by Nick Trend, The Telegraph, January 29, 2018
The Venice Carnival starts tomorrow, but this fabled city on the water has plenty to offer all year round.
1. See the original carnival
Venice was already a tourist honeypot by the 18th century. But visitors were also drawn by the courtesans, gambling dens and the original carnival. The party atmosphere is brilliantly expressed in the paintings of Pietro Longhi and Gabriele Bella in two Venetian museums – the Querini Stampalia (querinistampalia.it) and the Ca’ Rezzonico museum (visitmuve.it).
2. Visit Casanova in jail
Most famous of all the revellers was Casanova. His notorious seduction was the ultimate expression of Venetian licentiousness. He ended up in the Doge’s Palace jail – you can visit his cell on a palace tour (palazzoducale.visitmuve.it, €20/£17.40).
3. Grave error
In 828, two merchants stole the body of St Mark, the city’s patron saint, from Alexandria and it was re-buried in triumph in the Doge’s basilica. The facade was later adorned with Roman sculpture, columns and bronze horses looted from Constantinople (basilicasanmarco.it).
4. Don a vintage masquerade
Masks were so used and abused by Venetian gamblers and prostitutes seeking anonymity that, by the 18th century, they were banned outside carnival time. A few traditional makers still survive, including Ca’ Macanà (camacana.com).
5. ...and a traditional cloak
If you wear a mask, you’ll need a stylish cloak – a tabarro. The traditional Venice style has recently been revived – try Monica at Calle Scaleter 2235, San Polo (monicadaniele.com).
6. The grand Venice balls
Venice remains the world’s top destination for romance, which blooms at the carnival balls, which include dinner and entertainment. Enjoy a night at the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi palace between Feb 3 and 14 (carnevale.venezia.it, €500 a ticket).
7. Don't look now
More in the Casanova vein, the sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 thriller, ‘Don’t Look Now’ (which is set in Venice), was so steamy that it still gets headlines (telegraph.co.uk/films).
8. Art on the Grand Canal
Perhaps the greatest romantic gesture ever was made in the 1840s. The Russian Prince Troubetzkoy gave Marie Taglioni, an Italian ballerina, the Ca d’Oro palace on the Grand Canal – it’s now an art museum (cadoro.org).
9. 200 years of solemnity
That notorious killjoy Napoleon decreed an end to costume and public festivities when he took control of Venice in 1797. The carnival wasn’t revived until 1979 as a way of boosting tourism – and it’s been a rip-roaring success ever since (carnevale.venezia.it).
10. Learn to be a gondolier
Chief facilitators of illicit Venetian liaisons were the gondoliers, who provided discreet door-to-door transport – at least in the days when passengers were secreted in a tented cabin. The Hotel Splendid offers rowing lessons (starhotelscollezione.com).
11. The world's most beautiful bus journey
If you can’t afford a gondola, the number one water bus, or vaporetto, which plies the Grand Canal, is far and away the most beautiful bus ride on Earth – especially if you bag one of the open-air front seats (actv.avmspa.it).
12. High tides
The photos looks romantic, but Venice’s high tides (acqua alta) can trap you in your hotel for hours while the streets are flooded. This February the risks are highest at the beginning and end of the month (comune.venezia.it/maree).
13. The Venice opera
Venice’s opera house has burned down three times since the days of carnival and Casanova and was last rebuilt in 2004. Rossini premiered some of his operas here and ‘The Barber of Seville’ is being staged next month (teatrolafenice.it).
14. Flight of the Angel
A beauty queen in extravagant carnival costume abseiling into St Mark’s Square? Yup. The Flight of the Angel is one of the most popular spectacles of the carnival. This year it takes place on Feb 4 (carnevale.venezia.it).