Romantic poets, painters and paramours have all been inspired by this truly magical and unique city, the birthplace of Casanova himself. La Serenissima is a picture‐postcard destination whose fragile labyrinth of narrow streets and canals is guaranteed to delight.
Take a trip on a gondola down the Grand Canal and gaze at the banks lined with palazzi ‐‐ huge balconied mansions in gothic and classical design. Or take a vaporetti (water taxi) to the Lido, immortalised in Visconti’s film Death in Venice, or to one of the picturesque outlying islands where the delicate Murano glassware is made. For a real taste of la dolce vita, go during the annual Carnevale, the season of masquerade balls, and join the revellers in the Piazza San Marco, beneath a skyline dominated by the milky domes of St Mark’s cathedral.
St Mark’s Square The spectacular tourist and pigeon‐filled heart of the city was named “the most elegant drawing room in Europe” by Napoleon, and is surrounded by wonderful Renaissance facades. Check out the Byzantine‐styled basilica with its bronze horses above the entrance.
The Doges’ Palace Next to St Mark’s Square, this was the centre of government of the Venetian city state, and home of the doges (rulers). The Grand Council Chamber boasts paintings by Tintoretto and Veronese.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum This museum, overlooking the Grand Canal, houses a small collection of Picasso, Kandinsky, Chagall, and Jackson Pollock ‐‐ a refreshingly modern perspective after all those Venetian masters.
San Giorgio Maggiore Just before sunset, take the number 52 or 82 water taxi from San Zaccharia to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Here, take the lift up the bell‐tower for a magnificent view of the city bathed in golden light.
Bridge of Sighs This romantic bridge connecting the Doges’ Palace to the old prisons is associated with the legendary Latin lover Casanova, who was once imprisoned here.
Santa Maria Formosa church Standing in a square of exotic palazzi, this pretty little church dedicated to “Mary the Beautiful” has tiny domes and beautiful arches. Don’t let the hideous head on its outer wall scare you off!
Torcello island The perfect place for a picnic on a fine day.
Love bites and love potions
Start the morning with a coffee and panini at one of the numerous cafes on the Zattere, overlooking the Canale della Giudecca, and watch the mists clear in the morning sun. Try as many different flavours of ice cream as you can at any of hundreds of gelateria, but leave enough space to enjoy a glass of amaretti later in the afternoon. The perfect place for this treat (if you’ve got the cash) is Florians ‐‐ the art nouveau café on St Mark’s Square that was once a haunt of Byron.
For an early evening cocktail, stop off at Harry’s Bar. The house speciality at this (far from cheap) old favourite of Ernest Hemingway is the Bellini. For a sumptuous dinner try Da Fiore, a small and stylish trattoria done up like a country wedding marquee, specialising in delicious shellfish dishes and sublime puddings. If you can’t get a table then head to Alle Testiere ‐‐ a small, beautiful restaurant with dark wooden tables and chairs. The fish menu changes daily and the food is served with love.
Choose a gondolier with a perfect tenor voice and after a rendition from your opera of choice, pop the question. Try and time it so that you are just passing under the Academia bridge, with the picture‐postcard panorama in front of you.
To get you in the mood
Lovers of the classics will swoon at Venice’s musical connections ‐‐ why not whet your whistle with an opera or two from Monteverdi?
On film, Venetian romances tend to the melancholy, as with Wings of a Dove or Death in Venice. Rather more light‐hearted, however, is Woody Allen’s Everyone says I Love You, in which our nerdish hero undertakes a canal‐side seduction of Julia Roberts under false pretences.
For reading matter, dip into Byron’s comic verse masterpiece, Don Juan. It’s surprisingly readable, wonderfully rakish, and contains some great scenes of love on the Lido!
Language of love
Buon anniversario! = Happy anniversary
Ti amo = I love you
Auguri! = Congratulations!
Mi voui sposare? = Will you marry me?
Stags and hens
Gondolas will always be expensive for couples, but groups of revellers can split the cost and set off in a race down the maze of canals. Award extra points for the best operatic aria sung while in motion and bonus points for anyone managing to steal an ice cream from a passing gondola. The best season for groups is during carnival (the 10 days leading up to Ash Wednesday), where indulgence and excess are positively welcomed!
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