Venice: off the beaten path is possibile – part 1

Although it may look impossible to find a route in Venice that has not been designed before, I managed to find 3 itineraries that took me out of the beaten routes or, at least, out of the most crowded areas, to find highlights, stories and attractions that made my visit more comfortable, pleasant and definitely more interesting.

Most of the visitors to Venice do not move further that St. Marks’ Square and Rialto bridge area. In fact, for those who stay in Venice for just one day or even less (such as the cruises’ passengers) or are first time visitors, these are the essentials. However, there is seriously much more to see and do in Venice because the city actually hides a story or an attraction behind every corner.

I have been lucky because I found a good offer by a centrally located hotel, just few steps away from St. Marks Square, called Hotel al Ponte dei Sospiri. It’s a 4 star hotel, but after Covid, fees have been reduced quite a lot, thus prices are affordable in this period. But I obviously didn’t ask for a room with a view over the bridge of sighs which still is pretty expensive.

My first itinerary started from the hotel. I explored Sestiere Castello on my first day. By the way, Sestiere is the name of the city districts of Venice which is divided into 6 areas.

My first stop was actually in Sestiere S. Marco, because despite having been to Venice several times in my life I never managed to visit the snail-shaped staircase commonly called “Scala del Bovolo” (snail, in Venetian language). This is one of the famous highlights of the city. Despite being in the very heart of Venice it is hidden by the buildings around it, thus, follow the yellow signs that points to the highlight if you don’t want to miss it.

The Bovolo Staircase. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Descent from the Bovolo Staircase- Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

After visiting the Staircase and the temporary exhibition inside the Contarini Palace, I moved back to Sestiere Castello, to reach the only building in Venice surrounded by canals on three sides. Close to the Church of St. John and Paul, runs a canal called Rio di San Marina which divides itself into 2 separate streams, both called Rio di San Giovanni, when it meet this small home, probably a noble palace in the past, now a normal condominium.

Three sides building. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

A very nice book shop is located few steps away from this unique palace, called “Libreria dell’Acqua Alta”. Although it is a more contemporary attraction, the book shop is famous for the large number of books about Venice, both historic and modern essays as well as literature and novel about the City. The bookshop is also famous because it is home to a colony of cats. Do not feel bothered if they roam through your legs while inside the place.

The “Acqua Alta” Bookshop. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

There are 177 canals in Venice, the real “streets” of the city, although their actual name is Rio (rii, plural) because the only one who is actually called “canal” is the “Grand Canal”. As every Sestiere in Venice , Castello is home to several Rii, the picture here below shows  a very quiet one. No boats, no gondolas around. That was probably what Venice really looked like centuries ago.

Quiet Canal. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

I kept walking east unitl I bumped into the walls of the Arsenal. Venice made its power thought its ability in constructing boats, both military and commercial ones, as well as through the trading ability of its merchants. Boats were made here, inside the arsenal, which is nowadays in use by the Italian Navy, thus you cannot get inside of it, except into a section that is home every year to the “Biennale”, a very famous contemporary art exhibition. I followed the walls until I got to the “Lions Gate”. This was and still is the main entrance to the arsenal and also the place where you have to stop.

The walls of the Arsenal. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
The Lions Gate. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

I crossed the bridge on the rio entering the arsenal, I kept walking south until I reached Riva degli Schiavoni, a wide walkway facing the lagoon, the Lido and the Island of St. Giorgio Maggiore. I took a left and went to the Gardens of the arsenal just to relax a bit as the temperature was pretty hot, enhanced by the humidity of the lagoon. Then I kept walking towards Piazza San Marco along the “riva” and I took this nice picture of the southern side of the city.

View over Riva degli Schiavoni. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Not to mention this picture of a Gondolier relaxing on one of the bridges, waiting for the next passengers to take around the city.

Gondolier. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Just before approaching the Doge’s Palace one of the most popular highlights appeared on my right: the Bridge of Sighs. Named after the prisoners who were used to sigh while crossing the bridge heading to the jail, seeing the sunlight for the last time, the bridge is considered one of the most romantic places in town, despite its original function. White, decorated and elevated over the rio, it really is impressive.

The Bridge of Sighs. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Then I definitely stepped into St. Marks’s Square. The section overlooking the lagoon is actually called “Piazzetta San Marco” (The little St. Mark’s square) which is the point where you can see both the Doge’s palace and the southern side of the Basilica of St. Mark with its amazing byzantine style mosaics and decorations.

Entrance to St. Marks’ Square. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

It is almost impossible to visit the Basilica in the mornings as the line is always very long. However if you get there in the afternoon, your chance to stay in line for a shorter time or to skip it completely are pretty higher. I luckily didn’t stay in line at all and entered the Basilica immediately. The impressive mosaic decorations are astonishing, here below you see some pictures I took to give you an idea of the amount of gold that was used to decorate the church, home to the relics of St. Mark.

St. Mark’s Basilica. Mosaics. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Entrance hall to St. Mark. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

When I got out of the Basilica I decided it was time to have a Spritz, the local aperitivo, made with Aperol, or Campari (depending if you like it bitter or sweet), white wine and sparkling water. So I decided to move to the Rialto Area and had my Spritz just below the Bridge and while there I have been approached very closely by a seagull.

Spritz- Venetian Aperitivo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Close encounter under Rialto Bridge. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

On my way back to the Hotel I took this final picture of a silent and quiet rio

One of the 177 Rii of Venice. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Then I reached the hotel, showered and went out again for dinner…but this is another story I’ll write about later.

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