La Serenissima exudes magic and romance like few other European cities can. In the second chapter of a lasting love affair, we return to the lagoon city of Venice for a brief rendezvous. By Mitrajit Bhattacharya
To say that my first trip to Venice 19 years ago left me awestruck would not be an exaggeration. It’s a city that is unapologetically grandiose and charming with its old-world vibe. No wonder it epitomises romance to everyone who touches its shores. I went back to Venice this year, albeit on a short break of 48 hours, to get blown away once again by its beauty and soak in some of that joie de vivre.
While the city does pack in a punch with its labyrinth of culture, architecture, quaint and grand locales, culinary delights, and other surprises, it can also be enjoyed on a short sojourn.
There is no other city in the world that perches on stilts, with canals snaking through its streets. After almost two decades, I caught my first glimpse of the architectural marvel
as the shadow of my small Helvetic Airways flight crisscrossed its canals and landed on the runway of the Marco Polo airport. Venice’s first settlers came from the neighbouring mainland in the Veneto area as they sought refuge from a savage Barbarian invasion. The refugees found their new lives in the lagoon more congenial than they had expected, and over time, the archipelago prospered. Heading to the city centre with no prior planning, I figured out a bus-boat combination that would take me to my destination in 45 minutes.
With no time to waste, I also decided to pick up a return bus ticket and a two-day vaporetti (water bus) ticket for Rs3,594.
A DATE WITH HISTORY
My first brush with Venice’s remarkable history came at the baroque hotel that I was staying in. The famed Aman Venice, near the Rialto Bridge, is a 16th-century palace, one of over 100 gorgeous buildings that line the historic Grand Canal. With 24 rooms and suites that overlook the canal, the hotel also offers two private gardens—an unusual feature in the city. An evening drink at the garden of Aman, overseeing the Grand Canal, is an experience right out of a movie. No wonder the Clooneys chose the Palazzo Papadopoli (the name for the palace before it was reincarnated as Aman Venice) as the venue of their much-hyped wedding in September 2014.
Brimming with treasures that would be at home in a museum, the Palazzo Papadopoli was once the home of the 18th-century painter Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, and his frescoes still adorn the walls of many of the rooms. These are not the only historic elements in the property. The Sansovino Stanza room, where I put up, featured a 16th-century fireplace which had been designed by architect-sculptor Jacopo d’Antonio Sansovino.
Around 1,700-years-old, the city of Venice was at the centre of major stirrings in the European art, music, and political realms. This was ground zero of the Renaissance movement, which later took all of Europe by storm. Widely regarded as the world’s first financial centre, it remains one of Italy’s most important cities to date. For tourists, it is quite easily the most romantic destination in the world.
Around 150 canals and 400 bridges stand in for road and metro networks in Venice. There is no better way to soak in the city than by strolling along miles of meandering canals and gazing at the beautiful churches, palaces, museums and squares, devouring amazing street food, and shopping for local artisanal products.
My first stop on a leisurely stroll was Saint Mark’s Basilica on Saint Mark’s Square, which is dotted with chic cafes and restaurants. An architectural marvel, the Basilica features over 85,000 square feet of mosaic, enough to cover a couple of soccer fields, mostly done in gold over a period of eight centuries. One can spend hours gazing at the 500-odd columns and capitals, mostly Byzantine, dating between the 5th and the 11th centuries.
After a sumptuous lunch of grilled squids and mackerels from Acqua & Mais, a highly recommended street shop, I headed for the famed Rialto Bridge. Crossing the Grand Canal at its narrowest point, the 400-year-old stone-arch bridge is armed with some great views and is the most famous selfie spot in the whole of Venice. The vibrant Rialto Market nearby turned out to be a great place to pick up some souvenirs.
DA VINCI’S MACHINES
Trust the locals when they say, there is no easier way to get around in Venice than the vaporetto. With my 48-hours pass in hand, I boarded a water bus at the Rialto stop to witness the enchanting city from the Grand Canal. The boat ride was a journey through historical and modern architecture, as grand buildings like the Venice Casino and contemporary commentary like sculptor Lorenzo Quinn’s famed Support glided by, leaving me breathless.
After a 15-minute ride, I got off the water bus to explore the narrow by-lanes and street cafes that beckoned me, and chanced upon the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, located in the old town centre right in front of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The museum houses working models made out of his drawings and plans of machines, including War Machines, Civil Engineering Machines, Flying Machines, Ideal City and Principles of Physics. An art gallery that exhibited his major paintings with the use of technology left me gaping with child-like wonder.
DINE OUT LIKE A STAR
Whether you stay at the Aman or not, do make a reservation at its Italian restaurant, Arva,
for a spectacular dinner curated by Michelin- star chef, Davide Oldani. Dining at Arva was as Italian as it gets. For entrée, some fresh burrata with wild radicchio, red endives, and balsamic was the perfect antipasti to go with the local white wine, Tamellini Soave 2016, while the main course was a fancier Saccottini stuffed with stracciatella, prawns, and oregano. The classic tiramisu and coffee offered the perfect end to my star-studded gastronomic experience. If you’re not done in by all the sightseeing, head to one of the bars at Saint Mark’s, like I did. Sipping on a Campari and smoking a Cohiba was my way of capping a rather perfect day in the ‘floating city’.
The following day, I decided to go beyond the Grand Canal to go island-hopping in the archipelago. Fondamente Nove is the embarking point for boats that go to Murano, Burano, and Torcello. It looked far on the map that I held up as a typical tourist on the streets, but the spot turned out to be a 10-minute walk from the Rialto Bridge. Of all the things I saw, the sight that shines brightest in memory is that of the beautiful coloured houses of the fishermen at Burano. If island-hopping makes you weary, head to Bar Longhi at The Gritti Palace on your return. Known to serve the best Bellini in town, the bar always leaves you in high spirits. An emotion I desperately needed as dusk neatly draped the city of canals and I realised that my second Venetian adventure was about to end. But as with all tumultuous love affairs, I promised to return soon. Perhaps not alone this time.
The Marco Polo airport is well- connected to all major European cities. It is located 12 kms away from the city and can be reached by both, road and canal. Those coming by bus arrive at Piazzale Roma. From there, you need to take a water bus to the city centre. The most preferred mode to reach Venice is the train, which ferries passengers from different European cities to the Santa Lucia railway station.
Try to find a place near Saint Mark’s Square. Aman Venice offers opulent stays in a palace. From Rs 91,866.
Venice has relatively moderate weather, but there’s rain nearly all year round. To avoid large crowds, spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit.