Venice, Italy has been on my Bucket List since I was a little kid. I have always wanted to see it in person. Since Venice is only about a three-hour flight from Paris, it’s VERY doable as a weekend trip! Hallelujah!
We had Easter weekend free this year, so we decided to head southwest to where the Old World meets the Adriatic sea. Our goals were simple: to eat beautiful Italian food and to watch the world glide by — while we relaxed in the sun and sipped Soave. It was going to be a quick trip, but I wasn’t worried. I’m a girl who knows how to plan.
Our flight landed at two in the afternoon, and we immediately took a water taxi to the hotel. Sure, there are other ways to make your way from the airport: cab to the train, then a train to the island…even a water bus. But when your time is limited, there’s nothing that gets you into the mindset of Venice faster than a private water taxi. You fly across the water at top speed from the airport to the entrance of the city. Then your boat slows to a crawl, and everything changes. It’s like being transported back in time. There are no cars, no motorcycles, no bicycles. You hear almost nothing but the waves lapping up against your boat, the low hum of the now-quiet motor, and of course, the gondoliers singing Italian arias and playing accordions as they float past you along the canal.
The moment you make the turn onto the Grand Canal, you see Venice exactly as it is in the movies. The view takes your breath away, and that boat ride makes you feel like an old-fashioned film star. What’s more, before you’ve even unloaded your bags, you’ve already had the perfect introduction to Venice, cruising along the Grand Canal like people have done for centuries.
As we eased over to the dock of our hotel, we were greeted by the concierge. The Hotel Canal Grande is named for the canal on which it sits, and we chose it very carefully. It’s about a half hour walk from where most tourists stay, so it’s quiet and peaceful. And of course, it’s beautiful: an ancient building decorated with classic antiques and pale silk fabrics. The people at the hotel are kind and completely charming. In particular, the manager was amazing; his name was Alessandro. (How sexy it that?)
When we arrived, he told us that he was upgrading our room…HIS TREAT. I had been emailing him back and forth, asking for ways to make our short visit more fun: private tours he recommended, restaurants he loved, etc. Long story short, he ended up giving us the only room in the hotel with a private terrace. This sweet little space sported two chaise lounges with a gorgeous view of the Grand Canal, and it even came with a bottle of Prosecco on ice. Needless to say, I fell in love with Alessandro, the hotel, AND Venice immediately.
I had never stayed in a room with a private terrace before, so I had no idea what I had been missing, but it absolutely MADE the trip! Whenever we came back to the hotel in the afternoon, we’d sit out there for an hour or so, resting our feet while we sipped Prosecco or a cappuccino. And every night before bed, Leon would ask the bartender for a snifter of Sambuca for him and a pot of hot tea for me. We’d lie out there under a big blanket, staring at the stars and the beautiful marble bridge across the canal while we watched gondola after gondola pass our way. It was heaven!
Venice is simply gorgeous. It is a collection of 117 small islands connected by 409 bridges. Now, I feel compelled to point out something about Venice that no one ever tells you. Walking there all day is like doing 12 hours on the stairmaster at the gym. Every 100 feet or so, there’s a bridge, which you expect. What you don’t take in to consideration is that almost every bridge is a flight of stairs up and a flight back down. Sometimes on the bigger canals, it’s more like two or three flights up and down. I hurt in places I didn’t even know I had. But it was totally worth it!
One of the few things I booked for the trip was our own private gondola tour of Venice — with the only female gondoliera in the city: Alex Hai. We took her Romantic Sunset Tour. This private tour is scheduled for 6pm, to allow you to watch the sun set from the boat while you sip Prosecco from crystal flutes. For a slightly higher fee, she even agreed to extend the normal tour from one hour to an hour and a half. We cuddled together in the gondola underneath a big, cozy blanket while we glided through the city. By the time the tour was over, we felt like we’d been on vacation for a week! We’d explored not only the Grand Canal, but also many of the smaller canals that are less traveled, and somehow she avoided all the gondola traffic jams that other tourists complain about. It was marvelous. As we floated along the water after sunset, we watched the city grow dark and the street lamps begin to glow pink. Do you know why they glow pink? It’s the gold dust. All the street lamps in the city are made from glass, hand blown in Murano, and the gold dust that’s blown into the panes tinges them a light pink. What a fairy tale!
Alex kept quiet most of the time so we could enjoy the romance of it all, but whenever we passed something especially interesting or had a question, she would explain the history of that part of the city. She even pointed out the building where George Clooney got married, and I had my very own moment of silence – to mourn the loss of one of my favorite singletons. At the end of the cruise, she handed me a long-stemmed, red rose and wished us a lovely night, which, of course, it was.
In all honesty, just the gondola ride and sitting on our terrace would have been enough to make this one of our favorite vacations, but then there was the food. The first night we ate at a place called Bistrot de Venise. There were no reservations available, but the owner, Sergio, told me to come at 9:30 and he would fit us in somehow.
Since we knew we didn’t have to be at the restaurant until 9:30, we wandered over to Saint Mark’s Square to listen to the live orchestra at Cafe Florian. I sipped some of the world’s best hot chocolate and Leon had one of his favorites, Lightning Sambuca. The night felt absolutely magical, and we hadn’t even had dinner yet. At around 9:15 we headed back over to the restaurant, figuring the place would be empty by then, but boy were we wrong. Sergio wasn’t kidding, there wasn’t a table available anywhere; they had reservations scheduled until 11:30! But true to his word, they gave us the very next table — one in the corner of a romantic room lined in red velvet. I had a bellini while Leon chose red wine, and we feasted on tempura calamari and shrimp that dissolved on your tongue, homemade linguini with scallops and baby asparagus, and for dessert, white chocolate torte with rose gelato. We strolled back to the hotel (and…you guessed it) spent the next hour star-gazing from our terrace. (Thank you, Alessandro, for the best room in the world!)
The next morning was Easter, so after breakfast, we made the long walk to Saint Mark’s Square for our pilgrimage to the Basilica. Standing there in front of that gorgeous cathedral on Easter morning, listening to the bells peal and echo throughout the square, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. It felt sacred. I prayed for all our friends, our families and just for everyone on earth. I prayed that each of us would take moments in our lives to realize how blessed we are just to wake up each morning, just to be part of this beautiful world for the time that we’re here.
Later, we took a tour of the Doge’s Palace to study its art as well as its history. As we walked across the Bridge of Sighs to the prison, we learned how seriously the Venetians took their politics. If there was a politician who ended up being bad at his job, not only was he killed, but so were all the people who voted for him! The result? The minute a politician did anything wrong, his own supporters killed him. And we think American politics is cut-throat!
After the tour, we sought out a hidden little gallery with a glass blowing shop upstairs. There were no slots available in any of the exhibitions that day, so they made an exception and fit us in between two tour groups, giving us our own private glass blowing lesson and tour. It was fascinating.
We chose a little place called Trattoria Povoledo for lunch. It was right across the Grand Canal from our hotel. The maitre d’ Roberto, had reserved a table for us right on the water. The people were friendly and welcoming. The food was light and delicious. and the view was so gorgeous that we ate there three times in two and a half days! We sat in the sunshine, sipping Soave right on the Grand Canal, and ate beautiful, grilled, flakey white fish, homemade pasta and real Italian pizza. All the while, our adorable waitress, Ivanka, gave me Italian lessons. I couldn’t have loved it more.
Afterwards, we wandered back to our beautiful hotel – to our tiny, private terrace to drink our final bottle of Prosecco and gaze out at the Grand Canal. What a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.
And Venice…What a wonderful way to travel back in time.
* If you want to learn more about our beautiful hotel, the Canal Grande, click here: http://www.hotelcanalgrande.it
* If you want to learn more about Venice’s only female gondoliera, Alex Hai, click here: http://www.gondoliera.com
* If you want to look over the menu of the wonderful Povoledo restaurant, with its huge outdoor dining room on the Grand Canal, click here: http://www.trattoriapovoledo.com