Il buco della suora is ideally situated in a small courtyard off Calle Lunga San Barnaba, a narrow alleyway well-known to locals, connecting Campo San Barnaba with Chiesa San Sebastiano. The canal Rio del Malpaga runs a few feet from the front door. Rio del’ Avogaria is at the top of the alley, Rio San Barnaba a few feet north – at the base of Chiesa Carmini, whose bells mark each 15 minute increment of our day. It was the tolling of these bells that inspired the first notes of Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Today they are a poignant reminder that it’s time for a spritz.
Campo Santa Margherita – the liveliest campo in Venice – with its fish and vegetable stalls, butchers, bakers, supermarket, flea markets, myriad of restaurants and bars – is on our doorstep. The fruit and vegetable boat at Ponte dei Pugni (Bridge of Fists) is closer still, past Colussi, just before Campo San Barnaba (where Katharine Hepburn tumbled into the canal in Summertime). More restaurants, gelaterie, wine and cheese shops. A ten minute loop turns up all requisites of a day’s eating and drinking, at home or in good restaurants. Alternatively, stroll through Campo Santa Margherita, past San Pantalon and Tonolo (best frittelle in Venice), to the Scuola San Rocco, dripping with Tintorettos. Continue past the Frari, popping in to see the Bellini altarpiece and the tomb that houses Canova’s heart, into the warren of alleys that wind through San Polo to Rialto, its bridge, fish market and bacari.
Or take a different route. Just round the corner from the apartment is Zattere, the stately promenade overlooking Giudecca Canal. Its workaday benefits include a post office, supermarket, on-the-water pizza restaurants and the famous Gelateria Nico; but its aesthetic charms are unmatched. Walk its length, gazing across to Molino Stucky and Il Redentore on Giudecca; all the way to Punta della Dogana at the mouth of the Grand Canal, with magnificent views across the water to San Giorgio and San Marco. Turn the corner, follow the Grand Canal back, pausing at colossal Salute, a votive offering for Venice’s deliverance from the Black Death. Pass the Peggy Guggenheim to Galleria dell’Accademia with its Titians, Bellinis, Carpaccios and Canelettos. Ponte dell’Accademia is your gateway to San Marco; it’s a short walk to the legendary Piazza, Basilica, Palazzo Ducale and Campanile. Alternatively, stroll home, pausing for spritz al bitter at già Schiavi, by the gondola workshop in San Trovaso.
Use the water. Venice is built on it. Buy a pass at Zattere or Accademia, hop the vaporetti and traghetti at every opportunity. Venice was meant to be experienced from its canals. The contrast of the main island with those dotted across the lagoon is elemental to the Venetian experience.
A list of things we love would be as long and circuitous as the labyrinth of Venice itself. And it gets longer the longer we stay. But here’s a crisp start.
- Al Profeta – local pizza and pasta, so close you can hear the gentle chatter from our yard. Literally, at the top of our courtyard. Sweet, unpretentious outdoor dining.
- Osteria da Codroma – became our secret favourite two summers ago, and it’s stuck. Tucked behind Angelo Raffaele, great team, they really know food. Their frittura mista is light and delicious, in stark contract to elsewhere. Their polpette di carne are mouth-watering. Probably our favourite in-Venice restaurant. Pop by and make a reservation. People have found out.
- La Bitta – a few feet along Calle Lunga. Rare in Venice, in that it emphasizes meat. Very good. Reservations.
- Pane Vino e San Daniele – In a quiet campo beside Chiesa San Sebastiano. Cuisine and wine from Friuli, specializing in San Daniele prosciutto
- Ristoteca Oniga – in Campo San Barnaba. Fish, naturally. Our friends’ favourite.
- Al Vecio Marangon – home-cooking in a what feels like somebody’s dining room. Very popular with locals. Tucked in an alley behind Toletta.
- Antica Locanda Montin – a legend. Classic stodgy Venetian cuisine in a famous garden setting. Feels like a Visconti movie (including the customers). On a silent stretch of Fondamenta di Borgo.
- Cantinone già Schiavi – also known as Al Bottegon, classic cicheti and spritz by the canal in San Trovaso. And one of the best wine shops in Venice. If it’s too crowded walk a few feet down to Al Squero for the same sort of thing.
- Osteria Ai Carmini – a few feet from our door. Standard Venetian menu, done simply. The guys who worked on the apartment always went for lunch.
- Pizza Al Volo simple, cheap slices to go right on Campo Santa Margherita. All the students go there, it’s just down from Caffè Rosso, where everybody goes to drink. You think you’ll have no need for ordinary street pizza. But you will.
- Ai Artisti is where we go for macchiati in the morning, corretti at lunch.
- Ostaria la Rosa (Pellestrina) – best unpretentious fish place we’ve found anywhere in Venice. That’s it, simple as that. In what used to be a video-game arcade, right on the lagoon. Will be serving all the rare lagoon fish – schie, moeche, folpetti, canocchie, go, bisati, granseola, sgombro – as and when they are in season.
- Al Ponte di Borgo (Lido/Malamocco) – our favourite for lunch. Fish again. Get there by bike or bus from Lido vaporetto, or best of all, by boat.
- Do Spade (San Polo/Rialto) – bacaro for cicheti, one of several hole-in-the-wall favourites tucked close to the fish market.
- All’Arco (San Polo/Rialto) – another of them.
- Do Mori (San Polo/Rialto) and another.
- Da Arturo (San Marco/Assassini/) – tiny, 22 seat trattoria. Classic menu, classic customers. Meat, no fish.
- Antiche Carampane (San Polo/Rialto) – for the full old-school Venetian experience, this is your place. An institution. Classic high-end Venetian menu. Celebrities. Money.
- Trattoria alla Rampa (Castello/Giardini) great, simple, hearty lunch in a room behind a simple bar. Don’t tell everybody. Try the stinco al forno.
- Rosticceria Gislon (San Marco/San Lio) flourescent lit, order at the counter, stand and eat. It’s been around since the 30’s. Slightly intimidating, being packed with locals all angling for the mozzarella carrozza. But absolutely worth the experience.
- La Zucca (Santa Croce/San Giacomo) – a treat. Beautiful ravioli, cappelletti, tortelli, insalate. Everyone in Venice knows and appreciates La Zucca. Great for vegetarians.
- Da Memo (Pellestrina) – see La Rosa above.
- Paradiso Perduto (Miseracordia/Cannaregio) – closest thing to a bohemian hangout in Venice, with its eccentric owner, Hungarian folk tunes and questionable fritto misto. It’s all about the vibe, which everybody loves because it’s so unusual here.
- Il Refolo (Santa Croce/San Giacomo) – maybe the best wood-fired pizza in Venice, from the family behind Da Fiore. Lovely outdoor setting in the shadow of the San Giacomo campanile.
- Gatto Nero (Burano) – another Venentian classic, one of a thousand reasons to get on the water, explore the lagoon. All about fish.
- La Palanca – (Giudecca) hop the vaporetto one stop to Giudecca and a different world. La Palanca feels like a small, innocuous haunt of Giudeccan locals.
Go into churches. Even if you usually don’t. Venice has always been in peril; its survival, a 900-year act of faith. Nothing embodies this as dramatically as the churches, in sheer quantity, scale and the theatricality of their obsecrations. Dorsoduro alone has 24. Be like going to Paris and not eating a croissant.
- San Sebastiano – dripping with Veronese paintings. It’s basically his church.
- Carmini – our local. You have to visit where the sound of the bells is coming from. Carmelite, humble but beautiful and largely overlooked.
- San Nicolò dei Mendicoli – possibly the oldest church in Venice – St Nicholas of the Beggars. The church John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) is restoring in Nicolas Roeg’s seminal Don’t Look Now.
- Salute – an icon of Venice, at the mouth of the Grand Canal. Perhaps only Basilica San Marco is as emblematic. Famous for young Edwardian men committing suicide on the steps. Its sheer mass can be overwhelming. Unmissable.
- Frari (San Polo) – if you’re determined to visit only a couple, make this one. Amazing scale, the Titian monument, Canova tomb and Bellini’s Madonna and Child.
- I Gesuiti (Cannaregio) – an insane confection, like stepping inside a melting birthday cake. Pop in on your way to Fondamenta Nuove (the vaporetto stop for Burano and Torcello).
- Santa Maria dei Miracoli (Cannaregio) – a perfect, tiny, marble early-Renaissance jewel.
- Basilica San Marco (San Marco) – what to say? One of the great churches of the world. Don’t stand in line, go when it’s quiet so you’re not browbeaten by company. Definitely pay the 2 Euro to see the Pala d’Oro, and the 5 Euro to go upstairs and stare out at Piazza beneath the horses. Brilliant, oozing history, its a unique crystallization of the myth of Venice.
- Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta (Torcello) – Byzantine cathedral with towering mosaics, on the otherwise silent island of Torcello, one of the first settlements in the lagoon. Torcello’s only other attraction is the original Locanda Cipriani, where Hemingway wrote Across the River and Through the Trees, and which predates the famous hotel in San Marco (and the tourist trap of Harry’s Bar) by several years.
- Ca’ Rezzonico (Dorsoduro/San Barnaba) – Palazzo on the Grand Canal restored to its full 18th century glory, with Tiepolo frescoes and all the trimmings. John Singer Sargent painted here. Robert Browning died on the mezzanine. Cole Porter rented it in the 20’s, employing 50 gondoliers as footmen.
- Mercato Rialto (Campo della Pescaria/San Polo) – go at dawn when only two cafés are open and the fish is being unloaded. Buy some. Most people are taking pictures. Also, for cheese, Casa del Parmigiano on Erbaria.
- La Fenice (San Fantin/San Marco) – The Phoenix – living up to its name – has burned down and been rebuilt three times. Productions are often a bit wobbly, but you’re watching them in one of the storied opera-houses of the world (Rigoletto, La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra all premiered at La Fenice). The baroque concerts upstairs are world class.
- Isola di San Michele (from Fondamenta Nove/Cannaregio) – Venice’s Isle of the Dead. Think maritime Pére Lachaise. Oozing gothic flavour, it boasts the graves of Ezra Pound, Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Joseph Brodksy as well as all sorts of ‘ships lost at sea’ derring-do. The island is tiny; graves are leased for a decade before being disinterred (bones moved to an ossuary). So despite being delightfully ruinous, it’s full of flowers and tributes, due to relatives still being alive. A heady, spooky cocktail.
- Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni (Castello) if you’re going to do one scuola, this should be it. Perhaps less notorious than Scuola San Rocco (which is a short walk from us), but arguably more magical because of its intimacy. Contains the seven panels of Carpaccio’s Stories of the Patron Saints of the Scuola, set here in 1507.
- Palazzo Ducale (Piazza San Marco) – up there on every tourist list, but cannot be ignored. It’s amazing. But don’t go when it’s crowded, you’ll be miserable. Either out of season, first thing in the morning, or best of all … the Secret Itineraries Tour. We know, it sounds hokey. But it isn’t.
- Bicycles on Lido (from Zattere) – we’re leery of giving this one up, it’s so good. But clues would be … al Ponte di Borgo, the beach at Alberoni, ferry to Pellestrina, La Rosa, back to Favorita.
- Brussa is Boat (Guglie/Cannaregio) – that’s all we can say.