As a young girl, I once turned a corner and stepped into the Piazza San Marco unprepared for what was there. The impact of what I saw will stay with me forever. It was ‘Vivaldi Week’ and two huge speakers, attached to the Byzantine basilica and bell tower, were throwing out the wondrous ‘Four Seasons’ while young ballerinas dressed in pastel chiffon floated across the square. Man had created something as beautiful as nature, and the contagious energy in the air and the utter enchantment of the scene left an indelible mark.
The wonder that strikes you when visiting this city for the first, second or umpteenth time never fails to inspire your innermost self.
Its beauty speaks a language that men and women of any race and nationality are able to grasp immediately. Venice is filled with a unique mixture of sounds: bells ringing out from the dozens of church towers, water splashing at the sides of the canals as gondolas and water taxis pass, violinists practising from third-floor windows, and men walking along the small canal alleyways suddenly breaking into delicious song.
The timeless Rialto is a living ‘Diagon Alley’, lined with narrow shops selling everything: leather-bound books, herbs, traditional masks, scented candles, soaps, Murano glass and Burano lace, ornately decorated paper and hundreds of other delights, alongside Italy’s favourite fashion houses. Across the Giudecca Canal lies one of my favourite hotels in the world. When they first opened the doors of the Cipriani in 1958, the restaurateur extraordinaire, Commendator Giuseppe Cipriani, and the enthusiastic Guinness sisters realised their dream come true: peace and privacy in Venice. The Palazzo Vendramin https://www.palazzovendramin.com, a fifteenth-century residence sold to the Cipriani by the Duchess of Manchester while retaining a number of rooms for herself, is connected to the Cipriani through the beautiful Casanova Gardens via a sweet smelling rose loggia. Situated on the Giudecca Island on the lagoon side of Venice, it is only five minutes from the Piazza San Marco by the hotel’s private launch.
With its lush gardens, it is best described as an oasis in the heart of Venice, boasting the only swimming pool and tennis court in the city.
Here, the seven butler-serviced suites are the perfect escape from the brouhaha beyond. Three of them benefit from the most spectacular views in Venice, across the Laguna towards Santa Maria della Salute and the Piazza San Marco – this has to be IT for anyone searching for the ultimate ‘room with a view’. Vendramin rooms are individually decorated with priceless Murano glass appliqués and chandeliers, and the pastel walls are uncrowded, so as not to distract from the exquisite setting or clutter the space.
Each morning the arousing aroma of coffee is mixed with the smell of jasmine blooms, old-fashioned scented roses and freshly cut grass wafting through the huge window overlooking the gardens. Each day afternoon tea is served at five o’clock, and cocktails from six o’clock in the palazzo’s private salon, in addition to all the dining facilities of the Cipriani. Meals are generally served al fresco in one of the three terraces around the hotel. The newest and most contemporary restaurant is Cip’s, located on the ground floor of the Palazetto Nani Barbaro, adjacent to the Palazzo, with an outdoor terraced pontoon
that has a panoramic view overlooking the Grand Canal – the perfect place to sip the best Bellini in town and watch the sunset as the reflections in the Laguna fade.
Renato Piccolotto insists on fresh market produce each day, maintaining that in the art of good cuisine there is no need to disguise the naturally robust flavours of good food.
To work off some of that good food, try the huge salt-water swimming pool. If you can tear yourself away from that, the hotel also has a red clay tennis court set in the rear of the gardens, a small gym, Turkish bath, sauna, massage and hydro system.
Uncontested as Europe’s most romantic city, the genius of the architecture hosts some of the world’s greatest treasures. There’s just so much of Venice to see – the Doge’s Palace and San Marco, the Academia, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, San Salute, San
Maria dei Frari, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Rialto… and never enough time in just one trip. The streets and canals are best enjoyed at a meandering pace, wandering in and out of the dozens of churches, museums, galleries, shops, bars and restaurants. Guide books aplenty will point out the renowned, but you’ll have more fun and get a greater taste of the city if you allow yourself to get lost in the maze of back streets and canals, knowing that you’re never far from a square where someone can point you back in the right direction.
A day trip to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello is a relaxing way to escape the hubbub and enjoy another aspect of the city’s famous reputation. Although you can’t walk down a street without glancing at a window of Venetian glass, it’s best to visit the island of Murano where most of the glass is made. The island’s history dates back to 1291 when all the glassmakers’ furnaces were moved there in an attempt to eliminate medieval espionage. The skills and secrets have been passed down from father to son throughout the centuries and, amazingly, many of the families of master craftsmen trading during the Renaissance continue today. Take a trip to the factory of Signoretti http://www.signoretti.it, where unprotected hands blow and roll molten glass on rods at 900°C.
From Murano, it’s a short boat ride to the island of Burano, where the dying art of lace making will exist for maybe only another decade. The skill takes years to master, and then each lacemaker specialises in just one of seven different intricate stitches. Twenty years ago, you would have encountered a black-clad widow in every doorway, sitting with her white cotton string. Today, they are far less ubiquitous, and the shops now supplement their sales with imported machine-made goods. Film stars are buying up the brightly painted residences, taking the place of the artisans of previous centuries. The atmospheric restaurant ‘Da Romano’ http://www.daromano.it on Burano, where pictures of Venice cover every square inch of the walls, has remained unchanged and is the perfect stop for a bowl of the house special, ‘Risotto Romano’, served plain or with shrimp or cuttlefish – delicious.
From here you can see the island of Torcello and finish the day with a visit to the church of Santa Fosca and the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta with its magnificent mosaics.
Whatever activities your busy day involves, the retreat of the Palazzo Vendramin at the Cipriani is truly heaven on earth.
These days Venice is busy all year round, and June, July, and August are heaving with day trip tourists from cruise ships the size of towns. Apart from the famous masked carnival in February, the winter months are calmer. The best time to visit, however, is in September, when the intense summer heat has abated and the clear autumn light transforms the water and brick into a kaleidoscope of Turneresque tones. The historic regatta held on the first Sunday in September, when vessels of all sizes parade along the Grand Canal carrying passengers dressed in ancient costumes, is a true Venetian affair – and an event not to be missed.