Lap­ping up a qui­eter Venice

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Stella Martin

IT is strangely quiet. The wa­ter laps the side of the canal, a church bell rings, a black­bird war­bles from a se­cret rooftop gar­den. There is no wheeled traf­fic, no roar from the street, not even a dis­tant high­way hum.

I’m nurs­ing my feet. I’m sure I’ve lost an en­tire layer of skin from my soles while com­pul­sively wan­der­ing this mag­i­cal city, and I’ve had to re­treat to my room to re­cover. But, to my great de­light, I haven’t had to leave Venice. I’m not trapped inside an anony­mous ho­tel but sit­ting next to a win­dow, gaz­ing past the gera­ni­ums in the win­dow box at the com­ings and go­ings on the nar­row pave­ments be­low and on the quiet canal that di­vides them.

An­tica Lo­canda Mon­tin, in the dis­trict of Dor­so­duro, has been a lucky find. Al­though it is just across the Grand Canal from St Marks, this area is a com­par­a­tive back­wa­ter, its squares and criss­cross­ing canals and al­ley­ways fre­quented by lo­cals. The tourist may­hem is a world away.

The man­ager shrugs when I ask how long An­tica Lo­canda Mon­tin has been a ho­tel. ‘‘ Two hun­dred years? Per­haps more. Our fam­ily has owned it since World War II.’’

In that time it has at­tracted the at­ten­tion of a list of celebri­ties, from Peggy Guggen­heim in 1955 (a photo of the Amer­i­can art pa­tron em­bark­ing on her private gon­dola at the front door fea­tures on the ho­tel’s brochure) to US pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter (1980), Alexan­der Dubcek (1992), Yoko Ono, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt and Mick Jag­ger.

Most of th­ese vis­i­tors have come to eat at the Al­bergo restau­rant, tucked in the gar­den at the back of the ho­tel, its white-clothed ta­bles lined up in two green tun­nels be­low the vine-laden, bar­rel­vaulted per­gola. We find the restau­rant’s good rep­u­ta­tion is well de­served.

There are just 12 rooms in the ho­tel, in­clud­ing one sin­gle with a tiny bal­cony and oth­ers ac­com­mo­dat­ing three or four guests. Those at the front have canal views; at the rear, rooms over­look the gar­den and the vi­neen­twined restau­rant per­gola. Most are re­mark­ably spa­cious, with par­quet or tra­di­tional Vene­tian ter­razzo floors; the furniture is quirky and slightly an­tique, and the walls crammed with a strange variety of framed paint­ings.

It’s late and I’m back at my win­dow, loath to re­lin­quish my fi­nal day in Venice. Laugh­ter drifts up as the last pa­trons leave the restau­rant. A lone fig­ure walks past on the op­po­site side of the canal: I can hear his foot­falls echo­ing in the balmy night air and his key as he turns it in the lock of his front door. The church bell rings out the mid­night hour and I head for bed. Sadly, to­mor­row we will be back in the traf­fic.

Check­list

An­tica Lo­canda Mon­tin and Al­bergo Ris­torante, S. Trovaso, Fon­da­menta Eremite 1147, Venice. Phone: +39 041 522 7151; www.lo­canda mon­tin.com. Tar­iff: Dou­bles from j85 ($141) to j150 (low/high sea­son). Get­ting there: Take the va­poretto (wa­ter bus) to the Ac­cademia art gallery. The ho­tel is a five-minute walk: make sure you have a map. Look for the ho­tel’s signs or tele­phone for di­rec­tions. Check­ing in: Tourists seek­ing the qui­eter side of Venice, fam­i­lies, re­peat vis­i­tors (it is the sort of place you’ll want to go back to). Bed­time read­ing: Death­inVenice by Thomas Mann. Step­ping out: St Marks and the Rialto bridge are about 20 min­utes’ walk, across the Ponte dell’Ac­cademia. But if you are look­ing for a qui­eter time in Venice, just wan­der the Dor­so­duro area around the ho­tel. Try the rab­bit stew at S. Barn­aba, Dor­so­duro, 2736 Calle Lunga. Brick­bats: Find­ing the ho­tel can be dif­fi­cult, and car­ry­ing bags over bridges not easy (no taxis). Only half the rooms have en­suite toi­lets. Bou­quets: The break­fast is a lot more sub­stan­tial than the usual con­ti­nen­tal cof­fee and rolls and is in­cluded in the tar­iff.

Se­cret site: The inn is be­side a quiet canal

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