This May, the Architecture Biennale takes over the city. To help you make the most of your visit, we reveal the hidden cultural gems and romantic canalside haunts
Jet off to magical Venice – where the Architecture Biennale begins this month – to explore its ancient buildings, romantic waterways, mouthwatering local delicacies and, of course, the world-renowned glassware from the nearby island of Murano
Venice’s Gothic palazzos, Byzantine basilicas and romantic bridges make it a magical place to visit all year round, but from May, its duomo-dotted skyline will be interrupted by more than 71 installations by big-name architects from around the globe. The Architecture Biennale (26 May–25 November) is held on alternate years from its sibling, the Venice Biennale international art exhibition, which began in 1895, and crowds descend en masse to witness the clash of ancient and edgy. Avoid the tourist crowds and follow our guide to the best of the city’s hidden gems.
WHERE TO STAY
To experience Venice like a local, check into an apartment rather than a hotel. Casa Flora (overleaf), a three-bedroom home-from-home in a Renaissance Revival palazzo has everything, from Rubelli fabric-upholstered chairs to Murano glasses – all crafted in Italy and available to buy. A chef and pastry expert from Estro, a local brasserie, arrive each morning to make breakfast, which can be eaten in the tiny walled garden (from £525 for a minimum three-night stay; casafloravenezia.com). Alternatively, try Casa L’arsenale, a villa with spectacular views that sleeps up to 16 (from £8,741 for a four-night stay; italianstylevillas.com). ➤
BREAKFAST AND LUNCH
Hop aboard a vaporetto (water bus) to Giardini for mini brioche at cooperative café Serra dei Giardini, situated in a 19th-century greenhouse (serradeigiardini.org). Espresso sipped, head to the former home of legendary 20th-century art collector Peggy Guggenheim, which is now a museum. After inspecting the Giacomettis, Picassos and Kandinskys, stop for a bowl of risotto in the café, or dine outside in the lush, sculpture-scattered garden ( guggenheim-venice.it). On a Saturday afternoon, a visit to Al Muro on the docks, where an open-air cucina is set up right on the waterside, is essential. You can pick up a plate of piping hot fritti misti (assorted fried savoury delicacies) and a glass of wine for about €10 (murovenezia.com).
WINE AND DINE
For a fix of old-world Venetian glamour, where immaculate Italian pensioners catch up alongside Hollywood stars, it has to be a cocktail at Harry’s Bar, birthplace of the bellini (cipriani.com). Afterwards, wander away from the bustle of the Grand Canal down lesser-trodden paths to Osteria Bancogiro, a tavern in a former warehouse where you can dine on porcini mushroom and pistachio linguine (osteriabancogiro.it). Also try the scallop carpaccio at Trattoria Antiche Carampane (antichecarampane.com) and the thyme-roasted pigeon with cavolo nero at the whitewashed L’anice Stellato (osterianicestellato.com). Alternatively, if you wish to make the most of your private villa’s state-of-the-art kitchen, pick up a net of just-caught clams and some fresh pasta from the spectacular Rialto Mercato before heading back to make a simple but sensational spaghetti alle vongole.
Truman Capote once said, ‘ Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.’ Once you’ve savoured the architectural and artistic treats around every corner – from crenelated 15th-century palazzos and gigantic (up to 22-metre wide) paintings by Renaissance masters Titian and Tintoretto to the rainbow-coloured houses of Burano island – it’s time to discover new talent, with a visit to the best of the 2018 Architecture Biennale. Our highlight? A fragment of east London’s Robin Hood Gardens (the 1972 housing estate and much-loved example of new Brutalism that has just been demolished to make way for a £300 million redevelopment scheme), which the V&A is transporting to Arsenale, Venice’s former shipyard. Other Brits bringing installations include Turner-prize-winning design collective Assemble, south London practice 6a Architects and Alison Brooks Architects (€25 for a day’s access to all the exhibitions; labiennale.org).
Fondaco dei Tedeschi was originally built in the 13th century as the trading exchange for German merchants, but has been beautifully converted by Dutch super-architect Rem Koolhaas’ OMA studio into Venice’s first luxury department store, where you’ll find everything from Gucci flares to Puglian amaretti biscuits (dfs.com). On the artisanal front, pick up a bar of fragrant orange blossom soap in the Ortigia Sicilia store (ortigiasicilia.com) and a jewel-like glass goblet, or, indeed, a chandelier at Signoretti, a glass-making workshop on Murano island – the perfect place to see the region’s master craftspeople at work (signoretti.it).
ESCAPE THE Citytucked
into the Euganean Hills, 45 minutes west of Venice, is La Mugletta bed and breakfast, a contemporary four-bedroom, larch-clad eco cabin designed by architecture studio Integrate Collective. The in-house spa is heated geothermally, pottery classes and shiatsu treatments can be organised, and ingredients for supper come from the resplendent herb and vegetable garden (from £131 per night; lamugletta.com).