Whenever I think of Venice, I see gondolas, the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark's Square and of course the Grand Canal. Venice is on many a bucket list, and for good reason. It is a lovely city, vibrant, romantic and full of history. Venice is just plain fun - to explore, get lost in (" Hmmm, didn't we just cross that bridge? What vaporetto stop were we supposed to get off at? "), delicious cuisine. Yes, what a great city and experience!
It's been a few years since my last visit, but I still remember sailing out of Venice on my Mediterranean cruise. A beautiful, clear day, I was up on the top deck, taking in all of the stunning sites. As we passed by some of the islands, it reminded me that while there is so much to see and experience in Venice, we oftentimes don't leave the city itself.
I always suggest setting aside a day, weather permitting, to get out and visit the Venetian Islands. If time is limited, a half day tour of Murano, Burano and Torcello will give you a good flavor, but if you have the time, spending a full day exploring these islands plus San Michele and possibly Lido di Venizia won't be disappointing. Find the right vaporetto stop, hop on and be on your way.
Murano is well known around the world for its fancy glass manufacturing. Venice was originally home to these artisans, but they were forced to move to Murano back in 1291 as a fire prevention measure. With all or most homes in Venice being made from wood, there was fear that the hot furnaces would cause a fire and destroy the city.
Glass has been made here for at least 1300 years. Artisans craft everything from watches, paperweights and glass figurines to wine stoppers and magnificent chandeliers. You can certainly find these souvenirs all around Venice, but there's nothing like getting them right from the source! A visit to the Glass Museum provides a fantastic history of glass making too.
Famous glass artisan Dale Chihuly credits many of his inspirations to Venice, having worked at Venini Glass on a Fulbright fellowship back in 1968.
Burano, about 40 minutes outside of Venice, is an island of fisherman, lace makers and brightly colored houses. The primary craft on the island is lacemaking, and some glass manufacturing can also be found. The main attraction continues to be the intrigue of the brightly painted homes located on the canals, believed to have ben painted to match the colors of their fishing boats. Everywhere you look, the houses are painted - blue, green, pink, yellow, lavender and more.
The island is not very big, but quaint and easy to get around. Take some time to visit the Lace Museum, where you can learn the history of this art. The two story building contains impressive displays of both historic and contemporary designs. With some luck you'll be able to observe a sewing circle of ladies wielding their needles and talents.
Be careful though when purchasing lace items to take home. True Venetian Point lace is very limited, and many of the items in the shops are imported or machine made.
If you have time to spare, take a stroll over to Mazzorbo, a very small, mostly rural island connected to Burano by a footbridge. A walk through the area gives you a chance to see more brightly painted homes and time away from the more touristy areas.
Torcello was the earliest center of civilization in the area, and larger than the city of Venice 1500 years ago. Today the island is sparsely inhabited, but well worth a visit to see the Basilica of Santa Maria Asunta, a Byzantine Italian cathedral built in 639 AD. Allow a minimum of 45 minutes to visit this site. Another site worth seeing is the Church of Santa Fosca, a 12th century church. An easy climb up, the tower offers great views of the island and the lagoon.
San Michele is the walled cemetery island a short boat ride from Venice. Back in 1797, authorities from the Napoleon era no longer allowed burials in the historic center. With Venice at or below water level, one can't simply dig a grave, so bodies were (and still are) sent to San Michele. Because space is so limited, most graves are only occupied for 10-12 years. Bones are then transferred to a communal ossuary.
Be sure to check out the Protestant and Orthodox sections - not as well kept as the Catholic section, they contain several graves of famous foreigners, including Ezra Pound (American poet), Serge Diaghilev (whose grave normally is decorated with a ballet slipper), and Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer and pianist).
Lido di Venizia, or the Lido, is a 7 mile long sandbar that separates the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. The Lido is home to about 20,000 residents as well as the Venice Film Festival and the Venice Casino. Over half of the Adriatic side is beach owned by the hotels and resorts that are frequented by the summer tourists.
Many cruises start or end in Venice and makes for a fantastic pre/post cruise stay. Be sure to add an extra day to explore the Venetian islands. They will add to the your memories of a lifetime.
Ready to plan a trip or cruise to Italy and Venice? Call or email and let me know how I can assist you.
Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder