VENICE'S HIDDEN GARDENS
The floating city is generally pictured as a location of magnificent ‘palazzi' and canals traversed by gondolas. At first glance, it might seem to consist only of buildings without much greenery. But Venice boasts as many as 500 gardens, many of which ar
The floating city boasts as many as 500 gardens, many of which are hidden behind the facades of ‘palazzi' and in ancient convents.
During the creation and growth of Venice, the Venetians were faced with the challenge of creating fields for cultivation and vegetable gardens, which was not an easy task due to the salty water of the lagoon. Monastic communities provided the first models that would later be adopted for the cultivation of herbs and vegetables. The island of Certosa is a prime example of this. Over the centuries, botanists, merchants and explorers, returning from faraway lands, brought numerous plant species to Venice including sandalwood, cinnamon, cedar trees, oranges and olive trees.
During the Renaissance, as documented by Jacopo de' Barbari's aerial view map (1500-1501), there was an explosion of these gardens, which were used for relaxation and botanical studies. Plants and flowers, fountains and statues, were used to create idyllic settings. Over the centuries, due to the intervention of the government and the conversion of several aristocratic homes into hotels, these gardens were developed and transformed. The creation of the Lido as an exclusive holiday resort between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century led to the establishment of grand hotels, beautiful Liberty buildings and gardens along its coastline.
Not all of these marvellous green spaces are open to the public, but Where® has compiled a list of districts where you can see and visit some of these gardens.
After elbowing our way through the crowds exiting the station of Santa Lucia, our first stopover is at the Church of Santa Maria di Nazareth in the Cannaregio district. Here you can visit the Scalzi vegetable garden (Cannaregio, 54): a part of the ancient convent of the Discalced Carmelites. It is one of the Serenissima's oldest vineyards and is now used for the cultivation of grapes, fruit trees and medicinal herbs. In 2015, the church opened the ‘mystic garden' for public viewing. This garden was built as a spiritual retreat and combines the beauty of nature with religious symbolism. In addition to fruit and vegetables, the small shop at its entrance also sells ‘Melissa water', a floral water renowned for its healing properties.
The church organizes guided tours of the garden subject to a small donation. www.giardinomistico.it
Peep inside the Boscolo Hotel Dei Dogi (Cannaregio, 3500) and admire its magnificent Botanical Garden. Created in the 18th century to cultivate rare botanical collections, the garden was enhanced with beautiful Romanesque touches in the 19th century. Restored when the hotel opened, it is now planted with roses, camellias, hydrangeas and other species that attract visitors yearround. Don't miss a visit to the grotto that was once used to store ice. venezia.boscolohotels.com
Located just steps from the charming church of the Madonna dell'Orto, just over a year ago the Heureka boutique hotel opened its doors to the public. The hotel boasts a delightful hidden garden, the ideal place to rest and relax after a heady day's sightseeing.
Chill with a glass of wine, grab a good book or spread out a map of Venice and pinpoint the sights that you'd like to explore. Who could wish for more? www. www.hotel-heureka.com
The garden of B&B Ca' Del Melograno (Cannaregio, 2023) is equally charming. This 200sqm space features a pond with floating water lilies and water irises, symbolic fruit trees, sculptures donated
by friends of the owner and small wall ceramics inscribed with poetic texts. www.locandadelmelograno.it
While strolling through the ‘sestiere' of Santa Croce, make sure to visit the Porcinai Winter Garden located inside the Hotel Papadopoli (Santa Croce, 245). This tranquil space is a natural extension of the park that is situated outside the hotel. The garden is adorned with thick vines and lush plant species. A beautiful Murano glass chandelier, hanging from its ceiling, reminds us that this paradise of plants is actually located in Venice. pietroporcinai.it.
The garden of the Hotel Ca' Nigra (Santa Croce, 927) faces directly over the Grand Canal. Thanks to its rose bowers that create geometric patterns amidst lush vines of wisteria and box hedges, it is also known as the Rose Garden. Visitors can enjoy a romantic view over the water while sitting on a half-moon shaped bench made from Istrian stone. The garden is a favourite location for wedding photographers. www.hotelcanigra.com
Those in search of a green oasis while walking through the ‘sestiere' of San Polo should head to the garden of Palazzetto Bru Zane (San Polo, 2368). The building hosts romantic concerts and its garden – restored to its original splendour in 2007 – is equally romantic. Highlights include a blaze of white blooms skillfully juxtaposed with wisteria, a plant that is often used to decorate Venetian gardens. www.bru-zane.com
Like most Venetian gardens, the garden of Casa Mahler, now renamed Hotel Oltre il Giardino (San Polo, 2542), is hidden behind a wall. A path of bamboo and yew trees leads to a lawn encircled by a wide variety of plant species. The varying sizes and colours of the plants make this small, tranquil oasis seem larger than it actually is. oltreilgiardino-venezia.com
One of Venice's most unusual gardens can be found in the famous San Marco district at Palazzo Franchetti (San Marco, 2844), a beautiful building overlooking the Grand Canal and the Accademia Bridge. Although a high wall encircles the garden, once inside you can walk along a lush tree-lined path leading to Grand Canal. This venue is often used to host contemporary art works. www.palazzofranchetti.it. The Garden of the Hotel Flora (San Marco, 2283) is equally captivating but much smaller. This long, narrow space, resembling a Venetian alleyway, is located between two buildings covered with Catawba grape vines. The garden features an array of different plant species and decorative elements. The ideal spot to take a relaxing break. www.hotelflora.it
Two gardens associated with contemporary art can be found in the Castello district.
The first is the Carlo Scarpa Garden at the Querini Stampalia Foundation (Castello, 5252). The garden is located inside a fabulous house-museum designed by architect Carlo Scarpa in 1959 (see page 50). This eclectic garden fuses elements such as Byzantine-style mosaics and a Japanese pebble stream. Lilies resting on the water remind you of Venice's delicate balance of land and sea. www.querinistampalia.org
The Napoleonic Gardens in Castello, partially occupied by the pavilions of the Biennale Foundation, are the largest green spaces in the historic center. Pretty borders, leafy pathways and a dense canopy of trees make this an ideal escape in summer. For a refreshing break, stop at the Serra dei Giardini (Castello, 1254) a green house cum cafeteria and one of the city's most vibrant cultural hubs. www.serradeigiardini.org
The gardens in the Dorsoduro district are also renowned for their contemporary art exhibits. When staying in Venice, a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Dorsoduro, 704) is an absolute must. Here, amidst cypresses, yews, American linden trees and plant species imported from abroad, you'll find statues from the Peggy Guggenheim, as well as the Nasher and Shulhof collections. To remind you of your holiday, make sure to take a photo while sitting on the marble bench in the middle of the garden, one of the American heiress's favourite spots. www.guggenheim-venice.it
In addition to gardens, this area also boasts several vegetable gardens. A series of vegetable gardens belonging to an organic horticultural school - the first in the city - have been planted in the grounds of the Church of Angelo
Raffaele (Dorsoduro, 2364). Here, plants and flowers coexist with medicinal herbs. The area is divided into 40 small plots cultivated by senior citizens using organic and bio-dynamic cultivation techniques.
Take a vaporetto and head to the island of Giudecca where gardens abound. Some, like the garden at the Hotel Bauer Palladio (which is particularly beautiful in spring when the tulips and daffodils are in bloom), and that of the Hotel Cipriani (where you can admire lush vineyards, formerly present in abundance on the island) are open to the public.
In May you can also visit the Garden of Ottilia (Calle dell'Accademia dei Nobili). In addition to several rare flowering species, Ottilia cultivates 130 different species of roses based on the principles of biodynamics and kinesiology. Believe it or not, Ottilia uses a pendulum to "choose the plants that want to come into the garden, find out where they want to be planted, on what day and at what hour they want to be planted, and how and when they want to be cared for."
A small port near the Hilton Molino Stucky provides access to the Fortuny textile factory created by eclectic Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny. Here you'll find a garden with an amazing swimming pool. According to local lore the venue was used to host fabulously lavish parties. In addition to the garden, don't miss a visit to the showroom, a beautiful space housing the Fortuny collection, memorabilia, sketches and other items including cushions, accessories, glass art, lamps and exquisite fabrics. fortuny.com/venice
If you want to continue your journey of discovery of Venice's gardens and green spaces, we recommend a visit to the islands. Take a vaporetto to the Island of Certosa, only a fifteen minute ride from St. Mark's Square. After being abandoned for years, it was transformed into a public park with a nautical centre. You'll be struck by the size of the plants whose rapid growth is the result of the light that is reflected off the lagoon.
Whilst in Burano, cross a wooden bridge, and you'll find yourself facing the Walled Vineyard of Mazzorbo. This vineyard, which was recently restored by Gianluca Bisol, wine enthusiast and entrepreneur, renowned for his sparkling wines, has become a centre of rural agriculture. This small vineyard produces a wonderful wine called Venissa that is exported throughout the world. This wine is made from the ‘Dorona' grape, a native variety of the lagoon.
Alternately, you can take the shuttle in
St. Mark's Square and head to the island of Sacca Sessola where the Hotel JW Mariott Venice is headquartered. The hotel is surrounded by lush gardens, thick foliage, age-old trees and beautiful olive groves. The island also hosts a fabulous
SPA and a beautiful panoramic terrace where you can enjoy a relaxing drink. www.jwvenice.com
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Palazzetto Bru Zane
Boscolo Hotel Dei Dogi
Hotel Oltre il Giardino
Heureka boutique hotel garden