Weekend in . . . Venice
Explore the Italian city’s less obvious charms and finds some hidden gems along the way
Canal-side eating at Al Timon in Venice.Photographs: Cristiano Bendinelli/New York Times
Ice-cream at Suso Gelatoteca in Venice
As frustrating as it is fascinating, Venice is not an easy city to get to know. Getting lost is a given. The crowds can be beastly. And yes, the whole place is sinking – literally under rising sea levels, and figuratively beneath the weight of day-tripping tourists. But these obstacles have not hindered this beguiling city from establishing itself over the past decade as the pre-eminent place in Italy for contemporary art. More recently, a wave of high-end hotels has opened along the Grand Canal, and back alleys have been set abuzz with new nightspots and a revived restaurant scene. So leave the famous sights to the crowds and instead drink up the less overt charms of this watery wonderland.
Friday 3.30 pm
Palace Arts Are you bummed there’s no art Biennale this year? Don’t be. Contemporary art abounds in Venice’s ancient palazzos, many of which now house museum-quality collections. One worth visiting is Palazzo Fortuny, an oft-overlooked Gothic palace tucked away on a quiet campo that was once home to the designer Mariano Fortuny. The second floor still houses Fortuny’s fine fabrics and family portraits but also contemporary works such as a light installation by James Turrell. The current temporary exhibitions celebrate female artists, from the photographs of Diane Arbus and Dora Maar to illusory works by Anne-Karin Furunes in the sunny top-floor studio (until July 14th; admission €10).
True Gritti Dress up for drinks at a doge’s former residence, the Gritti Palace, now a supremely elegant hotel that reopened last year after a €35 million renovation. Patrician details abound in the pristine lobby, from abundant floral displays and glittering chandeliers to a plush library displaying an exclusive collection of treasures selected by the well-travelled designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia. But the reason to visit at cocktail hour is Bar Longhi, a favoured haunt of Ernest Hemingway, where that most Venetian of aperitifs – the Aperol spritz – is served on the terrace with front-row views of the Grand Canal and the beautiful domed Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute beyond.
Baroque is back Cultural preservation extends beyond art and architecture inside the Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista, an unassuming church in San Polo. In March 2013, beneath the church’s lovely frescoes, the Venice Music Project inaugurated a Baroque music series, reviving a style integral to the Venetian Republic in the 17th and 18th centuries. This year, visiting groups and the resident orchestra, the Venetia Antiqua Ensemble, will perform works by Handel and Hasse, as well as Venetian composers Albinoni and Vivaldi (€20).
Dream dinner Want to feel as if you’re at a private dinner party deep in the Castello district? Snag one of the 16 seats at CoVino, a convivial restaurant that opened last year. Your hosts for the evening will be Dimitri, the chef, and Andrea, who handles everything from serving and suggesting wine pairings to tempting lingering guests with slivers of sublime chocolate cake. There are few choices on the market-driven menu, but also no misses (three courses, €36). Recent highlights included saffron-scented risotto cooked in grape must with a dusting of “Red Cow” Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pan-seared mullet atop stewed pumpkin puree and endive. After dinner, glide home on a vaporetto to admire romantic Venice at its most enchanting: at night, from the water.
Saturday 10.30 am
Saving Venice In December, the recently restored masterwork Martyrdom of St Lawrence, an altarpiece by the 16th-century Venetian artist Titian, returned home to Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, the church known as I Gesuiti. View it and the exquisite marble altar inside the church, whose interior underwent restorations sponsored by Save Venice, an organisation that has helped preserve hundreds of the city’s works of art and architecture. For a peek at a work in progress, head south to the 16th-century Chiesa di San Sebastiano in Dorsoduro to marvel at the jewel-like sacristy and restored ceilings resplendent with paintings by Paolo Veronese.
Bacaro hop For lunch, follow the lead of locals congregating outside bacari, traditional Venetian bars specialising in hors-d’oeuvre-size snacks called cicchetti. The alleys behind the Rialto Market are packed with bacari, so start there at Osteria alla Ciurma, a wood-panelled spot where everything from meatballs to stuffed courgette flowers are thrown into the fryer. Around the corner at All’Arco, pair pesce-crudo-topped toasts with an ombra, a tiny goblet of wine. Then continue to Cantina do Spade for fantastic fried calamari and crab claws beneath dark timbered ceilings. Finish the ambulatory meal at Osteria Bancogiro, where you can nibble on black polenta topped with baccalà mantecato – the whipped cod spread is a local specialty – at a perch overlooking the adjacent piazza.
Tadao’s theatre After transforming Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana into contemporary arts centres for the collections of the French businessman François Pinault, the renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando turned his attention to Teatrino, a formerly abandoned theatre. In May 2013, the revamped, starkly modernist structure reopened with a 225-seat auditorium suitable for performances, lectures and screenings. Take a seat and enjoy what’s on. Short films, such as a recent pairing of video works from the French artist Laurent Montaron, often loop all day.
Dorsoduro designs Every third shop sells masks and Murano glass trinkets, but for less touristy souvenirs head to the southern sestiere of Dorsoduro. Laboratorio 2729 is a design studio and shop where the modish tableware ranges from cutting boards fashioned from slabs of maple to geometric-shaped wine stoppers. A few doors down, the boutique Madera stocks beautiful jewellery, handbags and housewares from local designers. And across a canal at Gualti, find wearable art such as delicate leaf-shaped brooches and statement-making pleated-taffeta wraps.
Cannaregio chow Whet your appetite with a spritz and some cicchetti at Al Timon, a canalside bacaro in Cannaregio where regulars spill out along the sidewalk nightly. Then settle in for a seafood-centric dinner at Anice Stellato, a rustic osteria nearby. Most tables order the frittura mista – a tangle of fried squid, whole shrimp, small fish and vegetables (€19) – but don’t skip the starters, such as stuffed calamari in a rich tomato sauce with grilled polenta (€11).
Insider action Venice nightlife got a boost last August when El Sbarlefo San Pantalon opened on an alley in Dorsoduro. Neon-yellow wall lights and pendant lamps illuminate this sleek little bar, where live music on weekends might be a jazz pianist or a rockabilly trio entertaining the crowd. Later, seek out Enoiteca Mascareta, one of the few spots open past midnight. A low-key, industry place, this friendly wine bar is where chefs and servers from nearby restaurants congregate after their shifts to flirt over a glass of wine or a well-mixed gin and tonic.
Sunday 10.30 am
Sweet start Wake up at Torrefazione Marchi, a bustling coffee bar and roastery where Venetians have been slinging back their morning caffè since the 1930s. It’s elbow to elbow at the wooden counter, so make haste with a caffè macchiato, espresso “stained” with foamed milk (€1.10). Need a more substantial breakfast? Stop at Suso Gelatoteca for a sandwich – of the sweet variety. The artisanal gelateria’s twist on an ice-cream sandwich involves a thick slice of panettone stuffed with two generous scoops of gelato, one of which ought to be the divine Manet flavour: creamy salted pistachio layered atop chocolate-hazelnut gianduja (€3.50).
Tintoretto time Escape the midday crowds at the usually empty Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto, whose 14th-century Venetian Gothic facade faces a quiet square in northern Cannaregio (admission €2.50). Inside are several masterpieces by Jacopo Tintoretto, the Venetian painter who is interred in the church’s Chapel of Tintoretto. For more of his works, head to Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a confraternity institution where the upper hall’s walls and vast ceiling are decorated with a biblical series so spectacular it is referred to as “Tintoretto’s Sistine Chapel” (admission €10).
Water views For a final, unforgettable Venetian vista, hop on a vaporetto bound for San Giorgio Maggiore, an island just east of Giudecca. Alight in front of the 16th-century Benedictine church and ascend the adjoining bell tower (€5). From this campanile, the priceless panorama spans the lagoon, the Lido, and the more than 100 islands interconnected by canals big and small that make up this most magical of Italian cities.
Palazzo Fortuny, San Marco 3780; fortuny.visitmuve.it.
Gritti Palace, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio 2467; thegrittipalace.com.
Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista, San Polo 2454; venicemusicproject.it.
CoVino, Calle del Pestrin, Castello 3829A/3829; covinovenezia.com.
I Gesuiti, Campo dei Gesuiti. Chiesa di San Sebastiano, Campo San Sebastiano 1686.
Osteria alla Ciurma, San Polo 406; osteriaciurma.it.
All’Arco, San Polo 436.
Cantina do Spade, San Polo 859/860; cantinadospade.com.
Osteria Bancogiro, San Polo 122; osteriabancogiro.it.
Teatrino, Campo San Samuele 3231; palazzograssi.it/en/museum/teatrino.
Laboratorio 2729, Dorsoduro 2729; lab2729.com.
Madera, Dorsoduro 2762;maderavenezia.it.
Gualti, Dorsoduro 3111; gualti.it.
Al Timon, Cannaregio 2754.
Anice Stellato, Cannaregio 3272; osterianicestellato.com.
El Sbarlefo San Pantalon, Dorsoduro 3757.
Enoiteca Mascareta, Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa 5183; ostemaurolorenzon.it.
Torrefazione Marchi, Cannaregio 1337; torrefazionemarchi.it.
Suso Gelatoteca, Calle della Bissa, San Marco 5453; gelatovenezia.it.
Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto, Cannaregio 3512; madonnadellorto.org.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, San Polo 3052; scuolagrandesanrocco.it.
Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore, Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore.
LODGING Better save up before bedding down on the Grand Canal. At the illustrious Gritti Palace (Campo Santa Maria del Giglio 2467; thegrittipalace.com), with its 82 recently restored rooms and suites, rates start around €900. And at the Aman Canal Grande (Calle Tiepolo 1364; amanresorts.com/amancanalgrandevenice), a rarefied resort that opened in 2013 in a rococo-meets-modern palazzo, the 24 rooms start at €1,150. Find more reasonable rates and a warm welcome at the Hotel Arcadia (Cannaregio 1333; hotelarcadia.net; from €170 ), a new boutique hotel with 17 modern rooms in a restored palazzo on Cannaregio’s main drag. Included is an outstanding breakfast buffet served beneath wood-beamed ceilings and a gorgeous Murano-glass chandelier.
© 2014 The New York Times, distributed by The New York Times Syndicate