Venezia - canals, Moorish architecture, seafood, a Byzantian cathedral, mind-blowing maritime history, Rennaisance art, the Biennale, Murano glass, Carnival... the list is endless and so are the calli.
Venice is a romanticist's dream, even the train station exit is a visual masterpiece. Having visited Venice for decades, long before Google maps and smartphones, we may have once bought a tourist map on the station steps but alas, never opened it.
Truly the best, and only, way to discover Venice is to lose yourself.
An intricate labyrinth makes up Venice's lanes known as calli. Some are dead-ends and you find yourself suddenly stepping into a lagoon; others may lead to mysterious Vaporetto stops and others are signposted to Piazza San Marco or back to the Ferrovia (the train station, meaning Iron-way), try to avoid these. The best calli you'll ever find are the unmarked ones, the ones locals tread when they are going somewhere. Lose yourself in these and you'll find restaurants tucked into corners and discreet, shady piazzas where children kick a ball and drink from a central potabile water fountain, where there is calm and familiarity, a homeliness that is Venice.
True, the magnificent masterpieces and historic miracles of this dazzling, one-of-a-kind city are a sight to behold, but if you want to experience Venetian life, find the quiet in the narrow lanes, they will lead you to surprising places no map or phone ever could. Amble, ponder and admire... Venice is, after all, a city of Venetians.
- See your sights, then dedicate time to wander.
- We love to explore the area around Strada Nova in the early evening for aperitivo time, branch off into the side calli for quaint, tucked-away osterie. Another lazy canal-side which locals drift to for an aperitivo, is Rio della Misericordia. It gets busy around sunset with a great vibe and quite a collection of osterie and bacari, don't worry about space, simply grab your spritz and cicheti and sit on the canal steps watching the boats go by, just like a true Venetian.
- The city is full of little establishments like bacari - you'll stumble upon these by following the sounds of laughter and clinking glasses where you'll find an array of cicheti - Venice's seasonal appetisers/snacks. Intended to accompany your aperitivo, they are a happy mix of local foods made on-site and fresh every day with a great selection of meat and veggie options. Try the polpette - meatballs and non-meat options like aubergine or tuna; try the baccalà - creamy salted cod, the sardine in saor - sardines in onions and vinegar, the crostini and the mozzarella in carrozza - a deep-fried mozzarella and anchovy sandwich.
- All Venetian bars will serve tumblers of house wine (red or white) at any time of the day, this is known as an ombra. Ombra is local dialect for 'shadow' derived, according to a version of the romanticised story, during the Republic of Venezia when small glasses of wine were sold from a table on Piazza San Marco, set up in the shadow of the Campanile to keep cool. The table was duly moved across the piazza, following the shade throughout the day, thus the little glass of 'shadow' wine was born.
- The Mercato di Rialto is open Monday to Saturday 7.30 - 13.30 for fruits and vegetables and Tuesday to Saturday 7.30 - 12 for seafood and fish. This is where Venetians buy their daily seafood so get there early. From here you can cross the Grand Canal on a Gondola Parada for €2. There's no gliding singsong and story-telling, however, it's a marvelous way to ride a gondola for next to nothing.
- La Barca di San Barbara found at Ponte dei Pugni every day except Sunday, is a floating market selling fresh vegetables and fruit from a little family-run shop nearby. A photographer's paradise, a beautiful family tradition and really worth a visit.
- Wait until dusk when the rose-hued lamps along Grand Canal switch on and the calli quieten, it's pure magic.
- Order wine by the litre, un mezzo (half) litre at a time. "Mezzo litro di rosso/bianco per favore," if you hate it, you'll have lost out on maybe €5 but earned the respect of your host. Most Venetians speak English but all Italians appreciate the efforts of anyone attempting their beautiful language, they take it as a personal compliment. There's no rush to finish your sentence so go for it, dig out your best Italian and make a local happy.
- Dodge the tourist menus - yes, we're tourists and Venice thrives on tourism, but remember you're in foodie heaven, especially seafoodie, so as tempting as a menu in English with classic Italian dishes of carbonara and spaghetti bolognese may be, find authenticity in local Venetian foods. We'll give you a hand in our blog post - 'What to order in Venice'.