John O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, June 14, 2013
One of the world's most romantic cities, Venice has captivated visitors for centuries - which can be a problem. A hugely, enduringly popular destination, the city is often overwhelmed by tourists, with recurring events such as the Venice Biennale multiplying its appeal even further. To help you you get the most from your visit, concierges from three of Venice's best hotels give their take on the city's highlights.
I’m new here. Tell me something interesting about Venice.
Filippo: Venice was known as the “Queen of the Seas” due to its command of the oceans during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Commercial spirit arrived with Marco Polo and the opening of the silk road. The richness of the economy gave great support to art and artists. The entire republic was crawling with ceramists, glassworkers, woodworkers, lace makers and sculptors. The glass was even guarded by the murderous Council of Ten and the glassblowers of Murano were not allowed to leave Murano island. The city in its entirety is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon.
Which attraction should I definitely make time to see?
Giuliano: The Doge’s Palace.
Filippo: The Ca’ Rezzonico which is home to early works by Canaletto, works by Longhi and Tiepolo frescoes. The palace contains paintings, sculptures, frescoed ceilings and a collection of 18th-century furnishings.
Gabriele: The Scuola Grande di San Rocco, noted for its numerous Tintoretto paintings. It was founded in the 15th century as a confraternity to assist the citizens in time of plague. It is amazing the way you can walk around with a mirror in your hand to be surrounded by the colours and the beauty of Tintoretto paintings. Leaving the Scuola you can easily enter the Frari Church, one of the biggest Churches in the city, in the heart of San Polo district. Titian, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school of painting is in the Frari. You will find yourself in a very Venetian part of the city.
Which of the “must-visit” attractions should I avoid?
Gabriele: Piazza San Marco during the day. Overcrowded. It’s better to walk through it in the evening light, when live music is being played from the little orchestras and day-tripper tourists have left. If possible wait so you can listen to the Midnight Bell Tower; it is one of the most romantic moments in the city.
How can I avoid the crowds at St Mark’s Basilica?
Giuliano: To avoid the queue in front of the Basilica, organise your entrance with a private guide or visit during winter.
Filippo: The only way to avoid the crowds is by taking a guided tour.
Gabriele: Hotel Cipriani can offer a private visit of the Basilica at night. It means that the Basilica can be open just for a small group of friends or a couple. It takes a long time to arrange this so prior reservation, with plenty of notice, is required.
Where can I take the best picture of Venice?
Giuliano: Travel to St. Giorgio Island, five minutes away from St. Mark’s by vaporetto. Go up the bell tower and from there you have the best view of Venice.
Filippo: Just opposite the Hotel Danieli is San Giorgio Island. Go to the top of the bell tower and the entire city is laid out in front of you.
Gabriele: From the Bell Tower of San Giorgio, where you can avoid the crowds. Or sitting at Cip’s Restaurant, at Hotel Cipriani, sipping a bellini with Venice displayed in front of you.
I’d like to try something new here – what do you recommend?
Giuliano: Try walking around the city with a personal professional photographer. Having someone to document your visit properly will make it truly unforgettable.
Gabriele: If staying at the Cipriani, you have to try our ‘bike on the water’ tour. With a guide you can pedal across the calm canal of the Giudecca Island, stopping at a fisherman’s house to have lunch with him, or you can stop at the Redentore Church to visit the most ancient Pharmacy of the island (dating 17th century) or visit the unique Fortuny Fabric with its precious textiles.
I’d like to buy an unusual souvenir – what do you recommend?
Giuliano: A handcrafted mask that you can decorate yourself. You can buy them in local workshops.
Filippo: An original forcola, the typical Venetian rowlock used by the Venetian boats.
Gabriele: Bussolai or Buranelly biscuits (from Burano).
What’s the best restaurant in the city right now?
Giuliano: The Club del Doge Terrace and Osteria Antiche Carampane.
Filippo: The Quadri, the only restaurant located in San Marco Square.
Gabriele: Ristorante Quadri or Al Covino Restaurant, which has only just opened.
And where’s best for drinks? I don’t want somewhere touristy.
Giuliano: Taverna del Campiello Remer is a lovely location for a drink.
Filippo: A must is to enjoy a bellini at the Dandolo Bar - believe me, they’re the best in town - or a shaken Vesper Martini as ordered by James Bond in Casino Royale.
Gabriele: Al Timon is a Bacaro (bar) where all Venetians go.
What is there to do in Venice at night?
Giuliano: Enjoy a drink in the oldest coffee bar in Europe, the Caffè Florian on St. Mark's Square. After walking all day up and down the 417 bridges you’ll need a good rest.
Filippo: Take a short walk to Saint Mark’s Square and order an after-dinner drink at the Caffé Florian while enjoying the music.
Gabriele: Reserve a Bacaro tour on our Bragozzo boat, touring like a Venetian around hidden canals in the night light, stopping at typical bars for a cicchetto (little tapas) and a vino bianco.
How can I best experience the Venice Biennale?
Giuliano: I would start by going to Giardini and Arsenale where all the pavilions are located and then see what inspires you.
Filippo: Go to the Giardini, the heart of the entire exhibition.
Gabriele: Reserve the private art concierge we have at the Cipriani, who is totally dedicated to modern art.
What is your favourite part of this year’s Biennale?
Giuliano: The Encyclopaedic Palace.
Filippo: It is not easy to pick a favourite with more than 150 artists from all over the world but Rudolph Stingel at Palazzo Grazzi was the most interesting in my opinion.
Gabriele: The Australian Pavilion.
I’m going to propose to my partner while I’m here – where should I do it?
Giuliano: Sitting on the steps of the Salute Basilica during sunset.
Filippo: Torre dell’orologio, one of the most significant Renaissance buildings in Venice. Go up to the terrace at the top of the clock tower and enjoy the breathtaking view over Saint Mark’s Square as you stand next to the two “Moors” statues.
Gabriele: On the Astronomic Bell Tower on St Mark Place. We can reserve it for you for one unforgettable hour with unique views.
I’d like to go on a gondola ride – what’s the best route to take?
Giuliano: The best route is always through the small canals.
Filippo: 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: Always ask for the hidden canals, which are more cosy and romantic. Avoid the Grand Canal during the day.
Where can I go in Venice to escape other tourists?
Giuliano: Where I live in the countryside! My house is in a beautiful village called Jesolo on the coast.
Filippo: Areas like Dorsoduro, Cannareggio and Castello are less crowded. Tourists are all over the city though.
Gabriele: Definitely Castello Area with the beautiful Gardens and the Arsenale. (although the Biennale is taking place there now) or Cannaregio, with its wonderful churches and artisans’ shop.
Thanks for your help. Should I tip in Venice?
Giuliano: Tipping is definitely not obligatory. You should tip only if you wish, depending on what kind of service you receive.
Filippo: Only if you believe you have received a good service.
Gabriele: Yes please!