We’re called Gondolieri

Richard Norman provides some recommendations for making the most of a visit to Venice

It is a fine city indeed in which even at the café next the bus-station one can order a Bellini or a Campari spritz: and, having uninstalled oneself from one of Venice’s many elegant bars, there is an awful lot to see and do in this most famous of holiday destinations.

Certain stops on the tourist trail are essential: the ducal palace, where the magnificence of the state chambers gives away across the Bridge of Sighs to the sad austerity of the prison complex; the riot of Byzantine chromatics that is St Mark’s Basilica, and its soaring campanile atop which one is rewarded by a dazzling panorama of city and lagoon; and the Grand Canal, best experienced aboard the No. 1 vaporetto (water-bus) service which, although often crowded, gives one the opportunity to cruise sedately from the Piazza S. Marco down to the transport terminuses at Piazzale Roma.

Many treasures

Venice is overrun with churches boasting – amid the jungle of pot-plants with which continental Catholics inexplicably furnish their places of worship – fabulous works of arts, sixteen of which participate in the ‘Chorus’ scheme for which a general pass is available to purchase. Highly recommended among them are S. Stefano, just across the Ponte Accademia, and S. Maria dei Miracoli. It would exhaust many a return visit completely to appreciate Venice’s many treasures; and – if, like this tourist, your sense of direction is not the keenest – one is liable to spend much of one’s time becoming pleasantly lost within the labyrinth of narrow streets which score the city.

However, among my suggestions for further excursions would be the glass forges on the island of Murano, and the Scuola Grande dei Carmini – the guildhall of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mt Carmel. St George’s Anglican Chaplaincy (left and right), in the Campo S. Vio, is of robust Catholic tradition and also historical note, and the Mass is celebrated there on Sundays at 10.30am.

Practicalities

It is not inexpensive to eat out in a city into which nearly all goods must be imported by boat, but many restaurants are of notably high quality. A very pleasant time can be had at any of the establishments which line the Zattere, with waterside dining and views across to the impressive Redentore Church on the island of Giudecca. Distances in Venice are easily negotiated on foot, and the vaporetto service is reasonably straightforward: purchase a multi-day ticket to ensure best value for money.

Tourism is probably the city’s largest business, and therefore accommodation is plentiful, albeit in high demand at certain times of year. Do insist, during the summer months, on a room with air-conditioning! In mid-August day-time temperatures stayed at around 30°C, which with a breeze off the water was not especially uncomfortable. However, during this month and July the climate can prove oppressive. The tourist season runs between April and October.

The Serenissima has always been the site of encounter between cultures, and remains to this day an enchanting and beautiful place of discovery, reflection and recreation. A must. ND

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