I have been writing about Italy for over 25 years for papers (Sunday Telegraph, Independent), magazines, news agencies and – most prolifically – travel guides, editing many editions of Time Out's Venice and Rome guides.
I pitched up in Rome in 1984, thinking of staying for a year or two; but I've never managed to drag myself away from Italy. After 20 years in the Eternal City, I'm now in the wilds of the Umbrian countryside where I continue to edit guides, and design gardens (www.laverzura.com).
Of all Italy's glorious cities, Venice is undoubtedly my favourite: I love its unique beauty and that special feeling of complicity it gives anyone who gets to know it well. I make sure I visit the lagoon city three or four times a year: sometimes for a few days, occasionally for weeks. Any excuse will do: an article to write, a garden to look at, my Time Out Venice guides to update, a new hotel to check out, or just a much-loved restaurant with a pavement table and a view I find myself hankering after. What never ceases to amaze me about the place is how, despite my constant visits and endless exploring, every time I go there, I happen across something new. There’s always a reason to return to a city that reveals its secrets so slowly but so surely.
Where I always grab a coffee - The selection of excellent coffees at the Caffè del Doge (Calle del Cinque, San Polo 609, www.caffedeldoge.com) means that there’s always the perfect cup to match my mood.
My favourite stroll - With construction work at the Punta della Dogana finally over, I can once again do my walk; the view across to San Marco from this easternmost end of the Dorsoduro district is stunning.
Fiction for inspiration - Donna Leon’s Commissioner Brunetti crime novels show this American writer’s excellent knowledge of the city. But I have a sneaky affection for Henry James’ wordy The Wings of the Dove.
The most breathtaking view - The spectacle from the campanile (bell tower) of San Giorgio Maggiore is heart-stopping. But the view from the Molino Stucky Hilton’s Skyline bar (Giudecca 810, www.molinostuckyhilton.com) is pretty good too – and you can enjoy this one with a glass in hand.
The best spot for some peace and quiet - When busy Venice gets too much for me, I hop on a vaporetto to the Giudecca and wander through to the boatyards and echoing alleys on the southern side. So atmospheric.
Shopaholics beware! I find the purposeful bustle and real Venetian spirit of the food morning market at the north-western foot of the Rialto bridge quite wonderful, even if I’m not buying.
City soundtrack - Anything by Vivaldi is the obvious choice here in his city, but I also find the works of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli very fitting. These 16th-century composer-brothers wrote works for performance in St Mark’s basilica in the 16th century.
Don’t leave without…trying to round the column: looking at the Doge’s palace from the lagoon side, go to the third column from the right. To one side, stand with your back against it; now try to walk around it without falling off the pavement. I’ve never managed.
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Improbable, magical, peerless, unique: Venice is all of these things and more. From the splendour of a trip down its ‘high street’ – the Grand Canal – to the romance of slipping along quiet canals in a gondola, and the sheer wonder as you first glimpse magnificent St Mark’s Square, it’s a city like no other.Read more...