21 July 2024

Take a trip down the Grand Canal
Venice's hidden gems
By gondola or following an expert, Caroline Hendrie discovers secret hideaways she never knew existed
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liding under the Bridge of Sighs, looking up at the high walls of the Doge's Palace, then under dark, low bridges and sharp turns past shuttered apartments and crumbling palazzos so close that their inhabitants could almost shake hands with their neighbours opposite, this was a Venice I had never seen before. Just yards from teeming St Mark's Square, the only sound was the lapping of water on the gondolier's oar as he deftly steered us along tiny canals where no sightseer on foot can ever venture.

On previous visits, I had always rejected the idea of a gondola ride, imagining it could never live up to the expense. But this gentle 30-minute trip around the city's hidden backwaters was tremendous value at €20 per person.
Discover hidden treasures along the less-travelled backwaters
into a vase at one of the island's foundries. I was also engrossed by the recently revamped glass museum, with its collection of exquisite works from the 15th Century to the present day, and had a bargain lunch with the locals in a simple trattoria on a quiet square. And having got this far, I went by water bus to Burano, the island of lace, which has the most photogenic, colourful houses, a leaning tower and another excellent museum. My base was Hotel Principe, on the Grand Canal, with a terrace to watch the river traffic.

On the first morning - with invaluable local guide Piero - the theme was classic Venice, taking us past the Accademia housing the largest collection of Venetian art in the world, lingering outside numerous churches and La Fenice opera house, and through St Mark's Square to the Cathedral. With perfect timing, we emerged from St Mark's to see the bronze figures on the top of the 15th Century clock tower hammering out 11am on the huge bell.

A three-day vaporetto pass was great value, letting you hop on and off water buses. Alighting from the handy Number 1 at Ca' Rezzonico, I was at the foot of the steps to the delightful Museum of the 18th Century, a baroque palazzo once owned by the painter son of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. The biggest gastronomic hit was dinner in the Met, in the elegant surroundings of Hotel Metropole - with a sophisticated version of cod and chips a final Venetian delightful surprise.

Original article published in Aug 2015. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
I had never made the effort to visit Murano before either - I'd dismissed the idea of squandering time shopping for the kitsch glass animals and fussy chandeliers that it's famous for. But two days later I was watching a glassblower turn a molten blob
"This trip around the city's hidden backwaters was tremendous value."
0330·100·2220i 0330 calls are included within inclusive minutes package on mobiles, otherwise standard rates apply. X 0330 calls are included within inclusive minutes package on mobiles, otherwise standard rates apply. X