When I asked around about what I should see and do in Venice, the answer was unanimous, ‘just get lost’…With narrow side streets, and unmappable mews, Venice is maze-like place but that’s part of the magic. However, of course, with the aid of google maps, I never got too lost 😉
Jumping into a water taxi, we sped away from The Gritti Palace ready to start a new adventure and explore the city.
I soon found out that water taxis were easily the quickest and most convenient way to get around Venice, though I must warn you, they are quite pricey. It’s also very easy to get around Venice on foot and I can imagine many Venetians combat the effects of all the pasta with plenty of walking.
My day started with a visit to 15th Biennale D’ Architettura, an international architecture exhibition including eighty-eight participants from 37 different countries. Each exhibition space represented a different country, showcasing new projects and innovative designers.
From here we walked through the Giardini, a park which traditionally holds the International Art Exhibition. There’s not much in the way of green space in Venice but this parkland, created by Napoleon Bonaparte, was beautiful with stunning sculptures to admire.
Emerging from the garden, we were back on the streets of Venice and took a walk down the Riva degli Schiavoni, the waterfront promenade in Venice.
From every viewpoint there was beauty, the cityscape of Venice with its busy boats, beautiful churches and unique architecture.
And narrow canals packed with boats.
Did you know there are over 400 bridges in Venice? One of the most famous is the Bridge of Sighs, pictures above. Built in 1600, and made of white limestone, the bridge connects the new prison to the interrogation room in the Doge’s Palace. The view from the bridge was the last that convicts would see before their imprisonment. On a more positive note, legend has it that a couple will be granted eternal love and bliss if they kiss in a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset as the bells of St Mark’s Campanile toll.
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t snoop around a few other hotels! The Gritti Palace’s sister hotel, Hotel Danieli is located near to the Bridge of Sighs. By comparison the Danieli felt bigger with a larger foyer and high ceilings as opposed to the intimacy of The Gritti Palace.
Just steps away from Hotel Daniele is Piazza San Marco, or St Mark’s Square, the central hub of the city. One thing that you often hear about Venice is that it can be incredibly crowded, which was why I decided to avoid high season and come at the end of September. With The Gritti Palace floating in its own beautiful bubble, I didn’t feel the impact of crowds and an overwhelming number of tourists. And at this time of year there were lots of side streets which were actually empty of people, so you could still feel like you were lost in your own magical world.
However, Piazza San Marco was very crowded, as were other tourist hubs, and I had to put my best foot forward to negotiate my way through. Though it was late September, it was also getting rather hot but we soon crossed the piazza and found ourselves back in the cool shady streets.
With plenty of beautiful bridges for photo opportunities! I loved the facades of the building in Venice, the sandy, neutral colours and slightly worn exterior, it’s like they all have so many stories to tell about the City of Water.
We passed under the Rialto Bridge, currently under restoration, the bridge is the oldest across the canal and divides the districts of San Marco and San Polo. The bridge itself was packed with people but we forged our way across and my companion led me to a beautiful restaurant overlooking the canal.
That’s thing about Venice, one moment you’re pushing your way through throngs of crowds, the next you’re in a calm oasis where you can sip prosecco at the table…
Drink a glass of wine by the canal.
Or simply sit with your feet in the air!
Osteria Bancogiro is one such hidden gem. As you can imagine, the restaurants lining the busy areas can be over-crowded, over-priced and touristy but this gorgeous place focuses on high quality and seasonal ingredients. I mentioned before that chichetti, or small finger foods are traditionally served at bars called bacari in Venice and we started with a plate of these delicious nibbles. A mixture of Italian meats and that delicious whipped salt cod, mostly served on beautifully crisp bread.
I cannot get enough of pasta in Italy and we chose two dishes to share, one of big fat juicy strands of spaghetti coloured black with squid ink and coated in spicy tomato sauce with mussels and botarga. Our other choice, was green with the flavour of basil and a light smoked ricotta.
My companion had to go and it was time for a little solo exploration…in other words time to get lost!
I honestly couldn’t even tell you where I went, Venice is all about letting the experience wash over you. Finding deserted streets, stopping for a gelato, being disoriented in a good way, forgetting the structure of life… and simply enjoying yourself.
Eventually I found myself back around the high-end boutiques and designer stores located near The Gritti Palace, and with time for a drink before dinner there was one more place that I wanted to see. A short water taxi ride away from my hotel was one of the other grand dames of Venice.
Belmond Hotel Cipriani. Have I ever told you I have a thing about pink hotels?
Accessible only by boat and located on a private island, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani is more of a resort-style hotel. However, with its own courtesy boat, it’s still easy to be back in the hustle and bustle of St Mark’s Square within five minutes; ideal if you want quiet relaxation and hotel with a pool. I stopped for a moment to enjoy a Bellini at the Gabbiano Bar before having a little nose around as the hotel also boasts beautiful gardens.
I’d fallen so fully in love with The Gritti Palace that I really couldn’t imagine staying anywhere else
if when I come to Venice again but I’d certainly suggest coming to Belmond Hotel Cipriani for lunch on the beautiful terrace or dinner at Michelin-starred Oro.
It was getting late so I hopped on to the Cipriani’s Boat to be delivered quickly back to St Mark’s Square and from there it was only a short walk back to The Gritti Palace. I quickly got ready for the night ahead before heading down to catch a water taxi…
Venice by night really is unlike anywhere I’ve been before with lights reflecting of the water and gondolas swishing past. We sailed past beautiful houses taking glimpses into the windows at glittering chandeliers and damask wallpaper.
We sailed by crowded restaurants full of happy chatter…including the hidden gem where we’d enjoyed lunch earlier…
Our water taxi dropped us off and my companion led me down some quiet side streets to Le Antiche Carampane. The restaurant really looked like nothing from the outside, little more than a small hole in the wall type place. But I’ve learnt that these are often the best places in Italy and we had already been recommended it by both the General Manager and the Food and Beverage Manager of The Gritti Palace. You know, the kind of place that you don’t find unless you’re really looking?
Keeping it in the family, the restaurant was bought by siblings Giovanni, Piera and Guido in 1983 and has always served food firmly rooted in the Venetian tradition. Like the plate of seafood chichetti above, all beautifully fresh and seasonal, the chef shops at the Rialto Market every morning and the fish comes from the Venetian lagoon and the surrounding area.
Still full from my pasta lunch, I chose a very simply grilled sea bass, perfectly cooked and seasoned and served with a light salad. My companion’s dish was typically Venetian, calves liver and onion served with cubes of polenta. Venetians generally prefer polenta over pasta, though there was still plenty of pasta dishes on the menu at the restaurants that I visited. We discussed the possibility of dessert but I knew what I really wanted to do, so we paid the bill and navigated the labyrinthine streets back to the canal where we could get a water taxi…
It was my last night at The Gritti Palace and all I wanted to do was drink a Bellini at the Riva Lounge, at this beautiful hotel, in a city I’d fallen head over heels in love with.
I was hosted by The Gritti Palace and The Luxury Collection for this trip.