EXPLORING THE SOUTHERN LAGOON
Summer is the best time to visit the islands surrounding Venice. Not only the traditional tourist destinations of Murano, Burano and Torcello, but those located in the southern area of the lagoon.
Summer is the best time to visit the islands surrounding Venice. Each has a different character starting from the famed Lido.
Although you might be tempted to spend your entire stay in Venice, treat yourself and visit some of the other magnificent islands. Each has a different character, and although the best means of transport is a private boat, you can also enjoy their beauty by using public transport. If you'd like to visit several islands during the course of the day, we recommend purchasing a 24-hour public transport pass. The pass costs €20 and guarantees unlimited travel on water buses.
THE LIDO, A PARADISE OF NATURE AND CELEBRITIES
One of the best-known islands of the Venetian lagoon is the Lido, meaning ‘beach' in Italian. Measuring less than 200 metres in width in certain areas, the Lido is a 12km stretch of sand, strategically positioned between the Lagoon and the open sea, and is only connected to the city and dry land by ‘vaporetti' or ferry boats. The part overlooking St. Mark's faces onto the lagoon, while its beaches are located just a short walk from the vaporetto station towards the east. Unlike Venice, the Lido has streets which means that you can get around by car. In the early 20th century, Rolls Royce's, Cadillac's and Bentleys abounded at the entrances of grand hotels. Although the island, especially in the Malamocco area, was inhabited from the beginning of Venice's history, the Lido became famous at the beginning of the 20th century as a holiday resort for wealthy Northern Europeans searching for a place to soak up the Mediterranean sun. It was here that Thomas Mann set his famous novel ‘Death in Venice'. The book tells the story of Professor Gustav von Aschenbach's stay at the Hotel Des Bains on the Lido and his encounter with a beautiful Polish boy named Tazio with whom he fell in love.
In order to discover the island's numerous attractions, hire a bike from Lido On Bike (viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, 21b). The Italian
Unmistakably Venetian in feel, yet cosmopolitan enough to impress an international jet-setting clientele, the Hotel Excelsior opened in July 1908. Over the years, notable guests have included Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Hutton, John Steinbeck, Ingrid Bergman and the Aga Khan. In 1932, it was catapulted into the magical world of movies when the first-ever Venice Film Festival was held on its terrace.
Art Nouveau villas located on the island are definitely worth a visit. Although many of them have been modified and restored over the years, their charm has remained intact. The villa housing the Hotel Ausonia & Hungaria, renowned for its majolica façade and its asymmetrical terrace, and Villa Bianca in via Zeno, a palatial building richly decorated with Neo-gothic elements, are two of the most interesting.
If you want to stop for an ice cream or even a quick meal or snack, head to Bar Maleti (Gran Viale, 45). When it comes to lunch, you'll be spoilt for choice. The go-to address for those in search of a traditional fish-based menu is
La Favorita (Via F. Duodo, 33), while for a quick lunch you can select from the Buddha Soul&Restò which serves delicious VenetoIndian and vegetarian food (Gran Viale, 28/B) or the quick dishes and pizzas found at Ai Do Mati (Gran Viale, 49), Parco delle Rose (which has a lovely garden) or the charming Roxi Bar. For a lunch or dinner with a great waterfront view, we recommend Villa Laguna, located directly in front of the basin of San Marco. In summer, the island is packed with Venetians who rent small bathing huts to store everything they need at the beach. Although you can choose from among an array of bathing resorts, a must-try experience is renting a hut or ‘tucul' at the prestigious Hotel Des Bains (although the hotel is currently closed for restoration work, the beach is beautiful and accessible). For years, the Lido beach, which is also particularly childfriendly due to its shallow waters, has boasted ‘blue flag' status, in recognition of its clean waters and top-level facilities.
At the end of summer, the oldest film festival in the world turns the sleepy Lido into a mini
Strongholds, fishermen's villages, the headquarters of silent monasteries, retreats for the sick or burial grounds. Each of the lagoon's smaller islands – whether covered with fertile vegetable gardens or home to glass and lace-making ateliers – has a specific history and calling. They are called ‘native' islands because they were the cradle of Venetian civilization.
Hollywood. The festival revolves around the Palazzo del Cinema and the Hotel Excelsior to which actors, directors, producers, journalists and celebrities from all over the world, flock. Hollywood stars and lesser known faces on the European or Asian film scene come to walk the red carpet, attend exclusive parties, be interviewed or simply mingle with the crowds. In addition to the promenade, landing stops and, naturally, the Palazzo del Cinema, all classic celeb-spotting locations include the Lido's historic hotels. The Excelsior which hosted the very first festival in 1932 is first and foremost.
The most sought-after award at the Venice Film Festival is the Leone d'Oro and their recipients often receive other important awards during the course of the year: it appears that the Leone d'Oro brings good luck.
Another different and emotional experience is a visit to the Jewish cemetery, one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world (the Jewish Museum of Venice can also be visited on request). The cemetery dates back to 1386 with tombstones and monuments dated between 500A.D. and 700 A.D. The cemetery is of enormous historic and artistic interest and appealed greatly to romantic luminaries such as Goethe, Byron and Shelley.
The Oasis of Alberoni, an area recognized and protected by the WWF since 1997, is a nature reserve located on the south end of the Lido. The area comprises 160 hectares of terrain, including two kilometers of golden, sandy dunes that stretch from the Murazzi to the Alberoni dam, and a magnificent pine
forest. Among other attractions, the area is home to Alberoni's Circolo Golf Venezia, a beautifully landscaped links course built in 1928 set against a stunning backdrop of umbrella pines and poplars. Henry Ford, founder of the famous automotive house and an avid fan of Venice, commissioned the course in 1926, when he discovered to his disappointment that there was nowhere for him to play golf, a sport widely practiced in America, but not in Italy at that time. While in the area, make sure to visit Malamocco, a small, ancient town offering visitors a mini experience of Venice with its canals, ‘campielli' and ancient buildings. The town bar is crowded with elderly men gossiping or playing cards, and gives visitors the impression of being in a time warp. Those wishing to enjoy an unforgettable seafood experience should head to the Trattoria Al Ponte di Borgo (Calle Merceria, 27). Continuing our visit towards Alberoni, the island becomes increasingly wild and the dunes of the public beach take centre stage. Also dating back to bygone times in a more northerly direction, is the settlement of San Nicolò, that features a Benedictine complex built in the 11th century. Located in a strategic position, San Nicolò is situated at the juncture where the lagoon enters the open sea.
THE SMALLER ISLANDS
While navigating the southern lagoon you might discover several islands that though now abandoned were once used for specific purposes: La Grazia, a retreat for pilgrims travelling to the east and subsequently a hospital for infectious diseases, the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio which was established to host plague-stricken patients and later used as a military base, and the island of Poveglia. The latter was formerly a thriving centre thanks to its strategic location between Venice and the Lido and is now a ‘forbidden' island with a dark, twisted past, that has the reputation of one of the world's most haunted islands. Other islands have now been converted for different purposes, for example, in addition to being an important congress centre, the Island of San Servolo, formerly the site of an asylum for the insane, also houses the ‘Museum of Madness'.
FIVE STAR GUESTS
The island of San Clemente houses the San Clemente Palace Kempinski: a hotel chosen primarily by those in search of peace and privacy. This palatial island property features 190 rooms and suites, a swimming pool (a rare commodity in Venice) and an exclusive luxury spa. The spa, owned by well-known luxury brand The Merchant of Venice, offers customized treatments and a private spa suite that can be booked for those looking for a romantic escape. The island of Sacca Sessola is home to the Hotel JW Marriott Venice. The hotel, which opened a few years ago, is a sought-after destination. In addition to its stunning rooms, it boasts a beautiful panoramic terrace (also open to visitors who are not staying at the hotel) with an infinity pool, a spa with a view over San Marco and the Dopolavoro restaurant which earned a Michelin star just six months after it opened.
PELLESTRINA, THE HIDDEN JEWEL OF THE LAGOON
To complete your tour of this part of the lagoon, an absolute must is a visit to the island of Pellestrina, which can be accessed from the Lido by ferry boat. The best way of getting around here is also by bike (you can use the one rented on the Lido). This island is renowned for its ancient history. In addition to defending itself from invasions, the island had to deal with the dangers of the sea. The Murazzi, the sea walls visible on the beach, are an important means of protecting its inhabitants from the tides and storms of the Adriatic. All of the island's villages are strung out along the water's edge on the lagoon side with tiny cottages painted in a kaleidoscope of colours, and scores of fishing boats moored on the wharf. Two main streets run parallel: one nearer the sea and the other skirting the lagoon, while the island's ‘calli', ‘campielli' and ‘corti' are the centres of village life. The first village that visitors arriving from the Lido will see is Santa Maria del Mare where you can visit the imposing Fort of San Pietro - and then San Pietro in Volta. We recommend two addresses for lovers of good cuisine: Agriturismo alle Valli renowned for its beautiful courtyard, view and incredibly fresh fish and Da Nane al Canton in San Pietro which offers delicious local fare in a simple but welcoming ambience (its ‘pasticcio di pesce' is famous throughout the region). If you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, make your way to Da Celeste, one of the best seafood restaurants in Venice. Find a table on the wooden terrace, which has sweeping views of the lagoon, and order the delectable mussel soup. Continuing our tour we find Portosecco and, on the southern side of the island, the nature reserve of Ca' Roman: a protected oasis for flora and fauna of white sandy beaches, dunes and pinewoods. The area is a nature lovers' paradise, far removed from the hustle and bustle of tourist-invaded Venice.
To end your day's exploration on a high note, stop and watch the sun setting over the lagoon while enjoying a welcome aperitivo at Bar Gelateria Laguna. We guarantee an unforgettable experience.
Hotel Des Bains
Hotel Ausonia & Hungaria
Circolo Golf Venezia