LANDING at Marco Polo International Airport, the sun was rising, which afforded a stunning site that will never cease to amaze me. The light was pure and the glint off the buildings as boats were zipping around the Lido left me breathless. It helped me focus on the city that I have never stayed in before as my fiancé promised me we would eat, drink and shop, like the locals do.
'It was time to combine the culture and grandeur of the most romantic city in the world, with the peaceful countryside of the River Sile'
When I was on a school trip back in the 70’s, we were lucky enough to visit Venice on a rainy day in March. My memories included the Rialto Bridge and a spectacular funeral on the water. But it did leave me with rather a macabre view of this city.
Darting across the Adriatic on a shared water taxi, we arrived at the Ponte dell'Accademia, one of only four bridges in Venice, where we touched the hallowed ground of a population of just 58,000, while the visitors are a cool 25 million a year. 118 islands to explore, the Adriatic Sea, the impending wedding of George Clooney the following week and the best food market in Italy awaited my degustation.
We met our guide, Christine, from an American based outfit called Walks Of Italy. She promised an exploration of Venetian food and wine, where we would learn how to navigate the island’s restaurants and cuisine like a true insider. Strap line: ‘Experience the bustling Rialto produce and fish markets, stroll the streets that have been selling the same foods and spices for centuries, and, of course, enjoy tastings –including panini, crostini, fritti, Prosecco, local wine, a caffè and grappa!’ Sounded divine.
We met in a secluded square behind the Rialto Bridge, where The Merchant of Venice was filmed with Al Pacino a few years prior. We visited Osteria Bancogiro, which was previously one of the first Jewish banks in the city. We feasted on Prosecco at 10am as the Venetians do with delightful mouthfuls of S-shaped buttery biscuits called ‘Essa Buanelli’ and perfectly sculptured toasts of cheese and ham. Al Merca next door provided a further divine Prosecco that washed down the food.
The bustling market beckoned us just a few steps away and I remember seeing the view before, then it clicked, The film, The Tourist’, with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, was set here. Remember the scene where Johnny hot footed it over the roof tops to escape from the evil elements.
Sadly he was nowhere to be seen this time, but the fruit and vegetable market was an abundant delight. It was porcini season and the aromatic smell was too much to resist as, ditto with the green beans and cauliflower. All this encouraged me to purchase ahead of our holiday on the water organised by Le Boat.
The next stop was the fish market and as a keen pescetarian I was immediately in love. Canoce lagoon lobsters, green crabs with a soft shell at just 45 euros a kilo, the ugly fish, the oysters, it went on and on
By now I was getting a bit peckish again and Christine, who was the most interesting of guides, led us to Jacob Casanova’s place, Cantina do Mori – the restaurant of the two swords, located in a back alley. Knowing that the lothario, Casanova, had frequented this establishment we tucked into Spumante – it means ‘full of bubbles’ unlike its relative Prosecco, which means ‘half bubbles’. We tasted Macadam courgettes filled with soft cheese as well as meat and cheese treats
Next stop was the oldest bar in Venice, adorned with copper pots and run by the same lady for 55 years – called Arco. Cantina do Mari is a place for standing only. We made haste to the pavement and set up camp for our degustation. It’s all about finger food and Pinot Nero wine at Calla de Madonna 22. Risotto, soft crab and cheese were washed down with a healthy glass of Pinot at 1.50 euros a glass
We headed off in search of coffee and Grappa with Christine. By now we were in the company of a lovely mix of people we had met on this tour to the coffee shop Amanda. Here we tasted 50 per cent grappa (it nearly blew my head off).
It’s the only place in Venice you can purchase the most famous toasted coffee in the world, I opted for Monkey Poo coffee at 90 euros a kilo. It was an acquired taste. The tour came to an end after three hours, but I knew along with Angel and Fiona Pullman from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where to get the best value food and wine in Venice and found I could eat lunch for 5 euros. Mary-Ann and Suzanne from New York, avid dog lovers, were astounded, too, how Venice could be so affordable
We were given a couple of tips of places to visit by Christine, so we headed off in search of the city’s best ice cream shop. It’s the one with 100 per cent pistachio ice cream opposite the Gondola repair house. Find the boat house and you will know it.
It was time to combine the culture and grandeur of the most romantic city in the World, with the peaceful countryside of the River Sile – the perfect holiday to embrace the best of both. We got right into the heart of the action and beat the crowds by using Le Boat’s dedicated moorings in the Venetian Lagoon and from then on we caught a vaporetto to the city centre to visit the big sights of St Mark’s Square and the famous Basilica before the throngs of tourists got there.
We did go to Harry’s Bar and we did have the chance to taste ‘La Nina’s Passion’ cocktail at the Belmond Hotel Cipriani. I loved what George Clooney had written about the cocktail inspired by his Mother, Nina… “Like my Mother says, ‘Drink no less than 2 and no more than four,’ ” Grazie George Clooney, who for his wedding followed in our footsteps.
Weekly boat hire from £155 per person in low season and from £299 per person in high season. Excludes travel, fuel and CDW. Based on 8 people on board. Visit www.leboat.co.uk/italy or call their sales team on 08454212788
Venice Food Tour: Rialto Markets and Cicchetti Tasting with Wine: 54 euros per person. Here’s a taste of it on YouTube.
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