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About Venice

“Dear old Venice has lost her complexion, her figure, her reputation, her self-respect; and yet, with it all, has so puzzlingly not lost a shred of her distinction,” wrote Henry James, summing up the central contradiction at the very heart of modern Venice (Venezia). Yes, pollution is a problem, the city is slowly sinking, young people are fleeing in droves and tourism in summer can turn the city into a surreal Disney-esque theme park. Yet, despite all the problems and the fact that its heyday is long gone – a glorious past never likely to be repeated – Venice is still one of the world’s most thoroughly unique destinations, a city that inspires even the most jaded of travellers. To stroll out of the central station and onto a Grand Canal vista of grand palazzi and bobbing gondolas, is one of the great travel experiences, a moment that makes up for all of Venice’s all too evident drawbacks. Quite simply La Serenissima (The Divine Republic) is a place unlike any other on the planet, with a collage of 116 islands connected by 409 bridges, where cars are banned and everyone, including postmen and the police, go by boat.

History is writ large in this northeastern Italian city and when visitors ease through the morning mists, on an empty canal with grandiose buildings rising up on all sides, it is easy to slip back through the centuries, to the time of the Doges – the omnipotent rulers, whose influence spread well beyond the Venetian Lagoon. Venice then was an exotic melting pot of East and West, where traders and travellers, including Marco Polo, breezed in and out, pedalling their silk and spices. Venice under the Doges was a land of unimaginable wealth – riches that were spent wisely in crafting some of Europe’s most memorable buildings, from the imposing Doges’ Palace itself through to the grand architecture of St Mark’s Square, famously described by Napoleon as the “drawing room of Europe”.

Heading away from the main tourist throng – usually confined to a surprisingly small and well-delineated area – another Venice appears, with narrow canals, woman hanging out their washing and small osterias (bars) where locals, for once, outnumber tourists. Venice, often a puzzling and confusing quagmire when viewed on a map, is a joyous city in which to get pleasantly lost and wander aimlessly around, peeling back the layers of history along the way. However, it is in the intense heat of a Mediterranean summer that the city can just get too much and the tourist congregations too large. Many savvy visitors are now choosing to turn up out of season, in the colder months, when swirls of mist and frosty winds descend on the canals. At this time, the beauty of this unique city emerges through quintessential Venetian experiences, such as getting off a vaporetto at a random stop and ambling down a deserted canal, sniffing out an unheralded trattoria or bouncing across the Venetian Lagoon after a Bellini at Harry’s Bar, en route to dinner at the Hotel Cipriani.


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