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Venice is high on many people’s lifetime list of places to visit, so the main tourist areas can get very crowded. But there’s more to this glorious city than St Mark’s and the Bridge of Sighs. The writer escaped the throng as his search for his personal Venetian pick took him down narrow streets lined with fascinating one-of-a kind shops, over dreamy little canals bordered by palaces, and into many a quiet square overlooked by churches full of priceless paintings.

Walk the real Venice

I find autumn, winter or early spring the best time to visit Venice. It’s quieter,
but attractions stay open and the weather can be good.
Summer is too hot and hectic. I like to ride the water bus along the elegant
curl of the Grand Canal. But delving down any available narrow side street is
the real joy of Venice. So many wonders in store, such as little shops selling
hand made masks (for Carnival, in the ten days before Lent) and paper,
exquisite glassware, gorgeous fabrics and designer clothes. Or the many little
canals, anonymous and quiet, spanned by ancient bridges, gondolas drawn up
before fading palaces, each a subtly different colour. And once a secluded
garden behind a high wall, visible through a gap in an old wooden door.
Inside, just 10 minutes walk from St Marks, was grass and trees and prowling
cats.

Escape the crowds.

St Mark’s is a huge draw. So do you really want to queue for 15 minutes at
peak time? Look in at 4 pm instead, ahead of 4.30 closing time. There are
many more outstanding churches in Venice, displaying the original radiant
paintings, sculptures, and precious fabrics made for those very buildings. The
Chorus Pass (€ 9,00, www.chorusvenezia.org)
gets you into 16 of the best. Other must-see churches outside the scheme
(€3 or 4) are the Scuola Dalmata di San Giorgio, where Carpaccio’s splendid
paintings tell the George and the Dragon story. And the Scuola Grande and
Church of San Rocco, full of Tintorettos (some call this “Venice’s Sistine
Chapel”).
For the overwhelming glory of the Bellini brothers (Giovanni and Gentile),
Tintoretto, Tiepolo and Titian, go to the Accademia. (€ 6,50, Campo della
Carità)

Boat is best

We flew Ryanair to Treviso airport, buying the coach ticket to Venice in the
airport concourse (€10 return). And, to save queuing, the water bus
(vaporetto) travelcard too – 24 hours, €16; 72 hours, €31. (Water taxis run
from Marco Polo airport.) Take time to work out where the water buses go:
it’s worth it. Often it’s quicker to ride one only so far – eg to the Rialto Bridge
from the station. Then alight and follow the signs through narrow streets to St
Marks. Gondola trips are costly, so try the gondola ferries (traghetti) over the
Grand Canal for €.50 [note to subs - half a Euro]. Use the travelcard for one
great water trip, to Burano, Murano and Torcello islands (Route LN from
Fondamente Nove). Torcello is furthest – 1 hour. Walk across it in 15 minutes,
past some good restaurants, to the Basilica, with its extraordinary C12th
mosaics.

Nowhere like Harry’s

Sure, a Bellini costs €10 in Harry’s Bar. But, hey, they invented it here
(Prosecco and peach juice). And drinks are not much cheaper at a nearby St
Marks Square café. It’s small, plain and clean inside. Restrained smart, rather
than unnecessary luxury. Service is quick and courteous, and they never ask
what particular celebrity list you are on (although you could be sitting next to
Woody Allen). It is hard to spot from the street –San Marco Vallaresso
vaporetto stop is hard by. Among the snacks is the trademark carpaccio, also
created here, wafer thin slices of raw beef, with mayonnaise, Worcester
sauce and lemon juice. [Op cut: A sister restaurant is directly opposite on
Guidecca Island, and another on Torcello.] Balance the expense with a coffee
in a regular bar such as Al Timon (Calle Tintoretto, San Polo). We stood at the
counter: espresso and a pastry - €3.80 for two.

Rewarding restaurants.

Our best meal nearly didn’t happen. We wandered aimlessly down many a dark
street, like shady characters in a Venetian opera, before finding it, Acqua
Pazza on Campo Sant’ Angelo. (Buy a big scale map, carry a compass, and use
your mobile to book restaurants.)
This excellent Neapolitan fish restaurant serves the dishes and ingredients of
Campania and the Amalfi Coast. Every so often the chef brought a fish to a
table for inspection. They left our bill (€100 for two) with a bottle of lemon
liqueur for us to help ourselves. [op cut this line: “Among our customers you
can find many foreign tourists who, out of curiosity or enticed by the guides,
decide to enjoy a memorable meal and contribute to make our restaurant a
very exclusive place.” noted their web site.] Try also Al Pantalon and Trattoria
Da Nino. You need to eat before you fly home. The “Bar Pizzeria” on the Grand
Canal, between railway and bus stations is ideal for that last meal. They do
excellent pizzas.

Room with a view.

We stayed in an apartment 50 yards from the Redentore vaporetto stop on
Guidecca Island, next to Palladio’s C16th church. The tower of St Marks was
visible from our breakfast table, over the Guidecca Canal, 10 minutes away by
boat. There was ample room for two couples (three at a pinch) in this
converted waterside building, tastefully furnished on three floors, with a
suspended gallery at the top. Sylvia from the agency stocked it with
essentials for our first meal and several breakfasts (there was a restaurant
next door). It was extremely quiet at night. By day those unique-to-Venice
details entertained us. Where else in the world does a craft laden with
newspapers moor up outside your window? Or a supermarket delivery lorry
unload from its own boat to the next door mini-market?
Views on Venice; €1800 for 7 days.

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