So, E and I spent the first part of our 10-year anniversary vacation in Venice. “Of course,” you’re thinking, “Venice is so romantic!” The thing is, we were actually joining friends. Yes, Venice is probably one of the best places to go to for a romantic vacation, but, to us, the city also rhymes with friendship. Our friends, who live in Paris, have a tradition of going to Venice every year for their anniversary, and, a few years ago, they convinced us to join them. We had misconceptions about the city, seeing Venice as an overcrowded cruise ship destination, a ghost town of sorts. Still, we accepted their invitation, thinking that if we ever were to visit Venice, it better be with them, who knew it so well. Their passion for the city was contagious, and we quickly shed our reservations and let ourselves fall under the charms of La Serenissima.
Coming back from our second trip to Venice, I’d say we’re now more than charmed; we may be in love. Yes, if you only stop for a few hours in the city while on a cruise on the Adriatic Sea, or as part of a tour, chances are you’ll only see the bad sides of Venice: the suffocating crowds, the cheap souvenir carts, the pushy vendors, the bad restaurants. And you won’t meet the locals, who stay away from Venice’s main sights to avoid these nuisances.
But just take the first alley out of St. Mark’s Place, or better yet, cross the Grand Canal to wander aimlessly through the San Polo and Dorsodouro neighborhoods, and you’ll quickly leave flag-toting guides and frozen pizza slices behind to discover “the real Venice”—because yes, there is one. You just need to fold your map away, lose track of time, and let yourself live a slow, stress-free life, Venetian-style. If you can’t figure out where you are anymore, don’t fuss! Just sit at the nearest terrace, order a glass of wine, and then have a look at your map, just so you can make it back to your hotel or apartment for the night.
There are many good reasons to visit Venice besides visiting St. Mark’s Basilica and fighting the crowd to shop in the surrounding streets. For one, Venice’s cuisine will please all Italian-cuisine-loving gourmands with its fresh simplicity and focus on seasonal and local ingredients. The lagoon surrounding the city abounds with delicious fish and seafood, while Veneto, the region where Venice is located, is one of Italy’s most fertile and delivers a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.
Veneto is also one of Italy’s most important wine growing areas, producing world-class wines such as Prosecco, Valpolicella, and Soave. The region’s fanciest wine, The Amarone della Valpolicella, is made with carefully selected grapes and is among the most expensive red wines in the world.
Oh, and there’s the culture too. Venice’s vast architectural, artistic, and musical heritage is simply mind-boggling. It has been the birthplace or residence of many famous, influential and talented people, like adventurer Marco Polo, painters Canaletto and Veronese, architect Andrea Palladio, author (and famous womanizer) Casanova, composer Antonio Vivaldi, and art collector Peggy Guggenheim—all of which left their mark on the city, with monuments, museums, exhibitions, and concerts in their names.
But to me, the city’s appeal and authentic beauty is not so much in its largest sights, but in its labyrinth of alleys, canals and bridges; its multitude of piazzas; and its elegantly frilly architecture. I can just spend hours walking around taking pictures or sitting on a sunny terrace, watching people go by. The reasons why I think you should go to Venice may not be the ones you expect, but, then again, I believe they may entice you to spend a week there next time, instead of just a day.
Here are the 10 reasons why I think you should go to Venice:
1. To marvel at every canal you encounter
…and every bridge you cross, and take hundreds of pictures that all look somewhat the same, but are all magical in their own way.
2. To refuel with Spritz, Venice’s quintessential cocktail
…and cichetti, local tapas-style bites made from seasonal ingredients.
3. To admire the rainbow of produce at the Rialto markets
…and find out what’s on season, what’s grown locally, and perhaps even chat with locals to learn a traditional recipe or two.
4. To enjoy a picnic on the banks of the Grand Canal
…made from bits and pieces gathered from the markets and neighboring shops. (Cured meats! Fine cheeses! Savory spreads! Veneto wines!)
5. To soak up the sun
…and stop to have an espresso or a drink on whatever terrace calls your name.
6. To sneak into an out-of-the-way restaurant
…listen to what the locals order, and then ask for the same thing, in Italian.
7. To get lost in the maze of narrow streets and alleys
…and rejoice when you start finding your way without the use of a map.
8. To watch the night fall over the city
…and feel yourself fall in love with the city, then and there.
9. To hop on a short ferryboat ride
10. To walk through St. Mark’s Place past midnight
…when all the tourists are gone and all the locals are home, to soak in Venice’s ethereal beauty and feel like the city is yours, for the night.
So, have I convinced you?
Did you ever go to Venice? How was your experience, did you fall in love with it or were you disappointed with it?