It’s always welcoming to be met at an airport especially if it’s by a private motor launch, a seriously jet-set start.
I received an email from www.Travelzoo.com, who trawl the internet for the best value holidays, and came across Fleetway Travel’s (www.fleetwaytravel.com) Venetian ‘three night getaway’ for £279 pp to stay in the La Gare hotel (www.lagarehotelvenezia.com). The holiday included a 25 minute boat ride to and from the airport in the hotel’s own private launch, across the Venetian lagoon. La Gare is a modern building built inside the walls of an old monastery (so don’t expect great views), on the Isle of Murano, just a short Vaporetto ride across to Venice itself. Vaporettos are the quickest safest and cheapest way to get around. A three day ticket cost €40 and some run all night (download their route map from www.actv.it).
We stayed on Murano for the first night and being mid-March had the canals and back streets totally to ourselves, the peace only broken by the peals of one of the many church bells, and the occasional motor boat drifting by almost silently leaving no wash. We found a local bar, the only light in a dark square, and tried the local favourite, a Spritzy made up of white wine with soda and Aperol or Campari with a slice of lemon. After a gentle walk past many of the famous glass factories we found the Osteria al Duomo (www.osteriaalduomo.com) a restaurant just over the bridge from the S.S. Mario e Donato Church. The lack of decor was made up for by the food. The local dish of Baccala (creamed cod) with Polenta, the Scallops with Cuttlefish ink, and the Panacotta de la Casa were delicious and fairly priced.
After a very good breakfast at La Gare we took the Vaporetto to Saint Marks Square for our pre-booked, queue busting, secret tour of the Doges Palace (€20), an absolute must. The tour takes you into the seedier side of the palace including the torture chamber and roof cells (from which Casanova escaped). You can also appreciate the rest of the palaces amazing halls at your leisure. An added bonus was the Henri Rousseau exhibition which included an unusual ‘Bass beer bottle’ painting by Picasso.
Trip Advisor’s ‘No 1. Thing to do in Venice’ is to ‘get lost’. We did! We meandered away from the tourist traps of St Marks Square through Fenice past the famous opera house (check their programme for world class performances from €64 per ticket, www.teatrolafenice.it) and stopped for a light al fresco lunch in Campo San Angolo, where you could get a €12 pizza and a large glass of good white wine for €5.
A Vaporetto along the Grand Canal (overtaken by two ‘James Bond’ Ambulance launches, blue lights flashing, and monster wakes) to Arsenale to stroll to the minute Scuola di San Giorgio on Calle Furlani, which was definitely the jewel in the crown of our stay. The Carpaccio’s paintings were to die for (just like the dragon!). Painted in the 16th Century they are incredible. The private meeting room upstairs is set out like a chapel with amazing ceilings, frescoes and paintings.
Thursday took us down the Grand Canal to the Rialto vegetable and food market with its vast variety of succulent fish. The fruit and veg stalls were heaving, with one speciality, crystallised fruits too tempting to ignore at €2 per 100g.
We crossed to Santa Maria della Salute an enormous Cathedral look-alike domed church which celebrates a daily mass at 4.00pm in spite of the multitude of tourists present.
A short walk, toward the Penny Guggenheim Gallery, led to the best value in Venice, the “Traghetti” these large gondolas are operated by two gondoliers criss crossing the Grand Canal carrying up to 10 passengers, all standing, for €2. It doesn’t take long but it is fun.
Dinner on Thursday was in the Dorsudoro district an area full of students, which houses some of the the town’s great art gallerys, picturesque canals and palazzi, and with none of the usual tourist traps, it was all very lively. Our restaurant, Locanda Montin (www.locandamontin.com), on Fondamenta di Borgo was founded by the current owner Giorgio’s grandfather 115 years ago. We enjoyed the eclectic collection of art hanging in the dining room, many of them exchanged by artists for a free dinner! Dinner was brilliant. The Crespelle with spinach and fungio was exceptional and reasonably priced. Giorgio was terribly excited when he found out we were connected to the Chelsea Arts Club and regaled us with tales of his visits there 20 odd years ago and pointing out the paintings by the Club’s members on his walls.
Our last day on Murano was spent window-shopping the Rio de Vetrai and visiting the glass factories. It is important to visit at least three or four to compare styles and prices. Don’t forget to haggle! We had a leisurely lunch then back to the hotel for our VIP launch to the airport.
Three nights in Venice is a great taster and it will leave you wanting more!