Venice, Italy – Tour of Venice

Venice is the greatest architectural repository in the world. All six sestiere of the city contain palaces and churches in the three most impressive styles Europe has produced: Gothic, Renaissance and the baroque. What makes Venice even more remarkable is just how many of these buildings there are. Palaces are crammed against each other and churches appear around every corner. However, Venice is also a city of squares (campI) which means that buildings are displayed to best effect in a series of leafy outdoor “rooms” that crop up one after the other. There are no long roads in Venice unless you count the Canal Grande, the city’s high street, but even that curves like a snake so that new vistas are continually revealed. The canals of Venice divide the city into many manageable chunks and turn what might otherwise be a narrow dark alleyway into a luminous border down which float shiny black gondolas full of camera- wielding tourists.

The city of Venice occupies a special place in history. It was the first great republic since Rome. It had an elected head of state (il Doge) and an insatiable appetite for both making money and then spending it on ostentatious decoration. At its zenith, it had the most powerful navy in the world and a virtual monopoly on European trade with the Orient. As it declined, Venice became a byword for decadence, a city-state addicted to gambling, sex and intrigue. It was always stylish even if it wasn’t always beautiful. Nowadays, even the scruffiest campus is still distinctly and proudly Venetian. Its citizens remain in their hearts a truly independent people.

In 1797, this ancient Republic was dissolved by Napoleon, in 1815 their city was handed over to Austria and in 1866 they were absorbed into the new kingdom of Italy. But the mindset of Venice remains entirely Venetian. The people speak their own version of Italian and they resent interference from the mainland. Recently Venice’s first female gondolier started working for a hotel. There was an outcry among the other intensely chauvinistic gondolieri, not so much because she was a woman, but because she was not from Venice. For the traveller, Venice offers far more than one trip can achieve. You could easily visit ten times before you see all that is to be seen, and even longer to work out how to get from one place to another on foot. Venice is a maze, but one jam-packed with amazing treasures.

Fortunately, certain essentials can be covered in a day. Piazza San Marco, the Basilica, the Campanile, the Ducal Palace, the view across the Basin of San Marco to San Giorgio and a trip to Caffe Florian are all in close proximity to each other. Then the real fun begins as you follow a route, decide to explore everything there is to see in one area, use the public transport system to hop between islands in the lagoon or work your way through a personal must-see list of churches, palazzi, scuole and museums. At every stage of the day Venice will tempt you with delicious possibilities, whether you want to snack, drink or enjoy a long meal, the way Venetians do.

This is a city that appreciates the good things of life. Simple rules will help you enjoy this part of your visit more. Avoid restaurants where waiters invite you in. Avoid eating or drinking anywhere along the main shopping thoroughfares (the Mercerie) and be aware that if you choose anywhere picturesque to eat that you’ll be paying for the view. That said, you will find that certain views are worth the extra euros. It would be a crime not to have coffee in Piazza San Marco at least once and the view along the over- priced Riva del Vin is worth the mark-up. The legendary Harry’s Bar is small and expensive but it has that certain quality, to be found in very few places, of being something really special. Much the same rule applies to shopping. The further from the main thoroughfares, the better the price, but you may want to buy a carnival mask from a stall on the Riva for the thrill of having done so.

Carnival (Carnevale) is one of the high points of the Venetian year. This city-wide party is a gorgeous re-creation of 18th- century Venice that should certainly be experienced once, but the city in February is inevitably crowded and over-priced. Summer is also crowded and prices go up during the International Film Festival and the Biennale, so think about visiting Venice out of season. Whenever you go, you will find a city that is unforgettable, one that has been drawing tourists since the Middle Ages and one of the few cities in the world that genuinely deserves to be called unique.