Discover the beauty of Venice
Nothing can prepare you for the feelings of awe and wonder as you step off the runway at Marco Polo Airport and onto a speedboat, heading off towards the historic centre of Venice a mere seven kilometres away. Whizzing through the lagoon with a warm breeze caressing your hair, you can’t help but feel like someone out of a James Bond movie.
The exhilarating start to the trip continues when the beauty and magic of Venice is at your fingertips. Ancient and ornate buildings line the canals with their foundations sunk deep into the waters in this magical floating city.
But the truth is somewhat surprising: Venice is actually built on wood! The buildings are underpinned by wooden foundations dating back, in some cases, over 500 years. Deep in the lagoon’s mud, the timber never gets in contact with oxygen, which – in turn – means it never rots.
In fact, the constant flow of salt water here has petrified the wood and, as if by magic, turned its foundations into something like stone.
The story of Venice starts after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century. With raids and looting commonplace on the mainland, citizens fled to the islands in the lagoon. Considered originally to be a temporary living situation, they soon realised that its fresh fish supply and salt marshes were reasons to stay. Made up of 118 small islands connected by canals, Venice was soon to become one of the major movers and shakers of Europe.
Venice’s strategic position helped it develop into one of Europe’s wealthiest trading ports. Its golden past can be seen today in its rich architecture. Just stand on Saint Mark’s Square (aptly named after the apostle, whose body is now buried in St Mark’s Cathedral) and take a look at the intricate beauty of the basilica, the clock tower (which was rebuilt identically after it collapsed in 1902) and the Doge’s Palace.
Weaving through the back streets, the smell of pizza and Italian coffee fill the air. On the market stalls, nestled among the leather handbags and lace parasols, strange Venetian masks of the infamous Venice Carnival (with the plague doctor mask taking pride of place) remind you of the city’s history and enchantment.
Don’t leave the city without visiting the Rialto Market. There, small cafés serve cicchetti (traditional Venetian tapas) and local drinks – prosecco (Veneto is one of the few regions producing the sparkling wine) and spritz (a mix of Campari and soda water).
It’s no surprise that such a city attracts tourists. In fact, more than 20 million visitors come to the waters of Venice every year, including George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin, who tied the knot at Venice City Hall in 2016. So be sure to take a break from the madding crowd and explore the nearby islands.
Take the vaporetto (Venice’s water bus) from Fondamente Nove for a trip to the neighbouring islands of Murano and Burano. The ride to Murano, which specialises in Venetian glass, is about 15 minutes, while Burano, famous for lacemaking, is a further 30 minutes away. There are regular services and both islands can be seen in one day.
Start with Burano, where lacemaking goes back to the 15th Century and where a few artisans still use the same traditional methods. One of the best known lace-makers on the island is Martina Vidal, whose flagship store is only a few hundred yards from the vaporetto stop and well worth a visit.
Continue with a walk round the island to check out its second attraction: the houses. Painted in red, yellow, pink and blue – to help fisherman find the island in the thick fog – Burano’s homes are a kaleidoscope of colours.
Glassmaking in Murano goes back even further than lacemaking in Burano, possibly as far back as the Eighth Century. Nowadays, specialist factories and shops dot the streets of the island. Pop in to Luca Maria Dona to see glassmaking in action.
Beyond Burano and Murano, there are many more islands to discover. Among these is Isola delle Rose, a private island just 10 minutes’ boat ride away from the Grand Canal, where you’ll find the five-star JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa.
Originally a clinic for respiratory diseases, Isola delle Rose benefits from a unique microclimate, thanks to its location between the lagoon and the sea. In fact, you’ll even find olive trees here (a rarity in the area), from which the hotel produces a unique olive oil.
Being on one of the lagoon’s largest islands and with its own park, the hotel gives an impression of space that’s a welcome contrast to the narrow streets of Venice. The original 1930s buildings have been preserved, with the new additions built within the original walls. This gives a modern feel indoors, while keeping the traditional exterior.
While guests can choose from a range of luxurious accommodation, from rooms to suites and private villas, you can also make a visit to Dopolavoro Dining Room. This Michelin-star restaurant creates a menu that puts a contemporary twist on Venetian classics.
And before you leave Isola delle Rose and bid farewell to Venice, there’s no better way to finish your trip than with a cocktail at the Sagra rooftop bar at sundown.