Gondolas glide smoothly over the shimmering water next to the private water taxis that cruise up and down the canal looking for tourists willing to pay their exorbitant fare. A goods boat pulls up alongside the dock of one of the canal-side hotels and the driver unloads some daily supplies. Boxes of fresh eggplant, fresh limes, juicy plums, yellow capsicums and bright red tomatoes are placed in crates on the dock. From the water on a vaporetto or gondola, the houses, palaces and romantic bridges that line Venice’s canals seem to rise out of mist and fog like apparitions floating on a cloud of water. The cold misty fog seems in keeping with Venice’s elegant decaying palaces, romantic bridges and maze of narrow twisting alleyways variously known as calle, salizzade and ruge. These are some of the sights you can expect to see while gliding around Venice in a gondola.
There are amazing views of the Grand Canal from many vantage points throughout Venice, including its bridges and grand hotels. Many of the city’s grand hotels were former residences of the wealthy and palaces for the noble families, so it’s a good chance you’ll find excellent views of the Grand Canal in a luxury hotel. One such place is the Foscari Palace Hotel, which was once a sumptuous Venetian palace. You could easily pretend to myself that you’re a visiting noble staying at the mansion of a wealthy Venetian cousin. Tall ceilings, velvet drapes and French doors with patterned glass panels create a feeling of opulence. Throw open the French doors to your suite and the activities on the Grand Canal are a picturesque scene below. Opposite the hotel, money changes hands as shoppers laden with fresh produce from the markets queue up for the short ride across the canal in one of the plain wooden gondolas.
The classic beauty of Piazza St Marco’s is spoiled by the myriads of t-shirt and souvenir sellers. Masses of pigeons flap around the tourists, landing on their arms and heads. The reactions of the people are fun to watch. They either scream and jump around flapping their arms in fright or stand as still as a statue with their arms raised towards the sky. While visiting the piazza, make sure to marvel at the beauty of the 11th-century Italo-Byzantine architecture of St Mark’s Basilica.
Combine a guided tour of St. Mark’s Square and the Doge Palace, two of the city’s most well-known attractions, The Doge’s Palace was the residence of the leader of the Republic of Venice. Inside, see the Chamber of the Great Council, courtrooms, living quarters, secret rooms and exquisite frescoes. There’s also an impressive armoury room. The Bridge of Sighs links the New Prisons to the Doge’s Palace.
As you walk around Venice, you might find yourself slipping away from the main tourist area. The back streets of Venice are where charming shops are replaced by moss-covered walls and musty odours of Venice’s back canals. Wrinkly apron-clad grandmothers peer past paint-peeled windows frames while rows of washing flap from the windows above your head. The sun begins to disappear behind the buildings and darkness slowly descends upon these narrow lanes. Your heart beats a little faster as you realise you are lost but it’s all part of experiencing the charm of Venice. You walk for hours until you somehow find yourself back on the main canal. Getting lost is one of the fun things to do in Venice but if you don’t want to get lost, these tours in Venice will help you find your way.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection on the Grand Canal is a collection of modern art worth seeing. The collection is varied, from Picasso to Pollock and a range of styles including Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Located in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an 18th-century palace works in the museum represent artists from Italy and around the world. Glassmaking is Venice’s second-biggest industry after tourism and the best glass originates from the island of Murano. You’ll be astonished by the talent of the glassmakers who demonstrated their craft. In a few deft movements, an artisan can magically create a delicately sculptured horse out of a shapeless lump of hot glass. Venice’s glassmaking history is believed to date back before the first millennium. By 1291, due to the many fires caused by the glasshouses’ constant need for high heat, the Council of the Venetian Republic moved all glasshouses to Murano. The tradition has continued up until today where some of the worlds finest glass products still originate from this small island. The Signoretti le Bricole factory is a favourite of actor Nicolas Cage and is best known for its chandeliers that hang in lobbies of grand buildings all around the world.
Burano’s canals are filled with brightly coloured buildings, lace shops and cafes. In the 16th century, it was traditional for the women of Burano to work on handmade lace creations while waiting for the men to return from the sea. Burano lace became highly sought-after throughout Europe. Although the more expensive creations in Burano’s lace shops are genuine Burano-made lace, watch out for the cheaper lace items imported from China.
Venetian textiles have a long and rich history, so while in Venice it makes sense to visit a textile house. Rubelli has been producing textiles since 1889 and makes some of the world’s most lovely damask. Their textiles are sought after by internationally renowned designers like Roberta di Camerino. So pop into their showroom and see one of the beautiful things that Venice is famous for.
Venice is indeed one of the few places that can claim to be more beautiful in winter than in summer. While most cities are at their worst in winter, Venice is at her most atmospheric and magical. Cloaked in mist and fog Venice wears her wintry cloak like a grand dame dressed for the opera. When the tourist throngs thin out to provide near uninterrupted views of Venice’s visual masterpieces, you can stand in Piazza San Marco and marvel at the magic of Venice. It’s still one of the world’s greatest drawcards and the good news is, Venice hasn’t sunk – it’s better than ever.

Chris Agar

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