Destination / globetrotter / Italy / journalist / review / Travel / travel writer / Venice

Opulence, elegance and extravagance in Venice


What did I gain from Venice? 3 pounds of fat, some pretty clothing and a most memorable evening, steeped in red wine and embalmed in Tiramisu, down an obscure alleyway Trattoria. I say, ‘late,’ rather Venice sleeps early. Unlike the typical Italian culture of eating late, Venice dines by 8pm and the streets are deserted by 11pm, especially on a Sunday or public holiday.

For every photographic gem, (I found a thousand in 3 days), there are quadruple-fold holidaymakers.

Is Venice for you?

Every inch of the city is an artwork; a masterpiece borne of a fantastical mind. It’s impossible to get truly lost but I had a jolly good time trying and wiled away many hours photographing my findings. You can’t be shy on your feet in Venice, it’s a walker’s haven of discovery and a non-walker’s hell of a loss. The public ferry, though quite an amusing experience the first time, is harrowing unless you’re partial to invasion of personal space. I was elbow-shoved out of a queue, exiting the waterbus, by a little old Italian lady. Old but fierce. Rest assured, she felt no remorse nor even acknowledged her action, moreover glared back at me like a winning Gladiator.

The Venetians disprove of tourists, yet the city survives on their income. The dilemma doesn’t deter the locals from making their dislike known. It’s vented through gentle gestures of jostling and affectionate displays of ‘tutting’, as tourists do tend to block the gangling pathways to take a photograph; admittedly, rather annoying in any city.

Getting the Gondola

The spindly waterways feed through Venice, every vein nourishing each vicinity. The all-essential Gondola ride will whisk you through the dark mystical waterways by moonlight, gliding under tiny brick bridges and sliding through a snail’s trail of the back-city. By nightfall, it’s an altogether more magical Bond-esque experience, slipping through meandering waterways with a Gondola punter, champagne in hand, catching rare glimpse of a loved-up couple embraced in a passionate kiss, having most-likely indulged in a bottle or two of burgundy.

Unrivalled luxury at premium prices

Post-‘The Tourist,’ reservations have risen and the renowned Hotel Danieli is almost always booked up. I opted for the Orient-Express recommended Ca’Sagredo. The 5*deluxe hotel doubles up as a unique 14th century Palace and has been declared a National Monument.  Think tasteful opulence meets nobility meets elegant grandeur and Ca’Sagredo doesn’t disappoint. Painting, music, sculpture and architecture intermingle to create a museum and series of rooms covered in delightful stucco works and bas relieves depicting birds, exotic animals, symbols of the arts and trophies. The historic casino within now features as 2 elegant suites, with the original Alcove decoration currently preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I was entranced by the grand staircase hallway leading up to the stunning breakfast suites. The palazzo impression overwhelms walking past the cherub figurines holding guard over the grand stairway. Up the stairs, Pietro Longhi’s extraordinarily beautiful 17th century frescoes transport you through the clouds, angels and heavens to an equally blissful breakfast, with a gentle backdrop of soft opera adding to the palatial image. The palazzo passed hands from one of the most prestigious families of Venetian nobility, the Sagredo’s.

Make no mistake, Venice is pricey. It can be done on the cheap, but from what I could see, might feel a bit like roughing it in such opulent, wealthy and culturally rich surroundings. I felt the stab of expense the moment we landed at Marco Polo airport. The quickest (and most enjoyable) transport to Venice Island is by private ‘water taxi’ – a speedboat. That’s a flat rate of 110 Euros. Rather steep for a 15min journey. They are the most exclusive form of transport and will certainly make you feel like ‘Angelina Jolie in the Tourist’ as the rest of Venice watches, so you can expect to pay the ‘glamour puss’ price tag.

Hunting around for dinner, the best food is, as always, found at the most local Trattoria’s. And you don’t have to strain your eye or leg muscles trying to find one. Wander down the most random alleyways with a little persistence and you’ll surely enough stumble right into one – look out for the green or red canopies. In fact, I bumped into some friends whilst out exploring. That evening we headed to the Orient Express recommended Hotel Cipriani for drinks. It has its own private boat transfer from the main island, just off the central focal point of San Marco. If you have a few days to explore and relax in Venice, opt to stay here on Giudecca Island. It’s larger than Ca’Sagredo but comes with all the frills. And as it’s away from the main island, you can roam the hustle and bustle to your heart’s content and then return to this oasis of tranquillity, overlooking the lagoon and Doge’s Palace. A Bellini is never far from one’s lips in Venice. Here, expect to pay London’s top West End prices for cocktails, but well worth it for the serene ambience and unrivalled location.

There’s only one: Harry’s Bar

But there’s only one place to go for THE Bellini. The birthplace of the Bellini, the watering hole from which it was born: the infamous Harry’s Bar. Just off San Marco on Venice Island itself, Harry’s is the place to see and be seen. Dating back to 1931, it was Harry’s brainchild to open the first bar outside a luxury hotel to host European aristocracy and young Venetians.   And so, it grew. The one-and-only guest book contains the scribblings of Orson Welles, Peggy Guggenheim and Charlie Chaplin.  And Harry’s Bar was given much free promotion in the works of Ernest Hemingway, as he comfortably installed himself within it during the long cold winter of 1949-50. The original peach Bellini is delicious and the perfect way to wash down a sumptuous cocoa chocolate dessert or vanilla meringue pie – I greedily had both! Dress to impress here and you’ll be appreciated for it. The waiters love a well-dressed lady and, I remembered reading an American tourist’s experience online, where she’d gone in wearing shorts to be greeted by the waiter, ‘I see Madam has gone to a lot of effort.’ True or not, I can understand the philosophy. Harry’s Bar is enveloped in a refined history of its own, so appropriate attire would only serve as respectable to do the place justice.

Artistic ventures 

Of the countless museums, I carefully selected the ones of particular interest to me.

The National Museum in San Marco is truly worth the entrance fee. Housed in a monumental treasure, the permanent collections offer something for every type of art lover: from historic coins, figurines and busts to paintings, sculptures and contemporary works detailing every aspect of Venetian history. The views of San Marco and the Basilica, from the grand bay windows the length of St Mark’s Square, is itself a picturesque landscape.

There are free musical and operatic museums that you’ll wander across and wonder about because the facades are covered in cherubs and sculptures. They’re grand old buildings and you can just wander in and mooch around.

The renowned Guggenheim is one of two of my most-loved yet contrasting museums in my favourite part of Venice; the arts district. It’s everything I had imagined Venice to be: serene, picture-perfect waterways, typically Venetian cafe’s and gelaterias. Walking this way made me feel I’d left the tourist-trap part of Venice behind and entered the quaint, original and traditional version.

I saved the best for last as I visited the Palazzo Grassi at the end. Occupying prime position on the banks of the canal, the exterior of the building is spectacular. But the wow factor is most definitely on stepping inside. Whilst  there, I got to see Urs Fischer’s ‘Madame Fischer’ exhibition. When I wasn’t ogling at some strange or odd contraption, said to be art and inspired to provoke confusion, I rememberd to look up at the ceiling. Each room of this palace has a distinctively unique ceiling decorated in frescoes, ornaments, gilt and further lavish coverings. From the top floor, the view extends out across the rooftops of what seems to be an entire city. The most striking image is a sea of red rooftops against an azure lagoon. Even stumbling across a naked woman on display, part of the exhibition, didn’t compare to the beauty of the palazzo itself. A stunning palace museum dominating a gorgeous location and the perfect place to end any trip to Venice, indulging in a coffee ‘Shakerato’ watching the world go by.

2 thoughts on “Opulence, elegance and extravagance in Venice

  1. Thanks for sharing this nice blog. Did you know that The NATIONAL MUSEUM “IL BARGELLO” has its setting in one of the oldest buildings in Florence and one of the most beautiful in Italy!

    • Thanks segmation. I have read about Bargello – it’s a Palazzo too, I believe. Would love to go to Florence and Tuscany, I’ve been told they’re very beautiful and serene.

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