With its museums, galleries and palaces, not to mention amazing local food and wine tours, Venice is the perfect destination for a luxurious cultural getaway. Following her recent visit to Venice and Lake Garda, Susie Marquis recommends the local tour guides to book, districts to explore and apartments to rent during your stay.
While staying at a beautiful Lake Garda villa in northern Italy recently, I decided to round off my trip with a few nights in Venice, and I can highly recommend a two centre stay in this duo of wonderful, and very different, destinations.
If you don’t want to drive to Venice, there are regular trains from Desenzano del Garda at the bottom of the lake. A train ride from here to Santa Lucia station in Venice takes around 1½ hours. I took the train on a beautiful sunny afternoon and, once I had arrived and hopped on a vaporetto to Piazza San Marco, the magic of being back in this unique city took over!
Embrace authentic Venice
There have been many articles stating that the canals are looking much clearer now without the large presence of cruise ships, and I would agree that this has made a very noticeable difference. However, for the future of Venetian tourism, cruise ships are just one of the problems facing this wonderful city.
We hear that, although the number of visitors coming to Venice is increasing, many are now coming just as day trippers, rather than staying longer and truly experiencing authentic Venice, as well as supporting the local economy. From our point of view, there is a lot to be said for renting an apartment in one of Venice’s sestieri (neighbourhoods) and using it as a base for visiting various famous landmarks, while discovering the Venetian lifestyle and culture in the area where you are staying. Exploring this unique city on foot is a wonderful way to get to know your neighbourhood shops, bars and restaurants, as well as taking in the city’s beautiful piazzas, galleries and monuments.
Live like a local in Venice
With a stay of only a few nights, I managed to cover most of my favourite areas, walking from Dorsoduro to Cannaregio and, in-between, including the magnificent Campo San Marco, the Rialto bridge, and Campo San Polo. I also caught up with my friend Giorgia Chiozzi from Have A Glass in Venice over coffee in the sunshine outside the Accademia Gallery.
For those wanting to experience Venice at its most authentic, including its wine and cuisine, we highly recommend Giorgia as being the perfect guide. Unique city tour itineraries can be customised according to your interests and preferences, and Giorgia will take you to places you won’t find in the guidebooks. We recommend her walking tours of traditional Venetian bacari (or wine bars) to enjoy local wine and cicchetti (tapas).
Make time for island hopping
Giorgia can also arrange bespoke boat tours to the islands in the lagoon, Sant’Erasmo, Burano, Murano and Torcello. These can be visited separately, or as an entire day tour. Ecological vegetable farming is the main activity on Sant’Erasmo, which also supplies fresh vegetables to the famous Rialto market. This small island is equally well known for its vineyards, and there is even a winery where you can sample their white wine.
You might also like to visit the beautiful and colourful islands of Burano, where the old tradition of lacemaking still exists, and Murano, to visit the famous glass factories. Don’t miss the island of Torcello, either. Known as the earliest centre of civilization in the Venice lagoon, be sure to explore the Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell'Assunta, built in 639, and its 11th century bell tower. Torcello is also known for its restaurant Locanda Cipriani, which dates back to 1934 and has, over the years, been frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Maria Callas, Nancy Mitford and Marc Chagall.
Dorsoduro, on the south-western side of the city between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, is one of my favourite districts in Venice. The Fondamente Zattere, a wide lagoon promenade on the Giudecca Canal side, has wonderful views over the water to Giudecca Island. Dorsoduro is regarded by many as the creative side of the city, as well as being home to one of its most famous landmarks, the Santa Maria della Salute church. It’s also known for its famous art galleries, including the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the wonderful Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Also in Dorsoduro is Ca’ Rezzonico, one of the most beautiful palazzos in Venice, which overlooks the Grand Canal. Directly opposite is the famous Palazzo Grassi. Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana (by Santa Maria della Salute) are two contemporary art museums from the Pinault Collection that are well worth a visit. We also recommend the lovely Campo Santa Margherita, which is surrounded by houses dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries, as well as bars, restaurants, shops, and a small vegetable and fish market. It’s one of the liveliest squares in Venice, offering the real Italian experience from morning to night.
The best roof terraces for aperitivo
For an elegant evening experience, we loved the roof terrace bar at the Bauer Hotel in central Venice – perfect for treating yourself to an early evening drink while enjoying the incredible views. We also explored the impressive new shopping mall T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by the Rialto Bridge, which has its own wonderful rooftop terrace, especially at sunset. Visits to the terrace are free of charge, but are limited to 15 minutes and need to be booked in advance as the maximum capacity is 40 people.
5 sensational properties to rent in Venice
Casa Venezia (4 bedrooms; 8 guests)
We are delighted to showcase this unique house in a prime Venice location, right on the edge of the Grand Canal and close to Piazza San Marco. Built in the late 19th century for the Austrian Prince Fritz Hohenlohe-Waldenburg, the most famous inhabitant was in fact the poet and politician Gabriele D’Annunzio. South-facing and overlooking its own private garden, the house offers wonderful views of the Grand Canal and beyond. On the rooftop is a terrace equipped with sun loungers and there’s also a canopied dining area in the garden, ideal for enjoying breakfast, long lunches and beautiful al fresco dinners.
Castello Palazzo Apartment (3 bedrooms; 6 guests)
Located in the picturesque district of Castello, this apartment is just a 7-minute walk from the Rialto fish and vegetable market, a 10-minute walk from the Biennale and a 25-minute walk from Piazza San Marco. Within this highly decorative space, the interiors have been recently restored to their original glory – be sure to marvel at the beautiful terrazzo floors and magnificent stuccoed walls and frescoes. Castello Palazzo Apartment allows guests to truly immerse themselves in the classic luxury of a Venetian palace, with antiques, an eclectic mix of contemporary furniture and amazing artwork. There is also a furnished terrace for relaxing outdoors while enjoying views over the canal. Fun fact: Friedrich Nietzche is a former resident of this beautiful Venetian palazzo and wrote several books here.
Campo Santa Margherita (2 bedrooms; 4 guests)
This charming apartment is situated in Campo Santa Margherita, amid the popular Dorsoduro district. Situated halfway between the impressive Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and the Fondamenta Zattere, guests here will be close to local bars, restaurants, shops, and a small market. The first floor apartment has been fully refurbished to a very high standard and with great attention to detail. The accommodation comprises two double en suite bedrooms, a large drawing room, a sitting/TV room and a kitchen/dining room, all with modern facilities.
Apartment Morosini (2 bedrooms; 4-5 guests)
Situated in the historic XII° Palazzo Morosini in central Venice, this ground floor apartment directly overlooks the canal. With a wonderful central location, just 8 minutes’ walk from both Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, guests at the apartment will enjoy breathtaking canal views from most of the rooms. Decorated and furnished in an original Venetian style, the beautiful structure and décor includes Tiepolo's school frescoes in the dining-room, and Carlo Scarpa design details in the wooden panelling and Venetian stucco finishing.
Vista Campo Santa Fosca (3 bedrooms; 6 guests)
From its quiet location in the Cannaregio district, this apartment overlooks Campo Santa Fosca and its church. Cannaregio offers a good choice of shops and restaurants, and it’s just a 12-minute walk from the apartment to the Rialto Bridge. Also close by is the beautiful museum Ca' d'Oro, the Franchetti Gallery, and a short walk along the Rio della Misericordia will bring you to the Fondamenta degli Ormesini with its open air cafés and restaurants. The apartment is accessed by stairs to the first floor, where a spacious dining room with a grand piano opens to small furnished terrace - perfect for enjoying an aperitif before dinner and taking in views over the canal, square and Santa Fosca church.
Want to discover more about luxury apartment holidays in Venice and other captivating Italian destinations? We offer a stunning array of apartments to rent in Rome and Florence, as well as villas in the rolling hills of Tuscany and the breathtaking setting of Lake Como: