For me, just saying “Venice” transports me completely. It conjures up the low sun casting warm light on the crumbling pastel walls of the palazzos; their heavy facades rising up from the green waters of quiet canals. If you’re not careful, Venice can be a sweltering study in weaving your way through slow moving ranks of day tourists from one photo opportunity to the next.
But an indulgent Venice of quiet moments and cool shaded terraces still exists. The Venetian secret is too not chase the bewitching city; but rather sit back and let her come to you. Take a seat in a comfortable wicker chair and watch the world pass by as the water beads up on your prosecco glass and small white plates of clean, fresh seafood; arrive at your table. If you can find the right hotel, the right view, and the right food, you can experience a Venice that most travellers believe to be a thing of the past.
Step one: Check into your 16th Century Biedermeier finished room at the historic Londra Palace Hotel and throw back the curtains to look out over the most awe inspiring lagoon view in Venice.
It is little wonder that Tchaikovsky was inspired by this epic view to complete his Symphony Number Four. The vignettes of Venetian life viewed from one of the hundred windows of the Londra Palace are the stuff of Venetian fantasy. The rumbling din of the tour groups on the promenade below is replaced by the hypnotic, rhythmic thumping of passing canal boats, water taxis and Gondoliers leaning heavy on their black oars. The horizon is a moving backdrop of colourful sails and flags fluttering in the lagoon breeze; the cool, chalky water stretching out to the tall Basilica on nearby San Giorgio Island.
After the view has melted away any tension, seat yourself at the heavy wooden writing desk, tuck into a few of the house selected chocolate truffles that await every guest upon check in and pen a few of those “wish you were here” letters that you’ve been meaning to send to your friends back home. The heavy, cream-colored stationary may not make you a symphony composer, but will certainly bring out your inner poet.
Step 2: Enjoy a refreshing Bellini at Londrabar.
After you’ve written your masterpiece, and the heat of the afternoon sun has waned, wind down the marble stairs to the clean white lobby and take a seat at a heavy stool for an aperitivo at Londrabar. Head bartender Marino has a passion for the traditional cocktails of the Veneto that celebrate the sweet, ripe fruits of the orchards. Ask him what is at its peak and you’ll be rewarded with a fragrant, white peach Bellini or a smooth Kiwi-Midori Mojito. Marino hand mixes all of his fruit blends with a balance of sugar and citrus. The cocktail menu of Martinis, Mojitos and classics reads like a gallery list of curated art.
Step 3: Cloudy unfiltered Prosecco and the day’s freshest seafood at La Cantina.
With your appetite fired up and your mind in the soft hazy afterglow of a perfect cocktail, take to the cobbled streets. Swing off the wide boulevard and tuck into the narrow, back-alleys through Castello and listen to your footsteps echo in the solitude. Cross a few polished stone bridges, throw a nod to the late day Gondoliers chatting and smoking cigarettes in their striped shirts and find yourself a heavy wooden table on the patio at La Cantina.
Owner and consummate host Francesco doesn’t bother writing out a menu. Each day you can count on an array of the freshest seafood the day boats have to offer as well as his classic collection of cured meats and local cheese. Ask for a bottle of his house-sourced, unfiltered Prosecco; clean and tart, it is the perfect sip to accompany tender scallops or a clean Carpaccio of Branzino. Francesco can keep the dishes coming, each taste brighter than the last, but save yourself.
Step 4: Epic dinner at Ristorante Quadri.
For the ultimate indulgence in contemporary Venetian cuisine, head to the opulent second story dining room of Ristorante Quadri on St. Mark’s square. Ascend the stairs and leave the evening strollers behind. The dining room is a magical mix of colourful baroque details, dark fabrics, contemporary furniture and settings that are the perfect canvas for the inspired cuisine. Quadri is the sister restaurant of the famous Le Calandre restaurant a few miles inland, where Head chef Massimiliano Alajmo became the youngest chef in Italy to receive the 3-Star Michelin nod. The creativity has flowed toward the sea, and Ristorante Quadri carries the torch of innovation brilliantly. Executive Chef Silvio Giavedoni curates offerings that ride the tides and the seasons. Ask for the freshest and the boldest. You’ll be rewarded with culinary artwork like steamed lobster with roe sauce and black rice crisps or Venetian-style fried fish with Quadri sauce. As the night draws, the glowing lamps lined up in St. Mark’s Square filter in through the double height windows casting a dreamy glow, reminding you that you are enjoying one of the truly spectacular views of the world.
Step 5: Grab a nightcap bottle of wine at Enoteca Millevini.
On the way back to the room, stop and grab a bottle of Amarone wine to enjoy on the veranda as you watch the twinkling lights of boats and stars dance on the calm waters of the lagoon. MilleVini literally stocks a thousand different varieties in his impossibly high showroom. Owner and curator Lorenzo is more than glad to educate you on the nuances of Prosecco, or the history of Amarone. Tell him your tastes and with a wink and an inspired wave of his finger, you’ll have the perfect bottle to bookend your perfect Venetian evening.
There are countless ways to try to fancy up a stay in Venice. But the moments that will stay with you are those where you find yourself still and at ease, watching Venice pass by as you take in a view, sipping a cold aperitivo while the whirling masses blur past you – map in hand – on the hunt for the next “must see” historical sight. But Venice is not only history. She still exists; quiet, majestic, and full of character. You just need to know where to look.
Sage Russell is Editor of Food Pilgrimage.