Travel - Venice {Part 3 of the Italian Travelogue}

June 02, 2016

We'd always planned to finish our trip around Italy in Venice as nearly everybody who's been there that we'd spoken to said there is no place like it on earth. It was definitely the right decision as while the rest of the trip had been incredible so far, Venice really was something else and gave such a magical end to it all.

From Florence, like with our trains from Rome, we'd prebooked tickets in advance for our train up to Venice. We arrived at Santa Lucia and stepped out into another world. I don't think anything can prepare you for your first couple of hours, wide eyed in Venice. It's just so unlike anywhere else and everything is on the water. Buses, taxis, even ambulances and rubbish men, they're all boats. We had booked an Airbnb down the other end of the Grand Canal so jumped on the Vapretto {the water bus} on line one and began our journey down the most famous canal in the world.

We got seats out the back and took in this incredible place as we floated down the river. All the buildings, the gondolas, the jettys and boats.

I must have taken a million photos for the 4 days that we were there and I make no apologies for the length of this post. It was simply too pretty not to capture it all.

Gondolas and gondoliers in stripey t-shirts are exactly what I'd pictured when I'd thought of Venice so I practically squealed in delight everytime the vapretto got close enough for me to take photos. Little did I know that we'd see hundreds over the next few days!

Our stop was Salute, home to one of the largest churches in Venice and one of the most famous viewpoints from the Accademia bridge. If you look at photos of the Grand Canal, the chances are that this will be in it. Our apartment was a two minute walk from here, super handy for having a vapretto station close by. You can find the link to it here. This whole area is called the Dorsoduro region which we found to be the prettiest, and one of the quietest in Venice whilst still being in a great location to access the rest of the city.

We were on the 5th floor of an old aristocratic Venetian palace which made for a steep climb up lots of flights of stairs {or a ride in an old rickety lift} but we loved it. It was fairly cramped and had a tiny bathroom but the kitchen was great and the very best bit was having our own roof terrace with incredible views down on the canal. It was a highlight of the trip eating dinner or breakfast up there watching all the boats and commotion down below.

We had to climb out the window to get up to it and then we were looking right across the city and rooftops.

So cool to watch all the comings and goings, traffic I guess!, from above.

The weather the weekend that we arrived was beautiful. Hot, clear sunny days without a single cloud in the sky. We couldn't wait to get out properly and explore the city. 

Our first stop was the Accademia bridge for views of probably one of the most photographed spots in Venice. We walked there from our apartment, crossing all the tiny little bridges across the canals. Venice is such a walk able city and whilst we loved some of the boat rides, the best way to see it all is on foot.

I can't even describe how much we loved Venice from just our first hour in the city. I think those that have been will know exactly what I mean. And if you haven't then you must add it to your list. Definitely somewhere everybody should visit at least once.

We purposely hadn't planned too much for our stay, instead just wanting to stroll around without much agenda and get lost. For our first afternoon that's exactly what we did. We made our way over towards San Marco Sqaure. It's so easy to get lost but that's definitely part of the fun. With google maps, even without data, we always found our way but you quickly realise how small the city is. 

Old, coloured, crumbly buildings, shuters and lots of window boxes everywhere you looked.

After being in Rome, Florence and Tuscany, it was so good to be by the water. It suddenly felt like a proper holiday if that makes sense. Being surrounded by the sea on a hot day is heaven, even if we weren't going to swim in it! 

Gelato in hand we crossed bridge after bridge until we reached San Marco Square. 

It gets touristy very quickly as you get closer to the Square itself. We much preferred exploring the quieter parts but the piazza and the famous bell tower are must sees. The jettys there make for great photos too.

Vitamin sea! I always love being surrounded by the water and boats. I just wish I didn't live so far inland back home.

I'd read Skye McAlpine's blog on Secret Venice before we went away and found some hidden gems recommended by her on all the different areas in Venice and where to eat etc. This was in the Castello region behind San Marco Square. It was world's away from all the tourists, we walked a few streets without seeing anybody else that afternoon!

Having the terrace and kitchen at the Airbnb meant we could take full advantage of all the amazing produce on offer in Italy. We found a supermarket near our apartment on the first afternoon to stock up with some supplies to cook breakfast and dinner. The markets out there are just as beautiful as the ones we had visited and loved in Rome.

We cooked in for two of our three nights in Venice. We had melon with parma ham both nights along with a spitroast chicken and salad and then fresh orichette pasta on the second night. Mann I just wish I lived in Italy for the food alone. The supermarkets just do not compare in the slightest to Waitrose or Sainsburys. 

Venice is known for being a bit hit or miss with food in restaurants. For every really good thing you'll find, expect to find a bad meal apparently. The pizza's don't compare with the rest of Italy as it's a different region altogether and they don't have the wood fired ovens like further south. But you will find some cichetti, Venetian tapas which is very good. And of course there are a few gems. We'd marked a few restaurants on the map before we visited but having the kitchen, we tended to eat lunch out and cook dinner in.

And of course, once you've cooked dinner in the apartment, there's always room {and time} for an evening gelato stroll! We struck gold with the magic hour on our first evening. The light was so beautiful.

Predictably we headed to Grom, having been huge fans in Rome and Florence, but we did try some other gelaterias out here too. La Mela Verde, Boutique Gelato and Doge topped the list. My favourite was the pear and nutella flavour, Ben's go to was liquorice and lemon {my ideal of hell!}.

I think the view above was my favourite spot we stumbled across over our the whole trip. So dreamy.

We sat on some steps by the water eating our gelato watching the gondolas float past before walking home as the sunset. I just couldn't get enough of these old buildings and all the canals.

The next morning, a Sunday, with another full day of sunshine and heat forecast, we jumped on the vapretto and headed to Lido island for the day. I'd read both the Times insider city guide, and this Conde Nast Venice island guide, before we left for Venice and they'd suggested hiring bikes and cycling along the coast for the day. We had four whole days in Venice which was more than enough to see the city properly so we thought we might as well visit some of the surrounding islands as well. 

We were soo lucky with the weather, Venice in the sunshine *heart eyes*. 

That day actually turned out to be our favourite day. Ben went as far to say it was the best of the whole trip. I think it was just getting out of the city, even though Venice isn't a bustling one of course, but having a complete change of scene and being next to some of the most gorgeous coastline we'd seen in ages. We hired bikes from the bike shop just across the road from the Lido vapretto stop, it cost nine euros each for a whole day and we were given a map with the bike routes on it. 

The Lido was a gorgeous island, and reminded us a lot of Coronado Island across from San Diego. Everyone was so happy and the streets were wide and clean with the beach on either side of the thin island. It's so cycle friendly too. We'd heard about Pellestrina Island which was meant to be even more amazing for beaches, beauty and the best seafood restaurant in the whole of Venice, one island down from the Lido which you could get to via a ferry. We decided to go for it and cycle towards Pellestrina and see how far we got. We passed miles of beach huts and the famous Lido cinema area where they host the Venice film festival every September. 

5 miles later, all on the flat so we whizzed down, we reached the ferry point and decided we might as well go across to Pellestrina in search of the famous seafood restaurant. We timed it perfectly for the ferry and took the 10 minute crossing, such an adventure and a world away from all the gondolas and maze of alleyways and streets in Venice despite being just across the lagoon.

The minute we arrived onto Pellestrina we knew we'd made the right decision. It was like Cape Cod or somewhere in America, the lagoon so calm and the sea so blue with the pretty wild flowers growing against it. We followed the cycle route the whole way along the coast for another 5 miles {!!} until we reached the restaurant. 

After going through pretty villages we finally made it. Da Celeste. It was just before 12 and there was a floating platform full of tables over the water, we locked up our bikes and proud that we'd made it on such a hot day, asked for a table for two please. Nope, sorry, all reserved, it's a Sunday. Noooo. I could have cried, 'but we just cycled for miles to get here'. 'Can we not just sit on the wall and order?' 'Nope, we'll get in trouble'. Ohhh mann, what were we going to do? There weren't any other restaurants nearby and being a Sunday the local shops were all shut. I went back to the waiter and said if we order quickly can we please get a take out? He agreed, woohoo so we ordered some seafood pasta and waited in the sunshine, so thankful and starving by this point! 

It was worth the wait and we did get our famous Celeste seafood in the sunshine in the end, sitting by the sea. They even leant us some cutlery. As we finished about 10 big Italian families turned up for their Sunday lunch, it shows what an authentic place it is. 

We slowly cycled back, with nothing to rush for this time and enjoyed the sunshine. It was one of those warm days when you can just feel the heat around you, so so good. It was such a lovely afternoon just being by the water on our bikes. We found a proper gelato shop, without any English, and ordered one of the best gelatos we'd had of the trip. I had coconut and chocolate, like a bounty, mmm. And Ben went for his liquorice and lemon. 

I loved all the jetty's. Such a perfect summers day for it. 

The whole island is built on a fishing industry and nearly every family has a boat. There were little villages the whole way along, painted in bright colours. 

Sunday lunchtime was obviously siesta time, we hardly saw anybody out! I don't think it would ever feel busy here though with predominantly locals. It's hard to find genuine hidden gems when travelling but this definitely felt like one. 

We got the ferry back over to the Lido and on our way back to the main town, stopped off at Malamocco - a town older than Venice itself. It was super cute with a similar feel to Venice in terms of the canals and bridges but on a much smaller scale and with brightly coloured houses, prettily decorated with window boxes and those shutters again. 

There are public water fountains across the whole of Italy, this one was the prettiest we came across.

Back past the beach huts, and with a walk along the sand, we dropped our bikes back and exhausted after the 20+miles we'd just cycled, wearily headed back across to Venice and our apartment after such an amazing day. 

We cooked dinner in again and after a much needed shower, headed out for an evening exploring more of Venice itself. 

We'd bought a 2 day vapretto/water bus ticket {a single journey costs 7euros so if you're visiting any of the islands it's much better value to buy a day or 2 day ticket} so decided to use it by getting a vapretto up the canal and then walking back via a different part of the city, stopping for a gelato of course. We had 2 every single day we were in Italy, I think it's the law. 

Gondola traffic jam! 

On Monday we went out for croissants, as I said in the Rome post - they're soo much better than French pastries, and then got on a boat to head out to Burano for the day. 

Burano is another island in the lagoon, famous for it's lace making but also every house being painted a different colour. Instagram heaven! 

Look at those colours! The prettiest pastels alongside the brights. 

As if the houses weren't pretty enough, we found a square with the first hollyhocks I've seen this year. It felt almost French! 

Such a gorgeous place to visit. The seafood is meant to be very good there too but we left before it was lunchtime. It was quiet when we visited but it was a fairly overcast day, I think on a bright blue sky day or perhaps a weekend it would be busier? But it's far enough away from the cruise day trippers in Venice.

There are so many other islands to visit, Torcello which is Burano's closest neighbour has a more rural feel. Or Murano which is closest to Venice and famous for it's glass making. 

We came back over to Venice and despite the grey clouds spent a pretty afternoon walking in the Jewish quarter in Cannaregio. By the end of our few days we'd covered most of the city.

That night, as it was our last in Venice and of the whole trip, we decided to go on a Gondola {although not the touristy gondolas which will cost you eighty euros for a half an hour ride} but a tip we'd read in the Times Insider city guide again was to get a traditional Traghetto - a way that Venetians cross the canal if there's no bridge close by which was only 2 euros each. It was short, of course, just literally straight across, but sweet nonetheless and fun. 

This stop was right outside our apartment door, the metal railings on the window were at the bottom of our apartment building. And it got us across to near San Marco Square without us having to walk up to the Accademia bridge and make our way along. 

The gondoliers were authentic and I asked the older guy to take a photo of us as we crossed the canal, he wanted us to kiss {a true Italian romantic haha}. Cue lots of laughter. 

I do love this guy and all our adventures across the globe together.

It was the perfect way to end our final evening, before a last pizza and gelato date. 

On our last morning, we made use of the end of our 48 hour Vapretto ticket and rode up the Grand Canal one last time to the flower market at the Rialto Mercato. Sunflowers, hydrangeas and peonies in Venice! If only we could have taken some home. We got to ogle at the famous seafood market too with all the octopus and huge lobsters. 

We picked up our luggage, said goodbye to our Airbnb and gorgeous Venice and then got ready to catch a boat across to the JW Marriott Resort, set across the lagoon on a private island. This island hopping was getting fun! 

We were tempted to stay at the JW Marriott, having read so much about it when it first opened last summer, but in the end we wanted to be closer to Venice for wandering out in the evenings etc. The Marriott is a 20minute boat ride away. So when I got the opportunity to head over there for lunch in the name of honeymoon research, we jumped at the chance. 

We left Venice James Bond style waving goodbye to San Marco Square as it got further into the distance and arrived on the island. We were shown around the resort, which was more amazing than I'd ever imagined with acres of grounds and pretty rose gardens {plus the buildings were all so beautifully restored in such an industrial chic way that I loved} and then we got to relax by the rooftop pool and order a leisurely lunch. 

I stole some interiors ideas, hotels are always designed so well don't you think? Our idea for our Penguin postcards came from the Soho Hotel in London on a Christmas stay back in 2010, way before they went mainstream.

Lunch was so delicious and probably the second best meal we had in Italy {Borgo's dinner was still number one}, we had the fulllll Italian offering for one last blow out with appetisers, first pasta/risotto courses, meat and then pudding. Italy really is no time for dieting. It was a shame that it was grey but you can just see Venice in the background. On a sunny day you wouldn't want to leave the pool area. 

It felt like a trendy Brooklyn style bar looking out over Manhattan's skyline. If you were going for more than a few days, or had been to Venice before, then I'd definitely recommend staying at the JW Marriott. It's a resort in itself that you'd never really need to leave!

We asked the hotel to call us a water taxi, and in true Venetian style, zoomed across the lagoon to the airport. A few people had recommended either arriving or leaving Venice in a water taxi and while it was eyewateringly expensive compared to our cheap Vapretto rides, 130 euros expensive.. it was worth it and a fine end to finish our trip.

Goodbye Italy and Venice. What an incredible trip. 

How cool for an airport to have a boat dock instead of a car drop off. And then to top it off, Easyjet sent a plane decorated with gondolas. 

A week to remember forever. Italy we really really love you. I think we'll have to add some more of Italy to our future travel plans, the Amalfi Coast is next on my list. Have you been?

- I read this blog as Venice research, Conde Nast Travel and would definitely recommend The Times Insider City Guides for both Venice and Rome too.

R <3 xx 

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  1. I loved reading this! We are travelling across Italy to Venice this Summer and I'm so looking forward to experiencing all the things you mentioned (albeit with three tiny travellers too!) My husband and I travelled around Italy a lot pre-kids and Amalfi is beautiful , I think you'd really love it! Positano is one of the prettiest places I've been! Such gorgeous pictures, so glad you had a lovely time! Xx


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