Summer 2020 was the season to visit Venice; no cruise ships and without the tourist hordes due to Covid-19 restrictions. Suddenly the city became attractive once more to people like me, an independent family traveler. We try to time our child-friendly city breaks when there is less bustle and more room to explore safely at a leisurely pace. Being able to introduce an exotic city built on stilts s to a Lego and Minecraft fan, watch crafts and take boat trips was more than enough to be attractive to an 8-year-old for 48 hours!
We asked for advice on where to stay from a Venetophile friend who wrote Evelina: A Victorian Heroine in Venice; she recommended Ca’ Gottardi as an affordable but gorgeous boutique hotel that is well located and has fantastic mid-week offers. Its room decor references back to Venice’s Silk Route trading history, with plenty of majestic brocade that will have your child believing you are staying in a royal palace. Breakfasts are good, with an excellent variety that should please everyone in your party.
Next on my list to contact for our sojourn in Venice was food-blogger Monica Cesarato, who leads scrumptious walking trips around Venice based on ‘cicchetti’. These are delectable small dishes, think their more famous cousins Tapas, that were similarly eaten to pace locals who out of necessity drank wine rather than the local water which was not quite what it is today. Discovering hidden parts of the city and its history whilst eating and drinking had always seemed a fantastic way to explore Venice, so I booked her tour (€40 per person for 3 hours + food & drinks depending on how hungry you are feeling). She is busy crowdfunding to make a short film by Venetians for Venetians, Anima Veneziana (Venetian Soul). Rather than show empty squares that the drones seem to somehow find and the media seem to fixate on, its aim is to show Venice as the bright, pulsating city it still remains by locals who offer their arts, talent and passion.
Abruzzo to Venice
A short break from Abruzzo to Venice should be easily possible via train; sadly the 5.5 hour express was out of the reach of our pocket, and we didn’t fancy spending 8 hours on the slower trains with an 8-year-old so we opted for the park-and-ride option, all very easy and the drive to Venice taking approximately 4.5 hours. If only Abruzzo’s small former republics in Teramo of Senarica and Poggio Umbricchio hadn’t worn themselves out by divisions, legal quarrels, and an attempt to follow in Venice’s opulent footsteps, things could be different, and better train journeys in place to continue fostering these centuries-old relationships! These republics were created in 1350 when the Queen of Naples in gratitude declared the towns free states and they immediately declared themselves a republic and modelled themselves on La Serenissima. Imitating the Venetians, they elected a Doge, a Senate and a Noble Order, and an alliance treaty with the Serenissima. Venice used to call tiny Senarica La Serenissima Sorella.
The Island of Murano
Monica recommended visiting the independent Master Glassblower Giancarlo Signoretto (Waterbus No, 3, get off at Murano Colonna) and the entrance is right in front of you, simply ask for him and you will be escorted to his furnace; there are others tied to the shop but if you want to support an independent search him out. It was hot and an 80% humidity type of day when we visited, so an early visit to his furnace and being the only guests was as comfortable as the climate allowed. He was the first to return to the island post-flood and the Covid-19 lockdown. He held all three of us spellbound as we watched him fashion an elegant glass prancing pony in what seemed a matter of seconds. He began learning the art of Murano Glass at the age of 12, following in the family tradition. You can buy his creations at the back of his furnace and he is happy to take personal commissions. In Venice do try and seek out the craftsman and artists themselves rather than their work in the shops as the commission charged is high!
Another recommendation was a visit to Alessa Fugia who studied economics before deciding to swamp number patterns by creating swirling beads. Her work is phenomenal and she is a fantastic, charismatic teacher, and we spent a riveting hour with her watching her create one of her gorgeous intricate beads. She is going to be offering online lessons for those who are interested in learning a new decorative skill and sells her beads online. with prices starting at €27.
Cicchetti Walking Tour
Uncovering Venice’s trading past, despite the heat through essentially a food and wine walking tour with Monica was satisfying on all counts. She teaches you the correct way to walk in Venice; there is a right and a wrong way that you suddenly realise every local follows, goodness knows how annoying that must be to locals when our tourist’s feet are pounding the streets! Listening to her stories was a wonderful way to explore a little bit more of the city and local life away from the main canals.
One touching moment was seeing a group of children having a water fight around a drinking fountain that made me feel ever so envious and a little boy desperate to join in! Local wines we tried were Raboso, Manzoni Bianco, Lugana, which you’ve probably never heard of as not many Venetians ever migrated so they didn’t big up, make, or order them overseas. Learning just what the Jewish community had to do to be ‘tolerated’, living in the world’s first ghetto where they managed to thrive until the 2nd World War when out of 2000 just 20 returned to the city was crushing. One Kosher deli in the city remains that sells Venice’s unique sweet, fennel seed Matzo bread (delicious)! History is so much easier to learn when you can literally eat it. Monica is an excellent guide, considerate of including all ages, and humorous, you’ll take away so much about Venice and of course walk off all those goodies that you eat along the way!
A Morning Left – San Marco Museum and the Market!
Although the Basilica is closed to tourists due to restoration work post the 2019 flooding, you can still catch a glimpse of it as you enter the museum that provides breathtaking views as you walk up to be with the now-famous replica bronze chariot horses on the loggia! Everyone is temperature-checked and mask-wearing mandatory, safe as well as interesting!
No trip to a city is complete without a visit to its market; it’s the final way to unpick its current-day cultural thread. The fish stalls were mighty and selection vast, although each one featured plenty of anchovies for their signature dish Bigoli in salsa – thick buckwheat pasta, more like noodles of their Asian trade partners served with a tasty anchovy and onion sauce, delicious do try!
Venice is not empty, a city of different languages to the usual pitter-patter heard along its canals, but don’t be put off visiting! Rather revel in peering into clear canals, space for children to run and not having to wait for 3 water ferries to arrive before there is room for you to board and travel to the islands. I hope a compromise can be reached in the future between the world that wants to visit the city and there being adequate space for Venetians to live and prosper. A pounding bustle is not a holiday nor beneficial for the wellness of locals; the local council seems to be putting ‘wellness’ first through banning cruise ships docking, let’s hope it continues and a form of slow tourism is further adopted.
Really interesting, thanks! I am very tempted to go now…. My kids are only 3 and 6 so perhaps still too little, but I can dream and scheme none the less.
You should! I must admit I hadn’t really thought previously about Venice being a ‘family destination’, it was only because there wasn’t the usual high numbers of tourists that I considered it. There is so much for little ones to learn about, whether crafts like glass blowing, travelling on the different types of boats, hearing how the canals were constructed, the history of meringues and finding out about Europe’s trade history to rescuing snails from being eaten in the fish market! Give them a couple of years and they will love it!