The only way to immerse oneself into the true medieval atmosphere of Venice is to get totally lost amidst the labyrinth of canals and narrow alleys. And what a surprise to find so many beautiful places without a soul in sight. Just turn a corner into any narrow, lonely alley which will either reach a dead end or a hidden treasure.
Punta della Dogana separates the Grand Canal from the even larger Giudecca Canal. This used to be the ancient customs house where every ship entering Venice from all corners of the globe would stop to be inspected and then allowed to discharge their cargo in the city. Not far from the Guggenheim Museum, this historical landmark has now been turned into a contemporary art exhibition venue. The vast spaces and original red brick walls create an intriguing scenario for any exhibit. Jutting out into the sea, this point offers the best views onto the prominent areas of Venice like St. Mark’s Square and the island of St. Giorgio, as well as the comings and goings of the busy water traffic.
Miraculous Saint Mary’s
The marble church of St. Maria dei Miracoli was built to host a wooden statue of St. Mary in it’s serene and welcoming interior. This statue was believed to be miraculous by the Venetians and they therefore erected a gem in her honor. The facade is an intrinsic Renaissance masterpiece that glistens on a sunny day, while the interior is compact and gracious. The altar is raised up a flight of marble stairs while the wooden painted ceiling is a true marvel.
Across the canal in front of the church is a small quaint square with colored houses, bars and restaurants and a few stores. This open space was actually the sight of a church destroyed by Napoleon. Benches and shady trees make it an ideal spot for a rest and people watching.
The Hands Hotel
The fascinating Ca Sagredo Palazzo on the Grand canal is not only a wonderful hotel but also an interesting museum. The sweeping marble staircase leading to the grand salon is an enchanting work of art. All the rooms on the main floor can be visited and are all embellished with wonderful frescos by famous Venetian artists. Ornate gilded ceilings and imposing Murano chandeliers adorn all the rooms. To take a step back in time and feel the true spirit of the majesty and splendor of 17th century Venice, spend a night at the museum! Or at least have a meal or drink on their panoramic terrace overlooking the kaleidoscope which is the Grand Canal.
Take a walk on the quiet side
Walk along the waterfront leaving the hustle and bustle of St. Mark’s square behind you and the further on you get the fewer tourists you will meet. Be sure to stop and admire the imposing entrance to the ancient shipyard of the Arsenale, with it’s impressive towers and magical reflections in the quiet canal. This is what remains of what used to be the most important part of the city, the place where the republic built the warships used to establish an enormous and rich trading empire. Carry on exploring the area and you will stumble upon the authentic Venice, made of locals, boat-decked fruit markets, colored houses and lines of laundry fluttering above your heads.
Head on towards the basilica of San Pietro di Castello to find the oldest basilica in Venice. This small island is where it all began being the sight of the first settlements of the lagoon. This was the main cathedral in Venice until 1807 when this role was taken over by St.Mark’s. One of the rare grassy areas of Venice with many large trees and benches to relax and enjoy the quiet canal and the serene charm of the real Venice.
Venice can be and is very crowded, but actually there are more off the beaten path areas than one can imagine and they can be found without much effort. Throw away the guide books and you will discover the true Serenissima!
Anna Moggia is Owner of Boutique Hotel Zenana. Boutique Hotel Zenana is a charming, family-run B&B in the mountain town of San Candido/Innichen in the UNESCO Dolomites.
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