That word “amazing” is so overused today that to call Venice amazing would be like saying well, it’s “okay plus.” Hardly: Venice is phenomenal — a city built on water that can’t help but seduce. Like most cities, what you get out of a Venice vacation depends partly on what you put into it, and on my trip there this past winter that meant a lot of footsteps, which brought me down dark alleyways to cool addresses like the Palazzo Barbarigo, a sexy mama of a hotel whose front door opens to the Grand Canal. Even if you don’t stay in one of the hotel’s 18 plush rooms or suites, you can enjoy a cocktail in the Bond-flick-sleek bar.
Now, lots of tourists flock to the Piazza San Marco’s outdoor cafés, but you don’t want to be one of them. Instead, try one of the more authentic cafes on the Zattere, a promenade in the Dorsoduro that looks out onto the Guidecca Canal.
After two spritzes — a spritz, in Venice, is a libation made with white wine, Aperol (a peach-colored cousin of Campari) and soda water – I forgot where I was and found myself at Linea d’Ombra, a bright, contemporary Italian restaurant on the edge of the Zattere behind the mighty gray church of the Salute. Inside is light and airy, and thanks to a large floating terrace, the outside is, too. Specialties are tuna tartare and sea bass cooked in salt crust, and the restaurant is open every day. Incidentally, the best little hotel in Dorsoduro is nearby: the Ca Maria Adele.
When it comes to dining on your Venice vacation, a general rule of thumb is that if you see gondoliers eating in a restaurant, it’s a good address. A good example of that is the atmospheric Taverna del Campiello Remer, rightby the Grand Canal in the Cannareggio sestier (district). The all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is one of the best deals in Venice. Now, if you’re looking for a swanky spot to hang out late at night, head over to the Centrale, a restaurant and lounge with an à la carte dinner menu until 2 a.m. (that’s a rarity in Venice). The food is Mediterranean and traditional Venetian, the music is chillout lounge, the ambiance is candlelit, and you can even arrive by gondola.
Venice’s main tourist sites are some of the most touristy in the world: Piazza San Marco, the Campanile, Doge’s Palace, etc. They are spectacular, but striking out a bit can be more rewarding. For contemporary art, hit the Palazzo Grassi. For old Venetian art in a spectacular setting, the Ca’ Rezzonico (opposite the Grand Canal from the Palazzo Grassi) is a must-stop. It’s home of the Museum of the Eighteenth Century in Venice, with Tiepolo frescoes and the like at every turn.
You could be forgiven for thinking that all there is to buy in Venice is carnival masks. I actually find it’s a great place to find some truly extraordinary glasses. Good bets include Ottica Urbani, at San Marco 1280, and Ottica Carraro, at San Marco 3706. Now, if you’re really looking to get blown glass as a Venice vacation souvenir, take the vaporetto over to Murano, where the prices are better. The island of Torcello is farther out in the Venetian lagoon, but worth a trip for its bucolic feel and riveting Byzantine mosaics in its ancient cathedral.
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Anthony Grant created the first travel blog for TV station France 24 in Paris and is former senior editor at Forbes Traveler (where he now contributes features) in New York. For more of his wanderer’s words and whims hit http://voyagiste.wordpress.com/.