Une destination intemporelle pour petits et grands

Ah, Venice Italy, the City of Love (or at least one of several that claim this designation). One of most iconic and picturesque cities in Italy and a fitting start to our 21-day Italian road trip. The mere mention of the name conjures up vision of romantic gondola rides, the Venetian Carnival and its elaborate masks and gowns, as well as the many delicacies of world-famous Venetian cuisine.

We gave ourselves two days to take in all the sights, realizing from the get-go that it was simply not enough. Not even close. We would be simply scratching the surface of all that Venesia has to offer its millions of visitors. But we wanted an excuse to return again someday in the not too distant future. Hopefully before the city sinks beneath the sea as waters rise and erosion takes its toll.

A Venice Travel Guide

This Venice Travel Guide was written as an overview of our personal experience in the City of Love. The point of view is that of a couple of Boomers visiting the beautiful city of Venice Italy for a romantic event – Our 45th wedding anniversary. We also comment on mobility and food sensitivity issues.

Immerse Yourselves in the History of Venice Italy

As a little background on this historic city, Venice is located in Northeast Italy, in the Veneto region. Although there is no surviving record of the actual date of foundation, Venice was the capital of the Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic from 810 to 1797 AD, after the fall of the roman empire. Furthermore, the first Doge of Venice was elected in 697 AD. Suffices to say it is old. Venice, its lagoon and islands are also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A few facts about Venice: Many of its buildings date back many centuries. It is constructed on a clutch of 126 islands in the Venice Lagoon and a network of canals crisscrossed by 472 bridges. The oldest is the church of San Giacomo di Rialto, which is believed to have been built on March 25, 421.

Arriving in Venice by the Via della Libertà bridge was easy enough, though great care must be exercised to avoid the infamous autovelox traffic cams. They are often located immediately after a change in speed limit and motorists are often forced to slam on the breaks to adjust their speed. Stay well below the limit to avoid fines.

Stationner à Venise

Nous nous sommes stationnés au garage San Marco, juste à côté du pont en entrant dans Venise. Ce garage était idéalement situé à proximité de notre hôtel, à seulement quelques minutes à pied. Du moins, en théorie.

Ce garage est un autre exemple de l’étroitesse des choses en Italie. Monter la rampe d’accès jusqu’au troisième étage avec notre DS-7 a été une expérience ahurissante avec seulement quelques centimètres séparant les parois de la rampe des ailes de notre toute nouvelle voiture. Pour se garer, nous avons dû rabattre les rétroviseurs latéraux (nous l’avons fait plusieurs fois au cours de nos déplacements). Une voiture plus petite aurait certainement été un choix plus pratique.

Notre séjour à l’hôtel à Venise

Se rendre à l’hôtel s’est avéré une aventure. Ce qui était censé être une marche de 2 minutes s’est transformé en un entraînement cardio intense. Tous les porteurs du garage étaient occupés à servir d’autres clients. Alors, je me suis dit : « Bof, ça peut pas être si difficile que ça…». Eh bien oui… très difficile! Ce que je n’avais pas prévu, c’était la série de petits ponts tout au long du parcours avec de nombreuses marches à grimper. Transporter deux valises de 50 lb et deux bagages à main a été tout un entraînement !

After a nearly half hour of huffing and puffing, and more than a few laughs, we made it to the 
M Gallery Hotel Papadopoli, a small but beautiful Renaissance-style boutique hotel offering a splendid view of the surrounding canal and the lush green eponymous park. We later learned that there is a much easier route through Piazzale Roma using a single bridge with a ramp – no stairs – that would have saved us time and precious energy. 

Conseil de pro

A word of caution for travellers with mobility issues. Though the city is very flat, you’ll need to contend with the bridges. My wife walks with a cane due to painful osteoarthritis in her ankle. She learned firsthand that looks can be deceiving.

The main bridges over the Grand Canal have ramps in addition to steps. The slope is an easier climb. But for the network of smaller bridges that crisscross the maze of Rio found on either side of the main Canals, steps can be quite steep. Plan your itinerary accordingly.

Our room at Hotel Papadopoli was magnificent with a balcony and canal view. Not large, but spacious enough to feel comfortable. We were officially celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary in Venice and I decided to splurge on the Romantic Getaway Package that included rose petals on the bed, a bottle of prosecco, fresh strawberries and a welcome gift. In addition, the room provided some very plush bathrobes. 

Must-See Attractions in Venice and the Lagoon

As active seniors, our goal was to focus on the essentials sights and leave the secondary attractions for our next trip. The weather was during our stay was perfect. Venice in autumn is a great time to visit. Venice in autumn is a great time to visit. The official tourism season draws to a close, with less congestion than in summer. There is more time to admire the architecture in the historic centre and visit the lagoon area.

L’emblématique pont du Rialto

The Rialto is the oldest stone bridge in Venezia spanning the Grand Canal and in recent years, has become a major tourist attraction. Completed in 1591, it is now home to a litany of shops and boutiques, in some ways imitating the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. 

The shops on this Venice landmark are so densely packed on either side of the bridge that you lose the sense that you are actually on a bridge. It is only when you venture to either side of the Rialto that you’re able to witness the Grand Canal and its bustling activity unfolding before your eyes. It is truly a surreal experience. Of note in the various boutiques around Venice is the presence of two ubiquitous items: Venetian carnival masks and Murano glassware. But are beautiful, fragile and expensive. 

Masques de carnaval vénitien très élaborés dans une vitrine à Venise
Elaborate Venetian Carnival masks in a shop window in Venice

Le Grand Canal

The first thing you notice about Venice is how wide an open it feels. Buildings are low, no more than a few stories. The Grand Canal, Venice’s main thoroughfare and one of the city’s most famous icons contributes to this feeling of openness. The Canal is bordered on either side by expansive fondamenta teeming with visitors from everywhere around the world. There is a lot of foot traffic on the fondamenta, but you rarely feel oppressed. In fact, the crowds contribute to the magic of the city and its canals. 

The amount of water traffic on the Grand Canal is also impressive. It is constantly plied by all manner of watercraft including the vaporetto (a form of water bus), water taxis, and of course the iconic gondolas.

We couldn’t help but notice how the wake left by passing canal boats crashed against the walls of the canal. The waters are far from calm. Those who are prone to seasickness should keep this in mind before boarding any form of watercraft. That being said, the Grand Canal is a wonderful way to discover key landmarks of Venice as it slowly snakes through the city. 

Piazza San Marco

A trip to Venice would not be complete without visiting Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square). The most celebrated location in Venice is well worth the trip (about 30 minutes on foot from Piazzale Roma). 

This sprawling plaza packs into one single area some of the most iconic buildings and scenes in Venice. The Doges Palace, Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Porta della Carta, The Pallazo Ducale, the beautiful Ponte della Paglia and nearby the Bridge of Sighs – all perfect examples of Venetian architecture. Not to mention the docks and Riva degli Schiavoni along the Grand Canal, with a famous view of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.

At the time of our visit, various structures in Piazza San Marco were undergoing restoration. So, our images are less than postcard picture perfect. In addition, souvenir vendors have encroached on the piazza with their mishmash of pseudo-venetian trinkets and trash made in China. What a shame!

The Piazza is home to hundreds of pigeons to the joy of little kids, dogs and the young at heart who joyfully chase them across the paved courtyard. The spectacle can be witnessed from a front row seat at the many restaurants and cafes that line the western side, serving up pricy caffè e brioche (espresso and croissants) in the morning, and aperitivo in late afternoon. We sampled both and found that the atmosphere of San Marco made them much more appealing. The ambience was further amplified by several bands playing live music, sometimes jazz, sometimes classical, always uplifting.

A Note about Acqua Alta

Anyone who has been researching Venice has seen images of flooding in Piazza San Marco circulating on Instagram and other social channels. While planning our trip, many of our friends were alarmed that Venice had begun to sink below the waters of the Lagoon. 

Flooding does occasionally occur as a result of a natural phenomenon call Aqua Alta meaning “high water” in Italian. This seasonal flooding is the result of a combination of factors including astronomical tides, strong sirocco winds and conditions in the Adriatic. These forces push water into the Venetian Lagoon causing parts of the city to flood including Piazza San Marco

The images circulating in social media are from the record Aqua Alta of November 2019, when Venice experienced the highest tides in 50 years. This is not commonplace. Acqua Alta conditions can occur between late September and April, most commonly in October, November, and December. Saint Marks was bone dry during our visit in late September!

Se déplacer à Venise

Un vaporetto sur le Grand Canal

The Vaporetto make multiple stops along the way so you can hop off at key areas of the city. This is convenient if you’re taking in the sights. But is you’re in a hurry to get back to your hotel, walking is faster. 

Si vous disposez d’un budget de voyage costaud et recherchez une expérience de luxe, un bateau-taxi est un excellent choix. Un bateau-taxi est un bateau à moteur magnifiquement élégant, généralement en bois, qui s’apparente à une limousine. Ces embarcations privées vous permettent de parcourir les canaux et Rio avec classe et style. Un trajet typique vous coûtera 70€ pour un trajet de 15 à 20 minutes.

A gondola ride will set you back a lot more. Several hundred Euros per party for a short ride. Keep in mind that a gondola is not actually a mode of transportation in Venice. You can’t take a gondola from point A to point B. They have a pre-determined route that they follow and leave from various locations throughout the city.

Choose your departure point wisely to ensure that the sights meet your expectations. And don’t expect the gondoliers to be dressed like in the movies with the straw hat and striped shirt.

Seuls quelques-uns d’entre eux prennent la peine de s’habiller de manière traditionnelle. Si cela est important pour vous, précisez votre besoin lors de la réservation. Nous en avons même vu un parler avec nonchalance sur son téléphone portable avec des passagers à bord. Pas terrible comme expérience.

Gondola at rest near the Rialto Bridge

Se déplacer à pied – Les rue étroites de Venise

Certaines rues sont si étroites qu’on peut presque toucher les deux murs avec les bras tendus.
Certaines rues sont si étroites qu’on peut presque toucher les deux murs avec les bras tendus.

We often picture Venice as a city of canals and don’t fully understand that Venice is also laid out in a dense maze of narrow streets, some only as wide as a typical urban sidewalk. With your arms outstretched you can almost touch both sides. 

Finding your way can be tricky. Google Maps is not very accurate in Venice and is often thrown off by the buildings on either side which interfere with the GPS on your phone. We found ourselves backtracking more than once when Google Maps finally “caught up” with our location.

These narrow streets are sometimes mysterious, and sometimes creepy. In particular the sotoportego, which are narrow alleys that run directly under buildings and can be rather dark. Since they are usually quite short, a few hundred meters in length at most, you find yourself constantly changing direction, zigzagging your way across Venice to reach your destination.

A Nizioleti or street sign, identifies a small Sotoportego
Un Nizioleti ou panneau de rue identifie un petit Sotoportego, une ruelle étroite qui passe directement sous un bâtiment.

One way to determine if you’re headed in the right direction are the nizioleti (which means sheet in the Venetian dialect). These are painted signs on the walls indicating the street and alley name as well as the direction of main points of interest such as Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge.

But these typical narrow streets add to the charm and unique atmosphere of Venice. They are an integral part of the adventure in the city like none other. To learn more about the various Venetian street names, read this short post.

Venise, ville gourmande

Venice is a great place to dine on fresh fish and seafood. The islands is located directly on the Adriatic with easy access to the freshest catches imaginable. The Laguna Veneta or Venetian Lagoon also provides one of the most ecologically rich and diverse bodies of water in the Mediterranean. The lagoon is a preferred location for fish farming or vallicultura and has been for centuries. Everything is so fresh that shrimp are often served raw in many restaurants.

Antica Trattoria Poste Vicie

Rating

Antica Trattoria Poste Vecie, Venice, combines fresh seafood and historical ambiance in a 16th-century setting, offering a rich Venetian culinary experience near the Rialto Market.

Ristorante Vecia Cavàna

Rating

Ristorante Vecia Cavàna in Venice offers a delightful dining experience with its seafood and gluten-free options. Highlights include truffle antipasti, wild duck ragout, and a mixed grilled fish platter.

Les restaurants s’approvisionnent en poissons, crevettes, poulpes et crustacés au marché aux poissons du Rialto, une agglomération d’étals en plein air, située à deux pas du célèbre pont du Rialto. Tôt chaque matin, les chefs marchandent avec les commerçants pour obtenir les meilleures offres et se disputent les ingrédients les prisés et les plus frais. Des vendeurs de fruits et légumes sont également présents, offrant un guichet unique aux restaurateurs et aux résidents locaux.

Les restaurateurs vénitiens trouvent les ingrédients les plus frais au marché aux poissons du Rialto.

Conseil de pro

Il est fortement conseillé de réserver vos restaurant longtemps à l’avance pour éviter toute déception. C’est également le cas dans la plupart des grandes villes et destinations populaires d’Italie. Les soirs où nous avons décidé d’être spontanés ont donné lieu à un mélange de découvertes délicieuses et de déceptions désastreuses.

Les deux restaurants à Venise ont été choisis parmi une demi-douzaine suggérée recommandés par le concierge de l’hôtel. Il nous a fallu plusieurs heures pour parcourir les menus en ligne de chaque restaurant pour finalement s’arrêter sur deux choix vraiment impressionnants.

Venice Summary

Travel experts agree that the fall is the perfect time to visit Venice, the City of Love. It provides the perfect backdrop of magic and romance for a memorable getaway with your partner or spouse. Though it is heavily skewed to high-volume tourism, there is an opportunity to find the real Venice, if you know where to look. Although the main attractions are a must, exploring the backstreets will give you a greater sense of the history, culture and architecture of this iconic floating city.

Where to Find Venice, Veneto, Italy