As the famed modern art collector Peggy Guggenheim, who lived in Venice, once said, “It is always assumed that Venice is the ideal place for a honeymoon. This is a grave error. To live in Venice or even to visit it means that you fall in love with the city itself. There is nothing left over in your heart for anyone else.”
Venice is indeed one of the most beautiful cities in the world — it has romantic scenery, historic buildings, and serene canals. The “sinking city” as we know it, built on a Mediterranean lagoon, can provide an adventurous romp through Italy’s architectural and cultural history.
Wandering down Venice's labyrinth of cobblestone streets, you can delve into the oft-hidden corners that inspired some of the greatest artists of our time: Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Mann, among others, worked in Venice. If you're looking for a little inspiration of your own, here are the lesser-known Venetian islands, far away from the tourist traps.
Accessible by most vaporetto boat lines, Lido is a 10-minute ride from San Eleni. As you arrive, you can see Hotel Riviera at the shore. Filled with hot sand and a restaurant strip, this island is full of local Venetians: a postwar real-estate boom in the 1960s saw many move to the island. In fact, this 11-kilometre-long sandbar is home to roughly 20,000 locals, which is one-third of the Venetian core’s residential population. It has a camping hotspot and you can actually ride bikes on this island with Bike Rental Lido — a rarity for Venice. Home to the annual Venice Film Festival every September, the island has been a refuge for great European thinkers, including German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,and English poet Lord Byron and French dramatist Alfred de Musset. The north, which has the Grand Hotel des Bains, is famed for inspiring German writer Thomas Mann’s classic 1912 novel Death in Venice.
The oldest part of Venice, it takes about an hour to get to Torcello by vaporetto. Home to the famed 12th century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of Santa Fosca, you can stroll across the Ponte del Viavolo to find a forest reserve. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, founded in 639, still stands today, featuring colourful mosaics to gaze into on sunny days, including 11th and 12th century Byzantine work.
Ernest Hemingway spent time on Torcello in 1948, where he wrote Across the River and Into the Trees, at the Locanda Hotel. Today, the often celebrity-filled hotel is still owned by the Cipriani family, who established it here in 1934. Nearby, the Locanda Cipriani restaurant serves traditional Venetian cuisine. The world-renowned Bellini cocktail — Prosecco and peach nectar — was invented in the 1930s by Giuseppe Cipriani.
Known as the glass island, Murano is still a glass production centre; the island has hosted its now-legendary glassblowing tradition since 1291. While it began on the mainland, Venetian glassblowers were sent to Murano, as their glasswork studios were a fire hazard to the city, which was heavily built by wood.
Since Venetians on Murano were the only Europeans who knew how to make glass mirrors, they honed their skills to develop enamel glass, multi-coloured glass and milk glass, known as lattimo.
Murano is famed for its export of mirrors and glassware, including chandeliers and lampshades, but if you visit, don't miss the glass jewellery, made from beautiful glass beads. The Murano Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro) digs deeper into the island's glass history, which is set in the 15th century late Venetian Gothic Palazzo Giustinian. The Murano glass collection starts with Venetian mosaic glass works, Venetian beads and techniques that grew in the 15th century masterpieces.
This island is a dream, filled with canals and summery, rainbow homes painted in purple, yellow and red. An archipelago of four islands linked by bridges, Murano is known for handmade lace. From the vaporetto stop Fondamenta Nuove, it takes roughly 40 minutes to get there. The Venice Lace Museum (Museo del Merletto) outlines the intricate lace history in the historic palace of Podestà of Torcello in Piazza Galuppi, which was once known as the famous Burano lace school.
Leonardo da Vinci visited the island in 1481, when he purchased a cloth for the main altar of his masterpiece at the Duomo di Milano. And while Pisa is the Italian city with the leaning tower, the famous Church of San Martino in Murano has its own a leaning campanile. Stroll past the 13th century church of Santa Caterina to check out local restaurants, such as the Trattoria Al Gatto Nero, which serves fresh seafood and homemade pasta (just look for the blue building).
This island was a monastery in the middle ages: in 11th century, the Benedictine monks of San Giorgio Maggiore took it over, and built a church dedicated to St. Bartholomew.
Surrounded by salt marshes, Lazzaretto Nuovo was once an important salt resource. The main building on the island is called Tezon Grande; it's the largest public building in the city (after the Corderie), but what makes Tezon Grande distinctive are the drawings and script on the walls that tell the tales of ancient merchants and guards.
Keen to take a trip to Venice? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to Italy here.