Venice: finding tranquillity on a budget

by Julia Cons

Follow my advice (rather than the crowds) to avoid costly mistakes on your next trip to Venice

Don't be fooled into thinking that Venice is purely a city of culture, solely the destination of choice for the rich and the romantic. Venice is all the things the guidebooks say it is, and arguably more, but it's also a fantastically relaxing weekend-break destination. Venice may well be the ideal holiday hotspot for you if you are simply looking for sun, sea, sand and spaghetti.

Getting there

Flights to Marco Polo are cheap. There may well be one from your nearest airport, and the journey takes just a couple of hours…unless of course cheap and quick isn't really what you're looking for, in which case spend a couple of days getting to Venice in superstar style on the Orient Express!

Once you've grabbed your bags, follow the covered walkway at the airport down to the sea where you hop on board the Alilaguna - the 'bus' over to Venice. You can pay once on board or, if you are the organised type, there is a kiosk in the airport where you can buy tickets for a just a few euros. It's worthwhile carrying an empty carrier bag to put on your seat – the best seats are those at the edge where you can dangle your fingertips in the waves, but they are often wet with sea spray and can leave you with a distinctly damp behind.

Far from the madding crowd

Pretty much every website you turn to for guidance would have you stay in a romantic hotel with a balcony overlooking the Grand Canal, but making your base away from the bustle of the tourist hub will reduce your expenditure, and probably your blood pressure.

The recently refurbished Venezia 2000 Hotel on Lido is inexpensive, clean, and situated directly opposite a wide sandy beach. The air-conditioned en suite rooms are spacious enough for a couple, and if you are travelling as a family, the Venezia 2000 offers triple rooms and suites. The rooms aren't luxurious, but they are clean and unassumingly decorated. In terms of facilities, your well-stocked mini bar may be the cheapest you ever come across, the breakfast is ample, and there is a roof terrace that no-one else seems to use. But the hotel's best selling point is undoubtedly its proximity to the wide, sandy, and very quiet beach, complete with its friendly café for drinks and snacks.

When you get off the water-bus at Lido, the Venezia 2000 is a five to ten minute walk away. If you need refreshments before you continue, or want to confirm the route, stop off at one of the many bars for a quick drink and a chat with the universally friendly staff. Then walk away from the coast until you hit a T-junction at the other side of this narrow island. Turn left, and don't panic! It feels like you are leaving the tourist area, but you are going the right way. Follow this road, with the beach on your right, for a couple of minutes until you reach the hotel.

Leaving the hustle and bustle behind

In the morning, when you are raring to absorb some culture and see the many sites Venice has to offer, walk back the way you came and hop back on the bus. And when - hot, tired, and maybe a little tipsy after sightseeing - you arrive back at Lido in search of an evening meal and some solitude, you'll find the rest of the island is queuing like sheep to crowd on to the small boat you just got off!

The atmosphere on Lido resembles a quiet Mediterranean resort, boasting quaint streets lined with cafés and bars – but note that, although you can get a cold beer until the early hours of the morning, they tend to stop serving food relatively early, so turn up before ten to guarantee dinner.

Venice is every positive superlative you can think of…but the sense of relief when you sink back into the quiet of Lido is palpable.

Don’t spend more than you have to

Many who see themselves as seasoned travellers, as opposed to mere tourists, will sneer at the very thought of a gondola ride. But being gently punted down a narrow canal by a discreet gondolier is unbelievably romantic, and a fantastic way to see Venice away from the bustle of other tourists. If you are visiting as a couple, a gondola ride is an unmissable treat, with the caveat that as you wonder the maze of tiny streets and alleys, you should keep your eyes peeled for an idle gondolier waiting at one of the less busy locations. Away from the main tourist hub you’ll pay less and get a more intimate experience.

And remember to agree the price before you board. My husband I once sat in the late afternoon sunshine sipping gin and tonic outside a bar, and were privy to a conversation that spread from table to table around us, with couple after couple revealing - each more disgruntled than the last - that they had paid ever higher prices for their half hour of bliss.

A pasta or pizza meal on Lido won’t set you back a great deal, and you can save some cash by checking the bill carefully for the service charge before you hand over your credit card. Many establishments automatically add a service charge of up to 20 per cent, so you don’t always need to leave a tip. However, you can’t be sure this will find its way to the serving staff at the end of the night so, if the staff are extraordinarily helpful, just a few euros might make you feel better about leaving with your cash still in your pocket, and your waiter or waitress will be extra pleased.

Travel out of season. November to March is quietest, but even September to May is significantly less busy and significantly less expensive than the summer months, and in spring and autumn it is still warm enough to wear a T-shirt.

My last top money-saving tip is from a misjudged personal experience – no matter how gorgeous and glamorous you want to look for your significant other, don’t bother splashing out on stunning new sandals for a trip to Venice. You’ll only get blisters from all the walking, and even Jimmy Choos won’t look great when your feet are held together with plasters! (and mine were just from the High Street...)

What to see in the city

Guidebooks galore will direct you to this square and that gallery, this musical event and that museum. My advice for exploring Venice, unless you are heading there specifically for a few days of intense culture, is to save your money. I guarantee you’ll still get lost, even if you walk with your head in your book – and you’ll miss the real feeling of the city. After all, if you really want to see St Mark’s Square, all you have to do is follow the throng.

If you’ve come for romance, relaxation and some thoroughly lazy sunshine in one of the most fabulous cities in the world, simply amble. Do get lost – that’s the way you’ll stumble across the quietest bars, the quaintest shops, and all that’s quintessentially Venetian.

Julia Cons

I'm a freelance journalist. I thrive on a chaotic house full of rapidly growing kids, a hungry husband, and an ever-increasing array of two and four-footed friends. I'd like to think I love a holiday or weekend break as a way to temporarily leave day-to-day life behind, but my camera and notebook always seem to sneak along too...likewise husband, kids and sometimes the dog. I wouldn't have it any other way.