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May 21, 2015
An Insider's Guide to Venice - The Wall Street Journal

LET’S FACE IT. On first view, iconic places can disappoint. After all of the hype, for example, the Champs-Élysées might not quite measure up to what we’d imagined. Venice is an exception: No photo, no painting, not even the reams of poems written by its centuries of admirers can prepare you for the jolt you get when stepping into this surreal land of water and stone.

But even a city this beautiful has its challenges: Venice attracts a lotof visitors. Consequently, it can sometimes seem as overrun as a Renaissance amusement park—“half fairy tale and half tourist trap” as Thomas Mann described it. Starting this May, the Castello, once the center of Venice’s thriving shipyards, will host the Venice Biennale—the great splash of the international art world that always attracts a crowd. But wander off into the narrow alleys surrounding the Babylonian exhibition and you can still hear native Venetian in the neighborhood where the local dialect is still widely spoken.

The key to finding the fairy tale and avoiding the tourist trap is to have a bona fide Venetian show you around. The next best thing would be to follow these recommendations by in-the-know locals and others who are intimately acquainted—and in love—with the city. 


Philip Rylands
Philip Rylands
The Aesthete | Philip Rylands

Director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection

FEAST WITH A RARE BREED // Osteria ai Assassini. Guests at this former wine cellar of the noble Marcello family can mingle with that rarity: real Venetians. The food is fresh and local—many of the vegetables come from farms on the island of Sant’Erasmo in the Venetian lagoon. Rio Terrà degli Assassini, 3695; osteriaaiassassini.it

A CLASSIC // The Gritti Palace. Soaked in history, the Gritti is my favorite hotel in Venice. It has managed through the years to retain its understated elegance and is grand without being ostentatious. The service is attentive but not unctuous, and few things are more tranquil than sitting on the terrace, sipping a Prosecco. From about $900, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, 2467; thegrittipalace.com

TOUR OF SECRETS // Doge’s Palace. Book in advance for the guided secret tour that takes you out of the gilded reception rooms and into the old offices, meeting rooms and even torture chambers where the real business of government was conducted. You even get to look out over the lead-lined rooftop to the spot where Casanova supposedly made his daring escape from prison. San Marco 1; palazzoducale.visitmuve.it

WATER MUSIC // Church of Santa Maria Dei Miracoli. Designed in the 15th-century by Pietro Lombardo, this gem is off the beaten track but unmissable. Attend a concert here—the acoustics are extraordinary. Cannaregio 6074; 39-041-275-0462


Princess Bianca di Savoia Aosta
Princess Bianca di Savoia Aosta 
The Designer | Princess Bianca di Savoia Aosta

Tastemaker whose family’s Grand Canal palazzo was recently converted into the Aman Canal Grande resort

VENETIAN MOPED // Brussa IS Boat. Rent a “topa,” a zippy four-meter boat, at Brussa, to go for a relaxing and fun spin through the canals before heading out into the lagoon. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds—locals use the topas like mopeds. Cannaregio 331; brussaisboat.it

PRADA PROMENADE // Fondazione Prada. Spend a day in the lesser-known part of Venice, and enter every church you happen to bump in to. Then drop into Fondazione Prada, which has contemporary exhibitions that are constantly changing. Everything I’ve ever seen in there has been astonishing. Ca’ Corner Della Regina, Calle Corner, 2215 fondazioneprada.org

LOCAL CATCH // Antiche Carampane. While in the San Polo and Santa Croce area, have lunch at Antiche Carampane. This happens to be the restaurant closest to our house, so I know it very well: They use ingredients fresh from the fish market and prepare food that is fabulous. San Polo 1911; antichecarampane.com

GLASS MENAGERIE // I Vetri A Lume di Amadi. One of the best places to pick up gifts and unique mementos from your time in Venice is I Vetri A Lume di Amadi, near Campo San Polo. They have glass plants and insects and other animals that are incredibly precise. Even the tiny legs on the cockroaches look…incredible! Calle Saoneri 2747; 39- 041-523-8089 

The Doge’s PalaceENLARGE
The Doge’s Palace PHOTO: FRANCESCO LASTRUCCI FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
The Film Director | Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Oscar-winning director of ‘The Lives of Others,’ who spent six months in Venice writing and directing ‘The Tourist’

BEYOND HARRY POTTER // State Archives. I have never seen anything like the State Archives of Venice, which is housed in the secularized Frari monastery. It’s like an epic art installation: 1,000 years worth of parchment and leather-bound tomes piled in massive towers right up to the ceiling of the medieval arches. Campo dei Frari, San Polo, 3002; archiviodistatovenezia.it

FRESH CATCH // Island of Burano. Take the short water-taxi ride to Burano to admire its colorful houses and have a meal at the Trattoria al Gatto Nero, one of the best seafood restaurants in the region. They have their own fishermen who deliver fresh local fish to them several times a day. Fondamenta della Guidecca, 88; gattonero.com

RENAISSANCE MAN // Museo Fortuny. Imagine a 1920s cross between Karl Lagerfeld, Philippe Starck and Julian Schnabel and you have Mariano Fortuny—the fashion designer/inventor/photographer/painter/architect who helped define the first half of the 20th century. The Museo Fortuny, housed in his Venetian Gothic palazzo is a monument to the maxim “Follow Your Bliss.” San Marco 3958; fortuny.visitmuve.it

TASTY GLAMOUR // Harry’s Bar. Even if you’re not an aging jet-setter, you might consider going to Harry’s Bar, just to try their “torta meringata classica,” which along with Vienna’s Sacher torte is the most satisfying cake experience in the world. Calle Vallaresso, 1323; harrysbarvenezia.com


Cristiano Ceccato
Cristiano Ceccato
The Fashionista | Cristiano Ceccato

Fourth-generation owner of the fashion house Al Duca d’Aosta

THE HEART OF ART // Basilica dei Frari. Formally Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, this church houses what’s probably the most amazing concentration of art and history in Venice that’s not in a museum, including works by Titian, Bellini and Donatello. No wonder Canova’s heart is entombed here. San Polo, 3072; www.basilicadeifrari.it

OAKED CHARM // Ca Maria Adele. This hotel is more a luxurious private oak-beamed mansion than a hotel—it’s a fun relaxing place to stay and is impeccably designed—even locals put their friends up here. It’s got its own canal entrance close to Piazza San Marco. From about $550, Dorsoduro 111; camariaadele.it

LOCAL VITTLES // Rialto. I love Venice’s Rialto vegetable and fish markets because they’ve not been contaminated by the mass market and still get their products locally. It’s one of the few places you can find the rare “castraure,” a special artichoke that grows only on Sant’Erasmo island in the lagoon. 42 San Polo.

SCENT SCENE // The Merchant of Venice. Housed in a jewel-box-like neo-Baroque former spice shop, The Merchant of Venice’s flagship perfumery was founded four decades ago by Massimo Vidal, who was fascinated with the scents brought in through Venice’s historic spice trade. Fragrances are displayed in beautiful Murano-glass bottles. Campo San Fantin 1895, themerchantofvenice.it


Plus Don’t Miss…
tktkENLARGE
tktk PHOTO: TKTK

Taverna La Fenice restaurant, adjacent to Venice’s opera house, where one can relax in a deep armchair and dine superbly with excellent wines at non-touristic prices. San Marco 1939; ristorantelafenice.com

Museo di Scienze Naturali, set in a 13th-century Byzantine palazzo on the Grand Canal, has exhibits on the lagoon’s fish and fauna. Sestier Santa Croce, 1730, msn.visitmuve.it

Caffe del Doge, a tiny spot near the Rialto Bridge is the outlet for a century-old coffee roasting business that doles out ambrosial cups of espressos, cappuccinos and marocchinos that are the favored fuels of strolling Venetians. Castello, 6034, caffedeldoge.com

La Stanze Del Vetro, a gorgeous new exhibit space in an ancient school on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, celebrates international glassware that goes far beyond classic Venetian design. Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, 1, lestanzedelvetro.it

   
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