Vanessa’s Venetian Guide – Grab Your Group & GO!

I had a boss that often used to say “sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.” Well, boy did I get lucky with these words my brilliant friend Vanessa shared with me regarding our very limited time in Venice. This is some good stuff – entertaining reading filled with historical tidbits and a guide that includes snacks at almost every turn. My friend April said she gained 8 pounds just by reading this. 🙂 It will inspire you to go to Venice… it may counter your view of Venice. If you follow it (like we and some friends did) it will take you about four hours and give you a pretty good handle on all there is to see and eat in this magical watery city.
Her food guide would take you about 4 weeks, but always fun to have tough choices to make while visiting a new town.
We loved Venice and wish we had more time there – I am grateful we went just so I could share these words with you. Thank you Vanessa for this lovely, thoughtful and thorough write up, for your clear love of this special and unique place and for your awesome and hilarious commentary. Thank you for walking with me precisely when I had Venice on my mind such that we could all benefit from your expert knowledge. GRAZIE!! and SALUTE! and CIAO!

I give you Vanessa’s Venetian Guide:

From the Train Station or Airport take a water taxi directly to the front door of the Hotel Danieli.
Then drop your bags, be amazed by the lobby, and whip around to my favorite coffee & pastry shop, Bonifacio on the calle degli Albanesi, which is the tiny street between the prisons and the new wing of the Danieli. Get a quick coffee and snack before your walk around the sestiere of CASTELLO.
Venice is divided into six sestieres, the most eastern and largest of which is Castello. Lots of people actually live there so you can get lost & see the real Venice and also see some lovely sites.
Probably after your snack, you should walk around to Piazza San Marco just to take it in again — the Doge’s Palace, the Library, the Basilica, the three sides of the Procuratie, the clock tower — then head back to your walk around CASTELLO by going along the back side of the San Marco. You’ll see the Bridge of Sighs from this side too — it linked the courtrooms to the prisons and the last audible sighs of the guilty drifted out from it.  Keep going eastwards with the flow of traffic to…
San Zaccaria. This was the church of the most important convent in Venice, where all the fanciest people parked their extra daughters and their dowries, but then they felt guilty so they gave it lots more money so it has a gorgeous building painting, etc. The current church dates from the late XV/eXVI and inside it has a gorgeous Bellini altarpiece (note how the columns in the painting mimic the real ones surrounding the painting, expanding the real space of the church into the fictive space of the painting).
After that, take the street to the north/left (if facing the church) and meander around to Campo Santa Maria Formosa, a lively square filled with actual Venetians (there is a food market here in the morning). Go around church in the middle (XV Santa Maria Formosa) clockwise and find the Querini Stampalia, a gorgeous XV palace with a library inside, but the ground floor was redone by Carlo Scarpa as a water garden in the mid XX: super cool!; go round the top/counter clockwise and find the Calle del Paradiso with the Virgin Mary above it — nice example of XIV-XVI housing!
Go through that all the way to Calle San Lio, a bustling street for local business, take a right towards calle della Fava, go right at the church of San Lio, across the Ponte delle Paste, which has a cute pastry shop with enormous, colorful meringues, continue to a favorite stop for a light lunch: Osteria al Portego. You can stand or sit and have cicchetti, which are venetian snacks. You can just point and they’ll give you whatever you like on bread — Cheese, beans, sardines, octopus… It’s all really yummy.
(Note from Linda: Click here to read the NY Times article on this very topic that was published recently.)
After that, take a right and then a left and you cross a bridge and there is Marco Polo’s house (You are now in the sestiere of CANNAREGIO). There is an ugly XVIII memorial but if you keep going you pass through courtyards of other branches of the family and see eventually some really cool arches from like 1100/ the original Polo palace (called “campo del milion” for the million lies and exaggerations of Marco Polo).
Continue on and past the Teatro Malibran (a super important XVII & XVIII european theater) you’ll get to another late XV church, San Giovanni Grisostomo (sweet, tiny greek cross inside with some nice paintings) go right around it (clockwise: not towards Bar Tiziano) onto a main thoroughfare and continue across a bridge where sometimes there are gondoliers who’ll take you on the really good ride around the back canals.
After your boat ride? Take a right and go down the salizada San Canzian, bear right towards the pharmacy and you’ll get to campo Santa Maria Nova with a great view of Santa Maria dei Miracoli  a gorgeous jewel box of a church — a convent from the XV, sensing a theme yet? — my favorite part is the way it rests on these Ionic capitals and the columns below are formed by the reflection of those above.
Continue by top or bottom route from the Miracoli and you eventually get to the huge church of Santi Giovanni & Paolo,  or SS. Zanipolo in Venetian (you are back in CASTELLO now). This vast church was built by the Dominicans in the XIV and is home to the wall tombs of like 25 Doges. To the left is the Scuola of San Marco  now the entrance to the city’s hospital. Note the cool tromp l’oeil facade (late XV). “Scuole” such as this were huge charitable clubs belonged to primarily by the middle & upper middle class (not nobility); each sestiere had one.
There is an excellent story about the large equestrian statue to the right of the church, which is the masterpiece of Verocchio, Leonardo’s teacher, as Colin will surely know. Bartolomeo Colleoni was the hired leader of the Venetian army for many years and as such became very rich. When he died he left his fortune to Venice IF the city would erect an equestrian monument of him “in front of San Marco,” i.e in piazza San Marco in front of the Basilica. The Venetians weren’t into such garish shows of narcissism, especially to a non-Venetian in their most special zone, so they got all sneaky and said that he didn’t specify the church! and set the statue in front of the Scuola di San Marco and took all his money. No one said Venice got rich being good.
Get a coffee/hot chocolate/ice cream/pastry/drink at Rosa Salva on this campo: sit outside if it’s nice!
Okay now I am going to let you get lost. Continue east along the church and start wandering. You might get to San Francesco della Vigna with a facade by Palladio (he would later perfect the interlocking classical temple fronts at San Giorgio & the Redentore which you can see from the Danieli), a great Veronese inside and gorgeous, quiet courtyards with views to the lagoon; you might get to the scuola of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni (Dalmatians, the people not the dogs) with its amazing cycle of paintings by Carpaccio (excellent animals!!!); you might find the Arsenale where Venice could famously build an entire ship in a day in the sixteenth century, as they did for the King of France at an all day party in his honor in 1574, or even get all the way out to San Pietro da Castello, also by Palladio and the historical Cathedral of Venice whose far-flung location shows what the Venetians thought of the Church in Rome.  Anyway WANDER!!! This whole part is all real Venice.
The best thing to do in Venice is get lost and see what you find, so, you know, disregard all of my directions and enjoy. There are signs painted on buildings all over the city that will point you towards major destinations. Choose SAN MARCO and you will get back to the Danieli easily so don’t worry!
Walk back along the Riva dei Schiavoni (the wide quai along the bacino) to the Danieli.


Vanessa’s Venetian Restaurant Guide

Worth the Splurge:

Harry’s Bar — at the end of Calle Vallaresso, where the San Marco vaporetto stop is. Always a scene and the bellinis are worth every euro, or try their perfect martinis* and get the house wine over dinner – tuna tartare is sublime and risotto excellent. The food is good, but you are paying for the scene & service. Or go just for drinks (pre- 7pm you can even get a table) – their grilled cheese sandwich bar snack is scrumptious.

Da Fiore — on the obscure Calle Bernardo at the far end of Campo San Polo, definitely the most elegant restaurant in Venice. Delicate, delicious and inventive. Must reserve! 041 721 308.

Al’Covo — great food introduced by a Texan but created by her Venetian husband; a nice blend of Venetian specialties and their own creations. Walk down the Riva dei Schiavoni from the Danieli (eastwards along the Bacino) until just before the first big bridge (it crosses the Arsenale canal), jog semi-diagonally backwards to a widening and the restaurant is on your left (Castello 3948). Reservations: 041 522 3812.

Corte Sconta — not far from Al’Covo, but impossible to find (Calle del Pestrin, Castello 3886), this is an amazing fish place. There is like a nine course tasting menu, all fish. I’ve been only once years ago, but still think about it… finding the place is the problem. Only when not looking for it on the way from the Arsenal it seems… it doesn’t have a website, but is on the site “” a collection of Venetian gastronomy restaurants, which looks like a good guide itself.

Antiche Carampane — San Polo 1911. This is where the local fancy people go and I had resisted it for years, but then we were taken for John’s birthday and its really great. Traditional dishes superbly rendered with just that twist… the paper wrapped fried shrimp snacks are worth it alone. The name is after the state run brothel that was located here for centuries. (Impossible to find: the website is Closed Sunday and Monday. Reservation are a must: 041 542 0165.

Delicious and Reasonably Priced:

Harry’s Dolce — at the west (far) end of the Giudecca (take the 82 vaporetto from San Zaccaria) the same food as Harry’s at 2/3 the price and outdoors – a beautiful evening and nice place for lunch too.

Il Refòlo — run by the owners of Da Fiore, in Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio (Sta. Croce), around “back,” at the church entrance, towards the train station. Tasty & inventive pizzas like lardo & artichoke – a really yummy, reasonably priced lunch option.

Acqua Pazza — Campo Sant’Angelo (San Marco). Excellent pizza [the late Marcella Hazan’s favorite in town] in a pretty, central campo for lunch; its full menu is great for dinner too. It will seem like a good idea at the time, but a second glass of their homemade limoncello makes for a foggy morning, believe me.

La Zucca — just before Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio (Sta. Croce) along the route that follows the curve of the Grand Canal from the Rialto towards Ferrovia — great for a lunch of vegetarian pastas and meat entrees (just in case you are sick of fish). A little hippyish, but a favorite even with the snootiest of Milanese visitors.

Alle Testiere — Calle Mondo Nuovo (Castello). I have never been able to get a table at this tiny, much raved about, simple fish restaurant – try it and tell me about it.

La Cantina — Strada Nova (Cannaregio), past the Ca d’Oro vaporetto stop & Billa supermarket (walking from Rialto, on your left. My favorite restaurant in Venice!  Extensive, well priced wines are the supposed draw here, but let Francesco whip up whatever he’s got for you on his panini press – it could be anything: tuna, scampi, buffalo, chianina steaks… also lots of cheese, meats and sometimes oysters. Open late! There is no menu: they just ask you if you want fish or meat, raw or cooked.

Vini da Gigio —Fondamenta San Felice (Cannaregio), sort of “in” from La Cantina along the canal (Canneregio 3628). Lovely, traditional Venetian restaurant, specialties like sarde in saor and other fish dishes are quite exceptional here.

Cheap & Fun:

Mascaron — on Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa (the street leading eastwards from Campo Santa Maria Formosa (Castello) underneath the clock) – a delicious local place with a fun vibe. Go for the mixed fish/shellfish starter and then a shellfish pasta like bussola (tomato & shrimp) or vongole (clams); their meat ragù is great too and the carafes of wine are quite drinkable. They have a nice wine bar, Mascareta, down the street with an extensive selection by the glass or bottle. You can also eat there – either cheese & sliced meats or from the restaurant. It is open until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Ae’Oche — the best pizza in Italy! If you have found Da Fiore and La Zucca, its on the route between them. Otherwise walk from San Polo towards San Giacomo dell’Orio and it will be on your left. Don’t be scared off by its “southern country club” decor (their words, not mine: think ‘30s bayou sports shack) and order any combination of anything you can think of but especially good with a pesto base. Mangiafuoco really is. They have great entrée sized salads and a mean scroppino [a lemon sherbet vodka dessert drink].

Al Portego — near Campo Sta. Marina, coming from Rialto/Campo San Lio, cross the Ponte delle Paste and you will run right into it. Cicchetti are Venetian snacks, sort of like tapas. You can have a light lunch or a quick late afternoon pick me up here for less than 8 euro, with a tiny glass or two of local wine (Tocai or Pinot Grigio are safe bet whites). Cheeses, salamis, bacalà (actually really good although translated as “salted cod paste” sounds less than appealing), beans…all set out under a glass counter, so you can just point — a really tasty place!  

There are numerous new cicchetti bars behind the Rialto Market buildings along the water, and the ancient all’Arco a little farther into San Polo near the Rialto (when you see the telephone bank, take the street opposite and poke your head in on your right until you see a ceiling lined with copper pots: that’s it, San Polo 436). At any, go for sliced salamis, cheeses, octopus… whatever they are proffering. In Dorsoduro there is a great wine store/bar/cichetti shop between the Academia and San Trovaso along the Fondamenta Nani (near the gondola makers) called Cantinone (gia Schiavi). You can stop for a glass of wine and slice of cheese and then buy a whole bottle to take with you.

Da Carla — just behind Piazza San Marco (west end) – perfect for a cheap, quick lunch after touring the basilica & palazzo. [Go under the Correr end of the Piazza, turn right at Damiani jewelry onto a street called the Frezzaria, continue to the first sottoportego (past a couple barking tourist restaurant maitre d’s); you’ll see an open door and menu at the end of the short Calle Seconda della Contarina]. In front get excellent toasted sandwiches while standing up; in the rear you can sit down for pasta (the kitchen keeps bring out different ones), great steamed vegetables and other prepared foods. This has gone more upscale recently, but its still great and affordable (we had 2 lunches out of 4 there on our last visit).

Also good for a quick lunch is Nomboli near the Frari and Museo Goldoni (San Polo) — order one of a hundred named panini made before you (or dream up a combination of your own) and if you are lucky there will be a free table outside by the time it is ready. Another afternoon snack option are the ubiquitous tremezzini – triangular bar sandwiches made of crustless white bread, a lot of mayonnaise and infinite kinds of fillings. Although they look and sound scary, they are actually really good. Tiziano on the Salizzada San Giovanni Crisostomo (Cannaregio) has particularly varied and yummy ones.


Breakfast coffee is generally drunk standing up at a bar (don’t mind the pensioners drinking their first spritzes next to you) with a pasta (pastry). My personal favorite is Bonifacio, on the Calle degli Albanesi (it runs between the Danieli and the prisons and is also a great way to avoid the tourist crowd on the other streets to the Riva); it has the best croissants in town and super friendly service but it is closed on Thursdays.  Other good morning coffee places are: Didovitch on Campo Santa Marina (Castello); the aptly named Ponte delle Paste (Cannaregio) on the bridge of the same name (between Santa Marina & San Lio); Targa on the route from the Rialto to the Frari (San Polo) has super good pastries and is very local in clientele despite its location; Ai’Frari, at the foot of the bridge to the Frari, has a congenial atmosphere at any time of day, although they don’t make their own pastries; Rosa Salva in Campo SS.

Giovanni & Paolo also has a great outdoor area with views of the Colleoni: plan your day over coffee and great pastries in the morning, or watch the sunset over campari sodas in the evening — lovely!  Rosa Salva’s sibling on the Calle Fiubera (behind the Piazza) and Ponte delle Paste’s Marchini siblings on the Merceria and Salizzada San Giovanni Crisostomo are great for afternoon coffee stops. Also nice at that time, or for ice cream and drinks at sunset, is Paolin at the corner of Calle delle Botteghe in Campo Santo Stefano (San Marco) — watch Venetians at their passeggiata best.

* Speaking of drinks 

For the very best martini in town, and in general a splurgy drink without the splurge, go to the back indoor bar at Florian (on the south side of the Piazza (the north side cafes are where the Austrians hung out: you decide) [NB: late at night the café on the Piazzetta (the small part directly across from the palace) has okay jazz (v. renditions of Cats and Celine Dion on the Piazza)]), sit at one of Florian’s few seats and, going for a fraction of the cost outside, get the best martini going, or make up a drink and see if the bartenders deem it worthy of entry in their book. 

Late night, the kids are all at Campo Santa Margherita (Dorsoduro): go to Marguerite du Champs (on the corner), Bar Rosso (mid campo hipsters) or Bar Franco (veteran at the south end). The wine bar at Mascareta (see above) is good for a more grown-up time, as is my new favorite, La Cantina, on the Strada Nova, also above.   There are a bunch of new bars around at the backside of the Rialto. Bancogiro (Campo San Giacometto, San Polo 122) is particularly convivial. Haig’s (near the Gritti in sestiere of San Marco) used to be the latest open bar in town. I bet its all Russians now though.

As far as food shopping goes — explore the morning markets and various shops at the Rialto. Campo Santa Maria Formosa also has good produce; the bread store on Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa has the best bread in the city. Billa, with locations on the Strada Nova and at the west end of the Zattere (Dorsoduro), is a supermarket that is open all day (orario continuato), every day. 


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Space does open up! When it does it’s often at the last minute. Will keep our fingers crossed. Would love to see you at this experience!