After spending New Years in charming Verona, I have decided to continue my Italian journey in Venice. It was my third time in the city but the first one during the winter. In spring and summer, it was lovely, especially during the Art Biennale, watching all the stylish flaneurs gathering in The Giardini. But with thousands of tourists in the narrow streets, it can ruin the whole experience. It is precisely during the winter when I found Venice is the most delightful. With the mist, the Serenissima and its canals become even more romantic, the alleys gain a mystic atmosphere. Read on and get inspired to travel to the timeless city in the off-season.
For this trip, I was looking for a unique Venetian experience, away from the crowd but close to the main sights. For this reason, I have chosen Palazzo Stern, a historic hotel in Moorish Palazzo which has been built during the 15th Century by Malpaga Family. At the beginning of the last century the building has been bought by the Stern Family, art collectors and traders. They rebuild the palazzo and enriched it with pieces of art, sculptures, mosaics and architectural elements from Venice. The outcome is extraordinary, a collage of memories from many different eras. Now the hotel belongs to the Dazzo family who recently did the renovation respecting its rich history.
The location on the Grand Canal is excellent. It's between the Galleria dell Accademia and Rialto Bridge and just right at the water bus stop.
You can notice it's a family owned hotel since the first few minutes. They were kind to pick me up with a fabulous boat from a train station and it was my main transportation during the entire stay. The moment being in the middle of the canal and seeing all the architectural masterpieces from the water, I knew I am going about to have an incredible time in Venice!
Once I arrived, I was greeted by the owner Roberto Dazzo. Most of the hotel staff have been working for the family for years and were happy to share the history details of the palazzo. I was given a gorgeous suite with big tiled bathroom, facing the grand canal. The golden hour here cannot be beaten - watching boats passing by, hearing the bell towers while sipping delicious Italian espresso.
For art connoisseurs, all of Venice is already a delight for the eyes, but it would be a crime not to go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Here are the works of my favourite Russians - Malevich, Kandinsky, Chagall, but also Rothko and Dali. The museum has a garden, permanent and temporary exhibitions and access to a balcony terrace overlooking the Grand Canal.
But this trip, I was eager to visit specifically Gallerie dell'Accademia, to see for the first time the work of the most mysterious artist - Hieronymus Bosch. It is extraordinary that Venice is the only city in Italy to have Bosch's work. The museum has also an incredibly rich collection of Italian Renaissance, including works of Titian, Giorgione, Bellini family and Canaletto.
Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice is also home to one of the most famous drawings in the world, Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci. But because of its fragile nature, it's put on display on very special occasions only. A good reason for me to come back to Venice for the fourth time.
Grab a glass of wine and try the traditional Venetian appetiser.
You instantly fall in love with the whole cicchetti experience - without it, an aperitivo here is not an aperitivo. Cichetti is a traditional snack, which is served in bacari - type of bars in Venice that you will not find in any other city in the world. I suggest trying cicchetti with baccala montecato (dried cod puree), sarde in saor (sardines marinated with onions), polpette di carne meatballs. It goes without saying you should order a glass of Amarone or Valpolicella, the most refined wines of the Veneto region.
Enjoy sunset at T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi rooftop terrace.
On 1st October 2017, T Fondaco dei Tedeschi DFS Store opened its doors to its customers, bringing back to life a beautiful Venetian building, which for many years had been left to the decay of time. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his team have re-purposed this historic 13th-century building into a high-end department store.
A large panoramic terrace has been set up on the top floor of the building, access to which is completely free. Since the space and capacity of the terrace are limited, access is regulated in groups of up to 80 people and it is, therefore, necessary to book your spot online. The view from up there is unique, one of the most enchanting and evocative of Venice - you can see the domes of the Basilica of San Marco, the Grand Canal and the many bell towers that rise from all sides.
Once the Sun Goes Down, Venice Shines
I usually go to bed early when travelling, but on my first day in Venice, I was so excited by mysterious foggy views, that I wondered what it would look like at night. At 10 pm just after dinner, I have decided to take my tripod and walk around the city to capture night shots. As night falls, Venice changes.
Probably half of the tourists leave the city, and the other half disperse to hotels. On the streets facing the Grand Canal, only belated travellers and romantic couples remain. When the sun goes down, Venice has an extra dose of charm and mystery — the ambience that has attracted travellers since the days of Casanova. I wandered through the tangle of back lanes, shrouded in history, stoping on lonely bridges to admire the peaceful canals.
Venice in the winter is like misted glass: at first, it seems that there is nothing worthwhile, but behind the veil lies a treasure. If you are wondering if it is worth planning a trip in the off-season, drop your doubts - Venice in winter is magical. Don't think about it, go. In winter, you risk getting into the most romantic city in the world without crowds of tourists, perhaps, giving yourself the best “off-season” vacation of your life.