Italy - best of Venice

by HughS

Wonderful holidays are created by wonderful experiences. I have distilled the best moments from over 30 trips to Venice so you can make the most of your short break

Best view 

Take the Number 2 vaporetto from San Zaccaria (just to the left of the Doge's Palace as you look out to St.Mark's Basin), just one stop to the island church of San Giorgio Maggiore. Admire the magnificent church (free to enter) designed by Palladio as you head for the campanile (bell-tower). Four euros pays for a ride in a lift to the top where the most magnificent view unfolds from each of the four faces. On a clear day you might even see the snowy peaks of the Dolomites.  

Top tip :avoid being aloft when the bells strike the hour!

Best budget meal

Hop back onto the next number 2 heading away from San Marco towards Palanca, on the neighbouring Giudecca island. Past more Palladian churches, Zitelle and Redentore, to the Palanca vaporetto stop. Turn left, and walk 30 yards to the restaurant of Do Mori (Fondamenta Sant'Eufamia 588). In fine weather the tables outside have a splendid view across the broad Giudecca canal to the Zattere on the Dorsoduro. You will be offered two separate menus - a red one with great pizzas (about 8 euros) and a blue one with a wide range of fish and some meat dishes (10-18 euros a dish ). The scampi e rucola risotto as a starter (for two) is the world's best risotto!

Top tip: ask the charming head waiter, Tony, about the striking postcards on the left-hand wall inside the restaurant. These were created by the eccentric Austrian artist and architect Hundertwasser who used to own the huge (and private) Garden of Eden on the Giudecca

Best café

The faithful number 2 will take you across the Giudecca canal to Zattere and then San Basilio. Alight here and head directly away from the Giudecca canal, following a smaller canal north and then east until you reach the bustling campo of Santa Margharita. This unevenly shaped "square " has an authentic, local, Venetian feel to it, with dogs scurrying around, children playing, no-one in any particular rush to go anywhere. On the left, behind a red front, is Il Caffe, serving the most delicious cappucino, latte - or for a more refreshing drink, ask for a spremute d'arancia (freshly squeezed orange).

Top tip: if you exit the square to the right of centre as you look out from Il Caffe, and head round to the right, the first bridge you reach is the Ponte del Pugni, complete with footprints which mark the opening positions of pugilists who would fight for their family's honour. Just below, to the left, floats the barge which it is claimed is the most photographed vegetable stall in the world.

Most manageable museum

Staying on the left of the Rio San Barnaba (which flows under the Ponte del Pugni) walk a hundred yards towards the Grand Canal and you will reach Ca Rezzonico. This palazzo, on four floors, has beautiful ballrooms and bedrooms in their original state. Towards the top there are magnificent paintings including two by Canaletto and a floor devoted to 15-20th century Venetian art. The whole building, with the added bonus of views over the Grand Canal, provides a flavour of aristocratic Venice without excessive toil - even kids will enjoy it (if allowed to go at their own pace).

Top tip: look out for the stunning marble bust of a woman wearing a veil  - the delicacy of the carving is extraordinary. 

Best located bar 

From the vaporetto stop for Ca Rezzonico catch a number 1 (towards  San Marco) under the Accademia Bridge to Giglio on the far bank. Head through the narrow alley and to the right towards the Via Marzo XXII. About halfway along this avenue look for signs on the right to the Europa e Regina Hotel. This pair of palazzos enjoys a superb position on the Grand Canal and has hosted many famous guests including Monet. The bar is built over the Canal and is the most delightful (though expensive) place for a Bellini (around 15 euros - plus enough salty nibbles to make you want another drink).

Top tip: look at the marble floor in reception. Real film buffs might recognise it from The Talented Mr Ripley - but take a black and white photo of someone standing on it and it will look 3-D, like an Escher drawing. 

Most atmospheric boat ride

You could spend 80 euros on a gondola but we would suggest that you catch a number 1 or 2 vaporetto from Rialto (towards San Marco) or vice-versa (eg from Vallaresso near the Europa e Regina) just as night is falling. Make sure you are by a window, or even better, outside at the front or rear, so you can look up into the unguarded windows of the palazzos as the chandeliers come on, illuminating beams and paintings. This stretch of the Canal is the most spectacular high street in the world!

Top tip: just think, as you enjoy the ride, that if the modernisers had had their way, you would now be on a road.

Best restaurant

If your Grand Canal cruise is on a number 1, you could alight at Salute, close to the canal's mouth, and turn left in front of this glorious domed church. Carry on past the recently opened Dogana modern art gallery (funded by French billionaire Francois Pinault and containing spectacular and shocking exhibits, leavened by wonderful views from its canalside windows) all the way round the point of the Dogana until you reach the restaurant of Linea D'Ombra  (Dorsoduro 19). This has stylish rooms and a stunning terrace over the Giudecca canal. The restaurant closes for January and February but otherwise is open seven days a week. A meal for two of the highest quality, with excellent wine, will cost around 150-180 euros. If you did start this tour at San Giorgio Maggiore you are now facing it once more.  

Top tip: look across the Giudecca canal towards the white Zitelle church. Apparently Elton John's pad is just to the left.

Best value hotels

Two hotels that represent great value in great locations but with very different styles are the Domina Home Giudecca and Pensione Seguso Hotel Venice. The Domina is located on a quiet canal in a residential area of the Giudecca Island and is smart, stylish and modern, inside an old building.The views are pleasant but unspectacular but the real plusses, apart from the relatively low prices, are the absence of crowds and the genuinely Venetian atmosphere of the Giudecca.

Pensione Seguso is on the Zattere, the southern edge of the Dorsoduro and many rooms have views over the Giudecca canal or the Rio San Vio. Seguso has a comfortingly old-fashioned feel, packed with curios and antiques - you sense it hasn't changed much since John Ruskin was a next-door neighbour in the 1850s. Seguso is especially recommended by a disabled friend for its lift and level floors. Both hotels are bed and breakfast only, but both are close to good restaurants, including the two named above.   

However you choose to spend your time in this beautiful city I am sure you will have a wonderful time!