When it comes to autumn travel one of my favourite destinations has to be Venice. The angular light across the canals, warm corners in Cafe Florian, and oh yes the threat of acqua alta. Venice floods from time to time which can reek havoc for the day-tripping tourist yet adds a very local sense of place to the floating city. The natives go about their day as normal, donning Wellies or making use of the elevated tables to walk across St. Mark’s Square when the water rises. Eventually the water disappears as quickly as it arrived. This is life in Venice, and it has its own brand of magic.
Of course I start and end my day at the iconic and lush Caffe Florian. This time of year makes it perfect for a decadent cup of thick hot chocolate. Red velvet banquets, marble tables, and golden light from Venetian glass chandeliers are best enjoyed on darker afternoons and evenings. In the summer one tends to sit outside on the giant piazza, but now that it is chilly, Florian seems ideally enjoyed from indoors.
If you really want to enjoy La Serenissima, then don’t come for just a day. Don’t rush through the streets and push through the tourists. Get on the Vaporetto, Venice’s water bus, and go to one of the quieter parts of town like Cannaregio. More open spaces here and this is where you are more likely to find the Venetians going about their day to day lives. And if you are in search of a bargain, well you will find great artisan masks and paper products for a lot less in this area as it is farther away from San Marco. From here dare to get lost and walk slowly back towards the center of town. No rush. you might want to stop in one of the bacari, wine bars Venice is famous for and hang out with the locals.
For an arty side of Venice then cross the Grand Canal to the Dorsoduro. Here you will find 2 of Venice’s best museums, the Accademia housing Venice’s Old Master paintings by Titian, Carpaccio and Bellini, and just up the canal is the Ca’Rezzonico a 18th century palazzo and period museum of that era. While the entire space is a jewel box, the real gems are the Tiepolo frescos, a dance of frolicking Pulcinellas looking down from the ceilings above. After a bit of art, then shop… This area has the best selection of Venetian artisan works from masks, to glass jewelry, to art prints. And not that tourist trap junk, but real artisans working their craft and selling it from studio. One of the best examples of Venetians masks can be found at Ca’ Macana near the Ca’ Rezzonico. Even if you have no intention of buying, they are friendly and welcome you to look around their one of a kind hand made masks. You can’t miss the shop, as it has a red unicorn in the front. That alone should entice you to peek inside!
As the sun sets across the lagoon, return to St. Mark’s square and join the music playing on the piazza and have a Tiepolo cocktail, the winter replacement for the Bellini as white peaches are out of season. You are safe here from the rising acqua alta or occasional rain drops, time stands still.