For Venice, the pandemic became a time of rebirth. As life returns to normal here, this unique city is revealing new stories and sites to visitors.
The iconic Piazza San Marco has always been the heart of Venetian life. Revered for centuries as the world’s most beautiful drawing room, it’s a global icon – a symbol of the concentration of global energy, wealth, and true beauty. The square’s perimeter is marked by the grand structures of the Procuratie Vecchie and Nuove, the Basilica di San Marco decorated with magnificent mosaics, and the Torre dell’Orologio, a jewel of the Renaissance era. In fact, now is a historic moment: the Procuratie Vecchie opened just last month after five years of challenging restoration work, and for the first time in 500 years, the 16th-century building is open to the public, becoming a centre for public events, exhibitions, and conventions.
The Piazza San Marco is also home to the Caffè Florian (1720), considered the oldest coffee house in Italy and once frequented by Giacomo Casanova and more recently by celebrities such as Clark Gable, Andy Warhol, and Salma Hayek. To a backdrop of live music, it serves a fantastic, melt-in-your-mouth tiramisù and the extraordinary Caffè alla Venexiana. Try elegantly ‘packaged’ cicchetti, which are typical Venetian snacks, at Grancaffè Quadri (1775) on the opposite side of the piazza. There, star designer Philippe Starck has provided for the restoration concept of the establishment’s historic rooms.
But where in the historic heart of this city can one take refuge from the crowds and breathe in some tranquillity? The oasis of peace that is the Giardini Reali, of course. This garden established in 1806 underwent a long renovation a few years ago and has regained its botanical and architectural value. Its green paradise of plants and flowers typical of the lagoon ecosystem as well as exotic specimens such as bamboo groves is enriched by the architecturally striking Padiglione del Caffè with its large glass volumes and Illy coffee.
Photo by Zintec
The Biennale invites us to dream
This season’s grand event is the 59th Venice Biennale, which until November 27 of this year will celebrate modern art and artists, inviting visitors to the Central Pavilion and national pavilions in the Giardini, the ancient Arsenale shipyards, and many places in the historic centre and beyond. The artistic director of the exhibition is the Milan-born, New York-based Cecilia Alemani, who is one of the world’s most influential curators of large-scale contemporary art projects and the first Italian woman in the history of the Biennale to be entrusted with this responsibility.
The Biennale brings together 213 artists from 58 countries, exploring three major themes: the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses, the relationship between individuals and technologies, and the connection between bodies and the Earth.
This year’s Biennale is titled ‘The Milk of Dreams’, a phrase that comes from a book by British-Mexican artist Leonora Carrington. In it, the Surrealist artist describes a magical world in which life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination. It’s a world where everyone can change, be transformed, and become something or someone else.
Another inspiring event on the arts front has warmed the hearts of history and textile fans this spring, namely, the opening of the landmark Museo Fortuny. Here, in the Gothic-style Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei in the San Marco quarter, the Spanish fashion designer and intellectual Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo and his wife, Henriette Nigrin (a French clothing designer and textile artist), spent their lives and creative careers. The museum’s permanent collection consists of Fortuny’s paintings, theatre sets, lighting, garments, and fabrics.
The magic of Venice’s features is revealed in its diverse islands. First, as we breathe in the salty air of the lagoon, let’s head to San Giorgio Maggiore, also known as the island of cypresses. This important cultural destination lies just a few minutes by vaporetto from the San Zaccaria stop in the direction of Giudecca.
The Fondazione Giorgio Cini cultural organisation is based on San Giorgio Maggiore, from where it develops and implements grand international projects. Currently, its Stanze del Vetro exhibition spaces are hosting the FontanaArte: House of Glass exhibition curated by Christian Larsen, which focuses on the masterpieces produced by the legendary Milanese company and created under the guidance of legends such as Gio Ponti, Max Ingrand, and Gae Aulenti. The island also features the Borges Labyrinth with 3200 architecturally shaped boxwood shrubs, a music hall, a terrace café with romantic views of sailing ships and Venice’s iconic skyline, and many more unique experiences.
It’s said that Isola della Certosa, an island located opposite the Arsenale, is Venice’s Central Park. The green public space with meadows, a park, and beehives is the ideal place for picnics, sports, and relaxation. Here you can moor your boat and cosy up on the café terrace over the water to sip some prosecco or an organic Veneto red wine at sunset with good friends.
Isola delle Rose (Sacca Sessola) is another gem in the Venetian Lagoon and home to the award-winning JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa. The renowned Italian architect Matteo Thun, who renovated the early-20th-century complex, explained the genius loci of the project: here the core is not the buildings but the environment – the water, the silence, the slow passage of time. The restorers respected the area’s culture and nature and made a deliberate decision to use local materials, such as Murano glass and mirrors and locally produced bricks, tiles, and fabrics. The Michelin-starred Fiola at Dopolavoro restaurant, housed in a structure dating back to 1936, also exudes the same local and historical charm.
Gems worthy of attention
In between all the grand historical heritage in Venice, many visitors miss the legacy of the famous 20th-century Venetian architect and designer Carlo Scarpa.
He worked masterfully with glass and created intelligent restorations without damaging or destroying the city’s authentic code. If you want to see how harmoniously the old and contemporary coexist in Venice, visit the Querini Stampalia Cultural Centre. Another Scarpa landmark is the Olivetti exhibition space in Piazza San Marco.
For more authentic Venetian spirit, stop by the ancient Mercato di Rialto. The bright colours, fragrances, and energetic vendors play a key role here. This is one of the oldest markets in Italy, having been an internationally influential trading post and economic and financial centre since 1097. One of the most magnificent buildings in the market quarter is the Pescheria, a fish pavilion built in 1907 with a Venetian Gothic façade opening onto the Grand Canal. As the epicentre of the city, the market often hosts a variety of events. At such times, lavish tables are set up here and star chefs serve exquisite meals. This honour was also enjoyed by the guests of the luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana at Venice Days last summer.
After crossing the restored Rialto Bridge, head towards another restored gem, the Scala Contarini del Bovolo. The beautiful 28-metre-high cylindrical tower concealing a spiral staircase (bovolo is Venetian for ‘snail’) was commissioned by the owner of the building, Pietro Contarini. The Venetian Renaissance and Gothic structure is made of red brick and white Istrian stone. After ascending the 80 steps, the reward is an iconic view of the city and… photo, photo, photo!
Enjoying trends and local spirit
Osterie, bacari, trattorie – a self-respecting Venetian doesn’t pass up the pleasures of eating and drinking. Similarly, Venice’s identity is unthinkable without its historic cafés, where people pop in for a coffee and piece of cake as they pass by, standing at sculptural marble counters or bar tables. It’s worth enjoying the atmosphere at Pasticceria Tonolo (1886) with its classic porcelain cups, Rosa Salva (1870), Marchini (1966), or Dal Mas (1906). As a rule, the price of service in Venice can vary considerably depending on whether you choose to sit at a table or stand at the bar.
The transformation of Venetian cuisine has also been underway for some time. Of course, sarde in saor and baccalá mantecato have not disappeared, but the new trend is to transform centuries-old lagoon traditions into innovative cuisine with unusual combinations of ingredients. This is also the wave that the Local restaurant, a new project in the Castello neighbourhood, is riding. Here, sophisticated cuisine made from seasonal local ingredients is served in an informal atmosphere with touches of traditional Venetian design.
The Venice Venice Hotel has become one of the brightest stars on the city’s accommodation scene. This ambitious name is borne by a new luxury property set on the Grand Canal opposite the Rialto Market in the antique Ca’ da Mosto palazzo with its sumptuous Byzantine façade. It is owned by Alessandro Gallo, an innovator and founder of the renowned fashion brand Golden Goose. He designed the hotel’s scenography, which forms a dialogue between the Biennale’s avantgarde and the city’s history, while the foyer is dedicated to the Venice M’Art concept store for design objects. With a hotel concept like this, Gallo is, like many owners of newly rediscovered addresses, aiming for the Venice of tomorrow.
Read more about Venice in Baltic Outlook.