Charmed by Venice

In Venice, gondolas are a popular way to get around.
Gondolas await eager travelers.

In 1841, British writer and art critic John Ruskin wrote, “Thank God I am here. It is the paradise of cities.”Glittering, beguiling, sophisticated, all this and achingly beautiful too. Venice, surely the most spell-binding city of all……

Skirting the Venetian suburb of Murano, as the magnificent panorama of Veniceunfolds before you, you could be forgiven for thinking you had died and gone to heaven. It certainly inspired a dramatic chorus of  ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from everyone inour private water taxi on our arrival from Marco Polo airport. With its vast, gloomy marble palaces, black with the corroding damp of centuries, this city of the senses is totally unlike anywhere else in the world. Set apart by an enchanting storybook strangeness, its narrow streets devoid of traffic and relatively free of hustlers, no wonder it is called La Serenissima ― the most serene…

Venice, Venezia in Italian, which sprawls across an archipelago of 117 linked islets, is a place to swoon over. It is probably at its romantic best at dusk on a winter’s day, when the last pale velvet streaks of daylight are leaving the sky. When windows high above the canals start to sparkle with twinkling lights and the mists waft up from the inky canals to shroud the buildings, a spectral air enfolds this aptly named Pearl of the Adriatic.

There is of course much more to Venice than simply staring at gorgeousness which is why we go back to recharge our batteries as often as we can. This proud, beauty queen city cleverly possesses a multi personality. Although she carries off the mantle of ‘tourist resort’ excellently well, this self-possessed lady has no hint of the brashness that characterizes many tourist havens.

She does it gently, with aplomb. At the same time she is an indulgent pleasure seeker, a dreamland for artists, mecca for culture vultures and when hectic Carnevale comes along, that exciting, unique and dazzling time of merriment which takes place in the depths of winter, she pulls out all the stops to show how dancing, feasting, drinking and masking should be done. Thousands of people from all over the world converge on the city at this time, to dress in magnificent costumes and make Venezia become even more of a dream world.

Our hotel, the Rialto, enjoys a grandstand location on the bustling, splendid Grand Canal, the city’s main thoroughfare and one of the busiest parts of the city. From our windows, the glorious close-up view of the hotel’s namesake was indeed jaw dropping ― a tourist board brochure come alive. The Rialto Bridge built in 1588 and immortalized by Shakespeare in “The Merchant of Venice”, continues to defy the predictions of its day and stands steadfastly, even with the extra weight of its double arcades packed full of shops. The stirring Grand Canal has always been home to the city’s aristocrats, the Nobili Homini and here you can marvel at their magnificent marble palaces, more than one hundred of them, each framed by colored posts showing the livery of their owners.

This is a world with no traffic and strolling through the web of narrow streets, listening to the sweet songs of the gondolieri as they gently and silently crisscross their way through the canals there is no doubt that this is the perfect chill-out destination. Gondolas are of ancient origin and are somewhat peculiar, in that the gondolier stands behind the passengers. In 1562, in order to minimize the rivalry between noble houses, a law was passed which stated that all gondolas must be painted black.

I always enjoy going to St. Mark’s Square ― Piazza San Marco ― in the heart of Venice first thing in the morning. It has a certain magic then when the city is just beginning to shake off her mantle of sleep. Later in the day it gets terribly crowded, not surprising really, as this is the city’s premier tourist attraction and possibly the most famous square in the world. It is also one of the few places where you can relax with a coffee while being serenaded by an orchestra. Two centuries ago the square pleased Napoleon so much that he pronounced it “the finest drawing room in Europe.” Two famous buildings dominate the piazza ― the Doges’ Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. Inside the splendid Byzantine church of St. Mark’s, the life of Venice’s patron saint is recalled in a series of hand-set mosaics which cover the floor, walls and ceiling, while the front doors are adorned with precious and semi-precious gems, each inset by hand and depicting awe-inspiring religious scenes.

Venice is full of intricate bridges.
The Rialto Bridge in the Grand Canal.

Next door to the Basilica stands the splendid pink and white Verona marble and Istrian stone building which is the Doges’ Palace. It contains a stunning collection of frescoes and paintings including Tintoretto’s “Paradise”, the largest oil painting in the world.

Just behind the Doges’ Palace is the legendary Bridge of Sighs, a small elegant covered stone bridge connecting the law courts with the prison. I always feel a sense of sadness when I look at this bridge because it was the link between liberty and doom for condemned prisoners. Their doleful lamentations on their way to and from trial caught the imagination of the 19th century Romantics to give the bridge its name. To see the bridge, follow the length of the Doge’s Palace until you reach Ponte della Paglia, the bridge facing the Bridge of Sighs, which is always packed with visitors taking photos with the Bridge of Sighs in the background.

Every visit we make to Venice rewards us by offering ever more snatches of magic and secrets just waiting to be discovered in her spaghetti plate of narrow streets and picturesque canals. Perhaps that is because Venice never really takes off her mask, coyly retaining a degree of mystery, surely her enduring appeal.

If You Go

Tourist Board of Venice

Italian Government Tourist Office