You might have noticed that something strange has happened on your Instagram feed of late. While for months you were forced to scroll endlessly through images of your friends’ latest misshapen sourdough loaves and houseplants captioned ‘Haven’t killed it yet!’, suddenly your feed is filled with pretty pictures of people lolling next to canals and posing proudly on quaint bridges. ‘Buongiorno Venezia’ reads post after post. Why? Because now is the perfect time to visit Venice.
One of the few destinations left on the UK’s travel corridor list, Italy is teeming with beautiful cities and elegant countryside escapes but nowhere has the reduced tourism of the coronavirus pandemic had a more profound effect that in Venice. While the city is fully reopen, with social distancing and strict mask-wearing guidelines in place, tourism levels remain about half of their norm meaning no queues, no infuriatingly slow walkers and pristine canals that remain bluer than they’ve been in years. Here’s how to spend a long weekend in Venice…
There’s no chicer way to make your entrance into Venice than by water taxi. Admittedly it’s not cheap (the average price for a ride from Marco Polo Airport to St Mark’s Square is €100-200) but, for making your first impression of the city truly memorable, it’s worth it. Don’t be talked into allowing your taxi to take you all the way to your hotel though. Many taxi drivers will add on a ‘difficulty fee’ if they deem your hotel less than straightforward to get to and the costs can quickly rack up.
But if you’re checking into the San Clemente Palace Kempinski – and we highly recommend you do – this won’t be an issue. Located on a private island around 10 minutes from the city, the hotel runs its own private boat shuttle from St Mark’s Square. Simply hop off your taxi and on to the hotel’s boat and you’ll be at San Clemente’s serene escape from the bustle of the city in to time.
A 12th century monastery turned hospital turned luxury hotel, the San Clemente has been operated by the Kempinski hotel group for the past four years and, as well as the beautiful palazzo, has 15 acres of grounds at it’s disposal – an almost unique attribute in a city with very little green space. The palace’s listed architecture also means that, despite its vast size, room numbers are kept to almost boutique hotel levels while each boasts soaring ceilings and far more space than you’re likely to find on the mainland.
Stretch your legs with an early evening stroll around the hotel’s grounds (you’ll want to acquaint yourself with the location of its outdoor pool, golf course, gym, tennis courts and spa for later use) before catching the hotel’s boat back to St Mark’s Square.
Despite what some guide books may suggest, it’s entirely possible to discover Venice on foot – the length of the peninsular can be covered in around half an hour – but you’ll need a map as the tiny cobbled streets and crisscrossing canals can become labyrinthine. In fact there’s no better way to discover the charms of Venice than by wandering aimlessly through its ancient streets and, while most of the city’s main attractions close at around 6pm, there’s still much to entertain visitors after dark.
However, don’t be tempted into the first bar you see for your pre-dinner Aperol spritz. Many an unwitting tourist has been caught out by the hugely inflated prices of the restaurants around St Mark’s Square so, unless you like paying €20 for a single espresso, keep walking. As with most cities, to experience the best of Venice you need to do as the locals do – and this means seeking out a bacaro. These small wine bars are dotted around the city, each offering a selection of wines by the glass alongside a huge variety of cicchetti (Italian tapas) to be enjoyed with your legs dangling over the edge of a canal. Cantina Do Spade and Al Timon do some of the best polpette and crostini in town.
After a lavish al fresco breakfast in one of San Clemente Palace’s numerous courtyard’s, head back to the mainland for a full day of exploring. Start your day by making a beeline for the famed Rialto market. Located in the centre of Venice, this historic trade site is home to the city’s freshest seafood, best local produce and plenty of opportunities to find a unique and authentically Venetian gift to take home with you. It’s a sight to rival some of Europe’s most famous food markets but get there early – most stalls shut up shop by 1pm.
Once you’ve had your fill at the market, dive back into the streets of Venice and head north-east to the Canale Delle Fondamente Nuove. From here you can catch Venice’s highly efficient water bus to Murano, a scenic 20 minute trip that will take you past Isola San Michele, the picturesque island requisitioned as Venice’s cemetery, before depositing you on the shores of the famous glassmaking island.
Similar in style to Venice, the canals here are wider and the pavements bigger making it the perfect spot to find a sunny enclave in which to dine canalside. Order a pizza (wood-fired ovens are banned on the mainland) or sample some of the great seafood the region is known for before taking in the fine glassmaking factories and boutiques that line the island’s streets.
From here, jump back on the water bus and make your way to Burano – the lace-making sister island to Murano. Quieter and more relaxed than its larger neighbours, Burano is characterised by colourful houses and quaint shops (think Notting Hill with a rustic Italian twist). Spend a blissful hour or two wandering its street and stopping for an afternoon spritz before completing your round trip back to St Mark’s Square.
After last night’s busy itinerary, treat yourself to a relaxed evening on San Clemente Island. If you return early enough, take in a late afternoon swim, spa treatment or round of golf before retiring to the Sunset Bar for a glass of the hotel’s own Prosecco as the sun goes down.
Aperitivo hour over, don your finest and head to San Clemente Palace’s Acquarello restaurant for dinner. Popular with both guests and visitors from the mainland thanks to its position overlooking the lagoon, be sure to make a reservation in advance as chef Roberto dal Seno’s cuisine is in high demand. Serving traditional Italian and Venetian dishes with a modern twist, expect plenty of surprises alongside thoroughly delicious food, with all vegetables grown on neighbouring islands or in the hotel’s own vegetable patch. The true gourmand will be pleased to know there’s also an extensive wine list to choose from.
Book an early evening flight back to the UK to make the most of your final day. After another hearty breakfast, catch the first boat back to the mainland and head straight for St Mark’s Basilica. As Venice’s star attraction queues here can be lengthy in the height of summer but, thanks to the recent lull in tourism, you shouldn’t need to wait more than a few minutes to catch a glimpse of this Italo-Byzantine marvel.
Entrance to the basilica is free but the adjoining St Mark’s Museum is well worth the €5 entrance fee and, while a full tour takes around an hour and a half, don’t be tempted to rush. Use the rest of the morning to discover the parts of Venice you haven’t yet seen. Wander over to the Accademia and arty Dorsoduro district or head east to the historic monuments of the Castello area. Stop at a bakery for cannoli and espresso and soak up the atmosphere before heading back to the airport.
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