Navigate the canals and back streets of this Italian city to discover the finest palazzi and most delicious gelati
There’s a certain magic to the ancient city of Venice that only emerges after dark, once the hordes of tourists have retreated to the amber glow of inviting trattorias. Mysterious waterways slide into darkness; the quaint footbridges that arch over them lie empty.
Walk across the famed Piazza San Marco and you’ll see the elegant arcades that surround it on three sides illuminated by a triple row of starry lights, delicate as diamonds. On one side is the Gran Caffe Quadri; opposite is Florian’s; both in residence for several hundred years. Between them they have hosted the likes of Proust, Byron and Casanova.
Stroll straight down the middle of the square and you’ll enter a shared space where music from each of the establishments’competing orchestras meet. Nightowls and bon vivants are seated at the many al fresco tables and chairs, sipping expensive digestifs, while romantics sway in informal couplings to the sound of uplifting baroque.
Ruling the Waves
Venice is made up of a marshy archipelago (the Venetian Lagoon) of more than 100 islands—Murano, Burano and Torcello being the most well-known—divided into six main districts, or sestieri (Cannaregio, Castello, San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce and Dorsoduro). Both Treviso, about a 40-minute drive, and Marco Polo airports are located on the mainland—fly into the latter, just five miles away, for a quicker connection to the city, by boat direct from the terminal.
Coming in by plane, you can see why the marshy islands and saltwater lagoons provided a unique hiding place for the early Venetians who settled here in the fifth century to escape barbarian invaders – warriors who were able horsemen but unaccustomed to the sea.
By the time Venice became a republic in the seventh century, it was one of the richest nations in the world. Its adventurous merchants sailed the globe exchanging salt harvested from the lagoon for gold, silver, spices, silk, ebony, hemp, cocoa, coffee, velvet and perfume.
However, in a tragic twist, the ships that frequented the exotic shores of Central Asia and the Middle East were also carrying a cargo of rats; rats that were infested with fleas infected with Yersenia pestis — the deadly Bubonic plague. It was