Architecture aside I remember Venice as being a galactic rip off. A grotty airport from which you take a hideously overpriced water taxi to your hotel, fleets of gondoliers singing badly to Japanese tourists, greasy bowls of linguine a la vongole which would shame Carluccios. But all of this has changed. Most notably, it is now possible to eat quite spectacularly well.
You can’t throw a rock in Venice without hitting a City lawyer. All of them have their go-to favourite churches or palazzi for Tintoretto, I’m not going to jump in on that. But I was lucky enough to be given some tips by a number of people with close links to the island and I share some of the better ones here.
Marco Polo airport has been refurbished and is now very smart. Once you get your bags you can buy a ticket for a water taxi from a clearly signed kiosk. This costs €110, which is appreciably less pricey than the rates quoted on most hotels’ websites, and gets you a private launch for around half an hour. If you book your return taxi at the same time you get a 10% discount.
Where to stay
The Gritti. It is expensive because it is amazing, and even the most basic rooms are exquisite. Your water taxi deposits you at its own landing stage where you are whisked into what is, entirely literally, a palace:
The whole place is marble and Murano glass. This is the mirror in the loos:
This was the view from the roof terrace. It can hold about 80 people, has its own pool and must surely the best party venue in Venice. Robbie Williams had his after party there:
The staff make you feel as if you’re the only person there. I would like to think that I was somehow singled out for special treatment by the General Manager, Paulo Lorenzoni, but I imagine that he treats every guest like this.
If you can’t spring for a room, at least go for a drink. The barman makes fantastic (and lethally large) gibsons which you can enjoy on the terrace:
You will be surrounded by Italian aristocrats with fawn socks and toy dogs, which is delightful, and loud Americans in terrible leisure wear, which is rather less so.
How to get around
Walk. And avoid the crowded bridges by crossing via a traghetto – a two-man gondola that ferries passengers across the grand canal for the princely sum of €2:
Locals stand, tourists sit. I, of course, tried to stand and nearly ended up in the drink.
Where to eat
Unpromising name, outstanding restaurant. Book in advance and ask your concierge to request a table by the window. New wave, modern Venetian food that contains ingredients which won’t appeal to all (fish guts, brains), but some beautiful, delicious plates. This is “cuttlefish during spring”:
I had a pudding that was almost entirely composed of candied celery. Much better than it sounds.
The wine list is a bible, with most (if not all) biodynamic and organic. I did a valiant job of drinking my way through much of it.
Older style, more traditional, with a few tables outside in the small square:
Again, part of the slow food movement with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Soft shell crabs from the lagoon were on offer for four weeks only. It was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. The waiter pointed out that they are generally frozen, whereas these had been alive and running around the kitchen just ten minutes earlier.
Essentially a wine shop with food, rammed to the rafters and a great buzz. Call the restaurant and ask for directions. You will get lost. The concierge didn’t know where it was, the address given had nothing more than a nodding acquaintanceship with its physical location, and it is impossible to find on a mobile phone. After half an hour of walking in small circles around the Frari a kindly waiter was sent out to find us. “Ah, we’re not on Google yet, sorry”.
We fell into this one round the corner from the hotel. No slow food here, basic tourist grub, but perfectly serviceable pasta, tables outside by a pretty canal and very gently marked up Tignanello.
You’ll need to book this a couple of weeks ahead as it’s tiny:
It operates two sittings in the evening, at 7:30 and at 9:30, and had just a handful of tables and the most delicious shellfish imaginable. Another restaurant with biodynamic wines and seasonal ingredients. Spiny lobster with bitter chicory, artisanal pasta with exquisite little clams, cuttlefish in its own ink. Happy days.
Buon appetito. And thank you to everyone for their recommendations, with a special mention to Anne Groves, Peter and Justine Morris and Guy Beringer.