Natalie Paris, The Daily Telegraph, August 27, 2013
Drifting, mid-embrace, beneath the bridges of Venice ’s canals is one of travel’s most romantic images.
Yet a recent collision between a gondolier and a water taxi has sparked a debate about whether gondola rides, so popular with tourists, are safe.
A 50-year-old German tourist and gondola passenger died following the accident on August 17 and police have since claimed that traces of cocaine were found in the gondolier’s blood.
The incident has prompted Italian authorities to draw up guidelines to improve safety along its more heavily congested canals.
Giorgio Orsoni, Venice’s mayor, has suggested that gondolas may only be allowed to operate at certain times after the morning rush hour, and that the council could widen narrow passageways by removing docks and piers.
He also said checks for drug and alcohol abuse among gondola workers could be introduced, as well as bans on using handheld devices while travelling.
Gondolas are not a dangerous mode of transport however, according to Anne Hanley, our Venice expert .
“Shocking and tragic as last week's accident was,” she said, “this is the first fatal incident involving a gondola in decades.
“Given the chaos that reigns on the Gran Canal for about 18 out of every 24 hours, you've got to admire the skill of gondoliers in preventing its happening more often.”
She recommended that visitors to Venice wanting to take a gondola ride should stick to the backwaters.
“In my experience, most gondoliers are happier here: they have an easier ride, ambling along entertaining passengers with their spiel rather than wearing themselves out dodging larger craft.”
The other fear many tourists have – of paying over the odds for a gondola experience – is also unwarranted, she suggested.
“There are set rates written up clearly at every gondola dock,” our expert advised, “and a simple complaints procedure if you feel you're being had.”
Concierges' gondola tips
We asked concierges at two of Venice’s finest hotels to give us their recommendations for gondola routes. Here are their tips:
Filippo Bollani, head concierge at Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel:
Arrange for your gondolier to pass under the famous bridge named by Lord Byron in the 19th century, the “Bridge of Sighs”. A legend says that lovers will be granted eternal love if they kiss at sunset under this bridge while the bells of the Campanile toll.
Gabriele Picci, head concierge at Hotel Cipriani:
Always ask for the hidden canals, which are more cosy and romantic. Avoid the Grand Canal during the day.