We’ve all seen the photos of cruise ships disgorging thousands of selfie-stick-toting tourists who jostle each other in Venice’s Piazza San Marco, not to mention the flotillas of stripe-shirted gondoliers poling gondolas around a prescribed canal route just like a ride in Disneyland.
There, is, however, another quieter Venice, that is hiding in plain sight. Here are some suggestions to help you find it.
1. Stroll the serene canal-side streets of Cannaregio
The working-class neighbourhood of Cannaregio, the northernmost of Venice’s six historic districts, is the living, breathing heart of Venetians’ Venice, with local cafes, fruit sellers, butchers, bakers, bars and schools.
Deep inside its narrow lanes you’ll also find the former Jewish ghetto, which was in fact the first ghetto in the world.
Avoid the touristy Strada Nova and head instead to the Fondamenta Misericordia and Fondamenta dei Ormesini, where you could spend an entire day browsing, eating and drinking alongside the canal.
Visit Plum Plum Creations where Arianna Sautariello continues ancient printmaking traditions with her original etchings and linocuts. Enjoy a spritz al bitter and nibble on cicchetti snacks with young Venetians at the classic Al Timon or sample a great range of natural wines by the glass at Vino Vero.
There are so many great places to eat and drink, from the stylish Oficina Ormesini to Il Paradiso Perduto, offering soulful live music alongside terrific seafood dishes. At one of the oldest Venetian osteri, Osteria al Bacco, feast on fritto misto (fried local seafood) and fresh tagliatelle con vongole (clams fresh from the lagoon), either by the canal, in the garden shaded by a centuries old vine or in the wood-panelled dining room.
2. Row like a Venetian
Get a real-life lesson in the traditional Venetian rowing technique, standing up and facing forward, in a beautiful wooden shrimp-tailed batela.
Learn the technique of rowing along the peaceful Fondamenta Gasparo Contarini then head into the open lagoon to learn how to steer the boat from the stern, just like a gondolier.
Started by Australian-raised Venice local, Jane Caporal, Row Venice is a non-profit organisation of expert women “vogatrici” rowers who are dedicated to preserving this Venetian sport that’s as old as the city itself. They’ll also tell you where to check out the Venetian rowing races, each crew decked out in neon bright colours … and nothing like the tourist pap on the Grand Canal.
3. Marvel at Tintoretto masterpieces in peace
Admire 10 monumental paintings by the 16th-century Venetian painter in the red-brick Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto in Northern Cannaregio.
His work is remarkable for its muscular figures, dramatic gestures and bold use of perspective.
With only a handful of visitors at any time, you’ll be free to study works like The Last Judgment, which reflect the inspirational inscription Tintoretto placed in his studio in nearby Campo dei Mori: “Emulate Michelangelo’s drawing and Titian’s use of colour”.
Tintoretto is buried here in his parish church and you’ll find his bust near the grave.
4. Discover a walled vineyard planted with Venice’s ancient grapes
Who’d have thought Venice used to be dotted with vineyards? But all those campos in the city were once cultivated fields.
Take a ferry to the nearby island of Mazzorbo to find an entire vineyard planted with the centuries-old and almost-lost Dorona grapes that adapted to the saltiness of the lagoon.
Remember this name: Venissa, which refers to the wine, a restaurant, an osteria and a bijou hotel. Savour some of this golden nectar (the wine labels are hand-crafted by the last gold-leaf artisan in Venice) with a degustation at the restaurant, overlooking the vineyard.
Chef Chiara Pavan, named the best chef in Italy in 2018, prepares hyper-local dishes that celebrate sustainably sourced seafood from the lagoon, foraged herbs and produce from the gardens tended by local retirees.
Stroll the island’s peaceful paths before bedding down for the night in absolute tranquillity … now that’s a rarity for Venice.