Venice is known for a whole host of things: Carnival. Architecture. George and Amal Clooney. Water damage. Striped shirts. But sadly, despite its convenient location within Italy, it is not renowned for its food. There is the increasingly common Instagram retreat held there, and food writer Skye McAlpine extolls the virtus of living La Dolce Vita (my hands were desperate to type La Vida Loca there, thank-you-Ricky-Martin) with her blog, From My Dining Table, but the truth is that food-obsessed visitors have struggled to find their tribe. The places where they could feel as though they have broken past the tourist barricade and infiltrated the “real” Venice are elusive. On one hand it is extremely difficult – tourism is their number one industry – but on the other hand this is ITALY so visitors expect more.
And now that is what Venice is offering. It feels like a younger generation of visitors and spenders is demanding a better complete experience. It is not enough to have the novelty of an old town with streams for roads and men piloting boats with sticks. Visitors want to experience the food and culture for which Italy is known, and no amount of Bellini’s will make up for that. (That is not strictly true).
I visited Venice several times before the children were born but then took an unexpected 8-year break from the city. This October my family and I returned for five absolutely fantastic nights and as an offering to the Gods of Travel who made sure we were safe and ate extremely well I am sharing my findings with you. Use this information wisely.
Where to stay:
If you are travelling with children renting an apartment is the way to go in Venice. Grocery stores may not be the easiest to find but they do exist and a supply of coffee, milk, yoghurt and fruit to get you going in the morning will save you the cost of a gondola ride around the city.
Recently my family and I stayed at the most incredible place – it is a palazzo split into two apartments with enormous doors, original artwork, a view over Campo San Stefano and the longest tables you’ve ever seen.
The flat is called Ca’affresco 2 and it is located at San Marco, 2951. You can book it through Airbnb or through Venietiam, a local apartment rental website. It has 4 regular bedrooms + a nanny’s room. The location is perfect for the ferry or for private water taxis as there is a private stop 3 minutes walk. There is also a Gondola station just across from the square upon which your bedroom window opens. To top it all off the people who manage the rental are happy to help you book a taxi, make restaurant reservations and drop their names for good tables.
(The apartment starts at about 250 Euros a night during the off season.)
Nick and I visited Venice 9 years ago, before the internet was invented and when we were much more budget conscious. It was an inexpensive hotel that we booked on a whim and expected very little of. From the time we arrived, however, it defied expectations. The location was perfect, the staff was warm and the room was beautiful. Unfortunatly, as much as I loved it, I could not remember what it was called or even where it was – all I could remember was that it was near a church and the wallpaper and bedding matched. Imagine how little help that is on a Google search. When we were in Venice last month we accidentally walked right by it! It turns out we were actually staying 4 doors down from it. What are the chances?! When we passed by ran in and grabbed a business card and a photo and off we went so I could spread the word. The location is perfect, lively but not crazy. The cost is reasonable. I don’t know if the wallpaper and the bedspreads still match but I guess you could request that, although it’s super trippy when you’ve had too much to drink.
(Rooms start at 75 Euros a night)
What to do:
Day 1. Take a trip to Murano.
Venice is made of 118 islands and the best way to really feel like you are seeing all of it in perspective is to make your way to one of them. Murano is the most touristy but it is also the home of the famous glass blowing factories which actually hold an extremely interesting history. Glassmaking was an art (and a job) passed down from father to son. The master glassmakers were basically rock stars…with one small catch: They weren’t able to leave the republic. If he tried to defect and was caught by the secret police he would be assassinated or have his hands cut off. Even if you aren’t much of a colored glass person and don’t need an elaborate chandelier to break on your way home, it is still pretty impressive to see the process in action. There is a factory right as you get off of your water taxi and for a small tip they will do a demonstration that is really, very, neat (and does not include the removal of anyone’s limbs). Then you can take your pick of about 178 galleries displaying hand blown glass things. Dolphins. Horses, Vases. Wine glasses. Michael Jackson. You name it.
After you’ve had your fill of glass, treat yourself to lunch at Aqua Stanca (Fondamenta Manin n° 48, Murano). Aqua Stanca is a warm, modern restaurant full of the very timely raw wood, concrete and brushed steel decor. The menu is sophisticated and draws from local ingredients. There is a large bar at the entrance so you can have an espresso or a glass of wine in the evening. Really nice wine list, gorgeous and light fritto misto that went a long way to demonstrating to me why people order fritto misto in restaurants.
Dinner: Chat Qui Rit
This modern Italian bistro grabbed us from a block away. It is bright and airy, fantastically designed with natural wood, Italian tiles and great light fixtures. Features a wall of take-away-items like biscotti, wine and picked vegetables. The best part is the extensive wines by the glass list, the extensive hours (you can pop in anytime and get full service or just a drink) and the very, very cheery staff. Although I have to point out here that they argued with my husband when he returned a corked glass of wine I was served. Grrrrrr. Also skip the Tiramasu. It tasted like sick. Other than that, it’s my favorite restaurant in Venice by a long shot!
Day 2: Another island and dinner at home
Morning visit to Rialto market to pick up ingredients for dinner.
Rialto Market is huge and busy and wonderful. It goes from 9am to 2pm and you can still find everything you want if you arrive at 10am. Obviously go for seafood – I recommend the Branzino (aka Mediterranean seabass or loup de mer) because it is a low-fat, delicate firm white fleshy fish that pairs nicely with almost anything and can be steamed, grilled or sauteed. Assuming your apartment is not set up like a chef’s kitchen, have the fish monger scale and fillet the fish for you (even if they get a little grumpy, they will still do it) then pick up some fresh veggies. Rice pudding is a great and super simple dessert made with sugar, milk, vanilla and risotto rice. (Here is a simple recipe from BBC goodfood)
For lunch head to Locanda Cipriani on the island of Torcello. Torcello is 10km from San Marco square and is about a 45 minute taxi ride. The island sounds mythical…1500 years ago it was the cradle of the entire Venetian civilization. Today a few dozen people live on the island (although I question even that high a number) and in actuality there is just nothing to do on it but have lunch. Even so it is a beautiful taxi ride and the restaurant is something to behold. It has a very unassuming entrance that opens into a dark room that you walk through to get to an expansive outdoor garden and dining tables. Straw hats are on hand to protect from the glaring sun and of course Harry’s signature bellinis are a must-do. The primavera risotto changed my life. Dust off your credit card for this one.
Address: Piazza Santa Fosca 29
Telephone: +390 41 73 01 50
Day Three: Seaside pastries and hustle and bustle
Gelati Nico is just one of dozens (hundreds?) of gelato / coffee / pastry / sandwich shops in Venice but it happens to be so much more. Saddle up to the coffee bar and order your coffee – no funny looks when you ask for some extra latte in your macchiato and the pastries are 1 Euro each and are serve yourself. It’s all an honor system. Order fresh squeezed succo d’arancia for the children and sit back and watch the locals come in, chat for a bit and carry on for their day.
Address: Zattere 922
Telephone: +390 41 522 52 93
Dinner at Osteria Enoteca San Marco.
San Marco Square (christened Pigeon Square by our children) is largely full of tourist traps and extremely high end shopping. If you are fans of the second and not the first there is one sign to look out for: Osteria Enoteca San Marco. The extensive wine list makes up for the simple (but interesting) menu and because it is open all day you can stop in for a glass of wine, an aperitivo or a full meal. This is not for a quiet, romantic dinner – think fashionable, bustling and, like so many restaurants in Venice, fairly expensive Oh, and don’t be late for your reservation. They only hold tables for 10 minutes.
Osteria Enoteca San Marco
Address: Frezzaria 1610
Telephone: +390 41 528 52 42
Stretch your legs with a 15 minute walk to the very, very best gelato you are going to find in Venice at San Stae. I threw away more gelati than I ate while in Venice and though I know there are starving children and I shouldn’t have done it I have a firm “no wasted calories” mantra. I eat the heck out of sweets (and fats and meats and cheeses and wines) but they have to be really, really good. The gelato in Venice made me sad. A lot. Until San Stae! Properly made in-house and stirred frequently there is only creamy goodness to be found in their gelato. No ice crystals. Not taste of last night’s leftovers. The staff is super friendly as well and is happy to talk you thorugh their process and their flavors.
I recommend a double scoop of pistacchio and nocciola but the vaniglia is sort of famous too!
Address: Salizada San Stae 1910
Telephone: +390 41 71 06 89
Day 4: Be a tourist.
Take an early morning walk on St. Mark’s Square today. Famous coffee and cocktail cafe, Florian, is open from 9am to midnight and is a must see. Avoid the urge to sit on the square and instead grab a small table inside for a cup of coffee. It is nosebleedingly expensive – but it is worth the experience to soak up the atmosphere.
Address: Piazza San Marco 56/59
Telephone: +390 41 520 56 41
Then head to Baby’s Boutique for masques. There are tons of masque shops – some cheaper than others, some more artistic than others. I am from New Orleans and I take masquing very seriously. I buy handmade, unique masques that will accompany or inspire Mardi Gras celebrations for decades to come. When my mother died I inherited her coveted masque collection and I aspire to treat it with grace and care and also to add my own expeiences to it. My husband and I had a magical experience at Baby’s (worst name, I know). We ended up with three or four really special masques and then a few more nice but less expensive options to send home to friends. For every masque Barbara, the young proprietor, knew the artist, the story behind the artist, and had ideas for how to wear or personalize it. Spending time with someone who cares to communicate with you, help you and understand what you are looking for (and why) is incredibly important part of masquing.
+39 041 520 2799
castello 4299 – 30122 Venice
By the end of your trip there is a chance you will be tired of fritto misto, squid ink risotto and linguine. You may also be tired of huge, slow-moving crowds. Time to turn to Osteria La Zucca. It is sort of a meat-lovers restaurant and a vegetarian restaurant rolled up into one. I know that is weird, but it works for them. There are loads of roasted vegetables, mushroom dishes, frittatas, flan…it is a small restaurant with 3 outdoor tables which they will reserve for you, but they will also book up quickly. Call in advance.
La Zucca Osteria con cucina.
Address: Calle del Tentor 1762 Santa Croce
Telephone: +390 41 524 15 70