As all hopes of that "indian summer" we were promised here in England are... well... gone, and as we all embrace the fact that the "nights are drawing in" (whatever that actually means, old people say it so it must be a thing), there's no need to go into hibernation mode just yet.
If you're not quite ready to get your cashmere sweaters out for an airing, and tog up with your trusty winter coat, we'd like to recommend a city break destination that will beguile your senses to the point that you'll forget about the mundane, grey British autumn.
"It's a strange, thrilling, mix of feeling like the lead in a spy thriller action film, combined with feeling like you've stepped back in time."
We explored Venice last month, and whilst sometimes we had to wade through crowds of tourists in certain famous places (not to mention actually wade in actual water, especially in a rather flooded St. Mark's Square), the city charmed us with its unique character, architecture, and culture. So hold off on the hygge, and channel your inner James Bond for a jaunt around one of the most extraordinary cities in existence. We've put together a guide to our favourite, unmissable experiences in Venice.
Typical canal in Cannaregio
1. Stay in Cannaregio
Arriving in Venice is so unlike arriving anywhere else. It's a strange, thrilling, mix of feeling like the lead in a spy thriller action film, combined with feeling like you've stepped back in time. Touching down in a large, modern, spacious airport, and then speeding off to "The Floating City" across the sea by boat feels very Bond (you can even take a private speedboat from the airport!), but upon arrival, once you've stepped off the jetty at the Vaporetto stop, you're suddenly in the 13th Century. Especially in Cannaregio, the northernmost tip of Venice.
Whilst much of the "main" sights of Venice; St. Mark's Square, the Rialto bridge, etc, can be really busy, and quite touristy (yes, there is even a McDonald's in Venice), Cannaregio is quieter, more laid back, and feels much more authentic. It seems this is a place for locals, living normal, everyday lives away from the spectacle of the Grand Canal. There are some stylish, independent clothes shops here, and at night the area transforms into a hip place to hang out, with trendy bars and eateries. This part of Venice is also nearest to the airport, and we found the area really accessible for taking boat trips to local islands Murano and Burano.
2. Go to Burano
Renowned for its colourful fishermen's houses, Burano is unadulterated eye candy. It's architectural Haribo. Every building is a different colour (residents must apply to the government before painting their homes), and each new street from every different angle offers a new visual feast. The freshly painted bright colours pop, but even the unkempt, crumbling facades provide their own sense of discovery and discernible delight. A quiet island, with a sleepy, village-like feel, Burano is about an hour's boat trip from Venice.
Famous for lace-making, the island is full of shops selling their hand-crafted wares, so if you're in the market for a new handkerchief you're in luck. Fresh local seafood is a staple here, so be sure to give your camera a break and enjoy a meal in one of the main squares.
"Support" by Lorenzo Quinn
3. Show your "Support"
A giant pair of hands emerges from the Grand Canal, gripping the walls of the Ca’ Sagredo hotel. Constructed off-site, and transported into it's central Venetian location by boat, this impressive sculpture is, at first glance, as witty as it is enchanting. But the meaning behind it brings an extra depth to such a striking piece. Designed by Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn, the installation is both an expression of love and of admiration for the unique city it now resides in, and an urgent cry for help.
“The hand holds so much power, the power to love, to hate, to create and to destroy. Venice is a floating art city that has inspired cultures for centuries. But to continue to do so, it needs the support of our generation and future ones, because it is threatened by climate change and time decay.” - Lorenzo Quinn
It's easy to see the effects of climate change on the city; you can see the sea level and where it has risen to on the edges of buildings. On occasion, streets and squares near the water are flooded to the point where businesses can't operate, as their shops and restaurants are a few inches deep with water. The locals seem to just get on with life, and put up with it for now. But this artwork challenges us all to work together on a global scale to limit and even reduce the damage that climate change is bringing about, not just on Venice, but the world over.
Panoramic views from the rooftop of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi Department Store
4. That view though.
A fairly new addition to the area around the Rialto bridge is the glorious "T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS" (no, I don't think it's that DFS), a luxurious department store. It's an incredible space, each floor looking over a huge atrium in the centre of the building. We were quite taken by the scent the department store seemed to exude (you can buy it as a room spray to take home) and the general laid back elegance of the place. It's not got that stiff, unfriendly vibe that a lot of luxury retailers seem to evoke. Rather, this store makes you want to lounge around there and take your time over each item.
But oh, upstairs, my friend. Upstairs.
Take the lift to the top floor (there's something magical about a glass lift isn't there? Probably partly thanks to Roald Dahl I suppose), and you'll find an event space. Until November, an installation of strangely biological organic shapes, yet futuristic with their silver, reflective appearance, is on display. These sculptures are entitled Waterbones, by Loris Cecchini.
There's a door in this event space, a guarded door. Guarded doors always lead somewhere good. Behind that door is a rooftop terrace, giving magnificent views of the Grand Canal, and a 360 degree panorama across the entire city, even stretching to the mountains on the mainland. Definitely unmissable.
Online: | https://www.dfs.com/en/venice | Location: | Calle del Fontego dei Tedeschi, Rialto Bridge, 30124, Venice, Italy. |
The Grand Canal by night
5. Cocktails and Canals
There we were, wandering some dark, ancient streets at night, when we spotted a walled courtyard garden through an open door, and further inside, a beautiful building, invitingly glowing amid its shadowy surroundings. We couldn't not explore this further. And we were glad we did. The Sina Centurion Palace Hotel is a beautiful Venetian building overlooking the Grand Canal at the mouth of the San Marco basin. Its luxurious yet contemporary interior breathes a fresh sense of vitality into the 19th Century neo-Gothic structure.
The bar here looks out directly onto the water, with an open terrace seating area which seemed like the perfect spot for a cocktail or two. At night the Grand Canal transforms from a crowded, bustling waterway, into something quite magical. The already captivating architecture lining the canal takes on a new persona, now gently illuminated, evoking a sense of mystery and intrigue. Drink it all in.
Online: | https://www.sinahotels.com/en/h/sina-centurion-palace-venice/ | Location: | Dorsoduro 173, 30123, Venice, Italy. |
6. There's literally art everywhere
The Venice Biennale, is an absolute art-take over. The city basically is one big gallery. Every two years, installations, exhibitions, and sculptures crop up all over the place, not to mention the music, theatre and dance on offer. Featuring local artists as well as contributions from around 30 different nations, it's almost overwhelming how much there is to see and hear.
We were quite taken by these Carole Feuerman sculptures on display in the Giardino Della Marinaressa park. Feuerman works in hyperrealism and these impressively detailed sculptures stopped us in our tracks. Varied in size; some life-sized, others of gigantic proportions, all had such eerily lifelike qualities. Made from resin, the figures had incredibly realistic details; wrinkled ankles, authentic rumples and seams in their clothing, some even still "wet" as if from swimming had water droplets on their "skin".
This year's Biennale is open until the end of November.
Online: | http://www.labiennale.org/en/art/2017 | Location: | Everywhere |
7. Dine at Ristorante Ghimel Garden