gem and I am glad I took the time to research and find somewhere so idyllic and unique. The hosts were charming, the location was peaceful yet well-placed and all in all it was very comfortable and gave us a relaxing Venetian experience. There is always tea and coffee available and a sweet little honesty bar in the dining area that will keep you watered nicely throughout your stay! More about it here.
We arrived mid-morning and so our room wasn’t ready, but this didn’t deter us – trainers on (you must take comfortable shoes) and off we went for a first scout of the city! We immediately headed for St Mark’s square and along to the Bridge of Sighs. Amusingly while we were there an american tourist was loudly asking his pals ‘is it real’!! These are probably some of the best known spots in Venice and the obligatory photo was of course required! Very quickly we realised that this is a place to mooch in – we are notoriously quick walkers, always in a rush to get somewhere, but it didn’t take us long to slow the pace and start taking in the surroundings. Venice is quirky – it isn’t pretty in the classic kind of picture perfect way, but the architecture, and the oldness of it all really is stunning. It is the sort of place where a visitor finds themself wanting to take a picture of everything they see! So many people walking around with iPads in front of their face not actually seeing anything themselves…..
Our first lunch was along the waterfront past the bridge of sighs, and away beyond the crowds. We had a lovely view of San Giorgio Maggiore and enjoyed pasta and prosecco – that first meal on holiday is always the best and this did not disappoint, such tasty bolognese and a very reasonable and gluggable bottle of fizz to toast our 4th wedding anniversary and watch the comings and goings!
Do pop into St Marks Basillica – the roof is stunning and the view onto the square from the terrace is very lovely – a good vantage point:
One of the places I had seen on pinterest was a quirky little bookshop called Libreria Acqua Alta. I’m a big reader and normally visit to buy, but since most books were going to be in Italian, that wasn’t our reason to visit! I thought it would be hard to find, having looked at the map before we travelled to Venice, but thankfully it was easy!
The books that are for sale are stored in boats to protect them from the high tides and in the outside areas books are used as ‘book steps’ so that you can get high enough in the garden area to look out over the canal! Really quirky but an attraction it its own right! This was what I was most excited about seeing, so I was glad we had it ticked off the list on day 1!
Many of the bridges in Venice have love-locks on them. They all looked new, so I wonder where the old ones go? We liked the view from the Academia bridge near to the Guggenheim collection and the locks made it ever more quirky:
Normally on a holiday I avoid hotels like the Hilton like the plague, despite massive accrued miles and tierage. However in Venice, whilst I wouldn’t dream of staying in the hotel (although the miles exchange looked great) it is feted as having one of the best views from its rooftop bar – and where better to enjoy and evening Bellini with a view… It is quite a schlep over to the Molino Stucky hotel (and we had a stressful time trying to work out the ferries) but well worth it to enjoy the vista:
And a good introduction to Bellini drinking – although more of that later!!
We were particularly pleased that the ferry ride back cost nothing – Hilton run a shuttle boat for guests, but since we were dressed in smart clothes and followed a group of hotel guests onboard, no questions were asked!! On the way back to our hotel we stopped by Basillica di Santa Maria della Salute and Punta Della Dogana to take in the architecture. The Basillica looks particularly lovely in the early evening light, the 2nd photo below was taken from the end of the road the hotel was on:
What we liked about dining in Venice is that there is no real need to plan meals – perhaps that is different at peak tourist times, but not during our visit – there was so much choice, especially if arriving relatively early for a few drinks first. Near the hotel there are a number of lovely trattorias. All serve similar food and are reasonable enough given their distance from the main high-charges in St Marks square! We noticed a few times that the waiters need a little warming up – invest the time in being friendly and they will look after you, but they must have a tiring time with tourists refusing to try and speak Italian, so a little playful banter and charm definitely pays off!! We found that (when we weren’t drinking prosecco) the carafe’s of house wine are perfectly adequate to enjoy with a meal!
Another great spot to spend some time is in and around Rialto! I didn’t expect to like it here, as the bridge area is swarming with tourists, but stray a little way off the bridge and it is a lovely area! It is also a lovely spot to stop for a waterside drink or lunch – the road is ‘riva del vin’ so the clue is in the name!! The name arose because this is where the wine used to be delivered to. We’d noticed lots of people drinking an orange drink in wine glasses – the spritz! It appeared to be the done thing to drinks these from mid-morning! Quite surprising given they are prosecco mixed with campari with an olive and a slice of orange! We waited until around about midday to try one – very enjoyable and refreshing, can certainly see the attraction – but maybe not a breakfast!
Plenty to see – a vibrant fruit, vegetable and fish market as well as a plethora of ‘proper’ mask shops that are certainly an acquired taste, but definitely something to visit!
Come evening there is of course one bar that has to be visited – Harry’s – for the obligatory bellini! This really is an experience – it is like going to Raffles in Singapore, it has to be done but is a bit $$$. We also visited Hotel Danieli for a quiet drink, but unsurprisingly it was lacklustre when it comes to service and full of people ticking the Venice box rather than trying to stay somewhere that gives them a unique Venetian experience…
A day trip that I can’t recommend enough is visiting the islands of the northern lagoon – this can be done using a day ticket with the ACTV boats, although we actually to a water taxi that was laid on through our hotel and a glass company on Murano. Murano is famous for glass-making and Burano for lace. There is a third island called Torcello with a stunning bell tower that can be climbed – however we didn’t stop there as it was shrouded in scaffolding during our visit!
We took in some glass making demonstrations in Murano (it was raining) and then headed on to Burano which is famous for its pretty coloured houses. This was a good island to eat on – there is so much choice and reputedly the island gets the freshest fish! The pace is slower over on these islands, and whilst they are still busy clearly the apparent hassle of leaving the main town of Venice deters many tourists!! There is a small hotel on Burano called Venissa that we almost stayed at, we did pass by and it looked like a lovely spot on a return visit (when there is less need to be in the city centre) – what disappointed me though was that it was not possible to enjoy a glass of wine at their restaurant overlooking the vineyard and belltower. The owner was very apologetic and explained he was in the process of opening a bar, but in the time he took to explain this he could have served us a drink with no issue!
Our final day and summer surprisingly arrived – hot and beautiful. With all the walking (the bridges are tiring even if you are fit) I am very glad we had only mild weather for the main-part of our visit, but for the final day it was lovely to be out in the sun and re-visiting and relaxing at some of our favoured spots! Take a trip across to San Giorgio Maggiore – the view from the top of the bell-tower beats the one from the Hilton!
As can be seen from the pictures above when the sun came out we went about spending as much money as we could in a short space of time! A leisurely lunch on Riva del Vin (we liked it that much) with a fancy bottle of prosecco kicked this off nicely! After lunch we strolled back to the hotel and took a gondola ride from a quite inlet near the hotel. The sunday we were there was eco-day on the grand canal. This only happens twice a year we are told – the ferry’s have speed restrictions and water taxi’s can’t use the canal’s. As a result it was so peaceful and our gondola just swept silently through. We saw many people taking gondola rides near Rialto or St Marks, but I’m glad we chose to go off the beaten track/water. It was peaceful and unspoilt. The gondoliers are very informative at what you go past and whilst the $$$ is expensive it is worth the experience – a kind of ‘when in Rome’ pastime for Venice!
Our final treat was the ride back to the airport. The hotel arranged a water taxi to collect us from just near the hotel and we were chauffeured in style back to get our plane. The boat was beautiful and the wood was immauclately varnished. We felt like film stars as our driver took us past the key sites and through corners of the city we hadn’t already seen. Once out of the canal limits the driver goes full throttle to the airport and it is great fun – there are so many of these water taxis that there is a lot of wash, it was a bouncy ride but definitely better than any alternatives – even if I did end up with salt water in my hair from the spray!
This trip absolutely reminded us why a 4 day break is so worthwhile – we had plenty of time to relax, to sightsee and to catch up with each other. But we were also away for long enough to relax and come back feeling refreshed! Venice absolutely delivered – fantastico!