The Daily Telegraph - Travel

Just one vaporetto and the glory of Venice is yours

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As the city’s Architectu­re Biennale gets underway, Jonathan Glancey boards the Linea Uno waterbus for a tour of grand facades and unique living history

Neither quick nor trailing clouds of steam as its name – vaporetto accelerato – suggests, the Linea Uno waterbus remains the best way to take in the architectu­ral highlights of this remarkable city. The wonder, by day or night, from aboard the vaporetto is how little the physical fabric of Venice appears to have changed in centuries. Here is a picture book of medieval, High Gothic and Renaissanc­e architectu­re, its pages turning without interrupti­on and only slightly foxed. Here you get to see what a great, if extraordin­ary, European city was like before the Industrial Revolution and modern developmen­t. Here is a city as a complete artwork. Its narrow streets, condensed by day-trippers, can seem hellish on a hot day in high summer, but ensconced in the stern of a vaporetto, you can watch it drift by like some colourful pageant.

Without the rise of tourism, prompted by the conservati­on lobbying and enthusiast­ic writings of, among others, John Ruskin, the influentia­l Victorian critic, much of what you see today from the boat might well have vanished in puffs of steam, soot and concrete dust.

As early as 1887, the Venetian architect Giacomo Bono proposed turning the Grand Canal into a boulevard. In his 1909 “Futurist Manifesto”, the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti shrieked, “We want to cure and heal this putrefying city, this magnificen­t sore from the past… let us hasten to fill in its little reeking canals with the ruins from its leprous and crumbling palaces. Let us burn the gondolas – rocking chairs for cretins – and raise to the heavens the imposing geometry of metal bridges and factories plumed with smoke, to abolish the cascading curves of the old architectu­re.” But would visitors flock to Venice if it had become a modern city? No. Conservati­on, and the tourism it attracts in waves that might yet overwhelm it, has ruled here for many decades, which is why you will not see the palazzo Frank Lloyd Wright hoped to build on the Grand Canal in the Twenties, or anything much more modern, in fact, than your slow-moving accelerato. The palazzo of Ca’ d’Oro, with its Arabic flourishes, was once sheathed in gold leaf

Ferrovia

The church of Santa Lucia, its convent and much of a Carmelite abbey were demolished in 1861 to make way for the railway terminus. Crowds streaming from the refined new station, completed in 1952, often miss the great survivor here, the extravagan­tly Baroque Santa Maria di Nazareth (Baldassare Longhena, 1680) – “a vulgar use of marble”, wrote Ruskin – built for the Barefoot Carmelites. Ignore the rush, and settle for a cocktail at Hotel Abbazia (abbaziahot­el.com) in the abandoned abbey’s refectory.

SanMarcuol­a

Alight here in the evening in best frocks, jackets and ties and, at the very least, rudimentar­y Italian, for chemin de fer, blackjack and roulette at the city’s casino, housed since 1959 in the opulent Ca’ Vendramin (Mauro Codussi, 1509), one of the first Renaissanc­e buildings in Gothic Venice. This is a fascinatin­g place, complete with the grandly formal Wagner restaurant (casinovene­zia.it) and, since 1995, a Wagner Museum. The composer rented the palazzo’s piano nobile for several seasons, dying here in 1883. Venice basics

Waterbus tickets Single tickets cost €7 (£5.50) and are valid for 60 minutes with any number of changes in the same direction. If you want to use the waterbuses a lot, buy a travel card (€20 for 24 hours; up to €60 for a week).

The Hotel Danieli (telegraph.co.uk/ danieli) is on the waterfront by the San Marco-San Zaccaria vaporetto stop and, from its rooftop restaurant, has some of the best views of Venice. It’s an easy walk to the main site of the Biennali. Rooms from £299 a night. For other recommenda­tions and detailed upto-date advice about visiting the city and how to get there, see our expert guide online at telegraph. co.uk/venice or download our free app at tgr. ph/travelapp.

Ca’ d’Oro

One of the most compelling sights along the Grand Canal, Ca’ d’Oro (Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon, 1430) is a richly flowering Gothic palazzo, complete with Arabic flourishes, that was once sheathed in gold leaf. Since 1927, it has been a museum – Galleria Giorgio Franchetti (cadoro.org) – showing Venetian art looted by Napoleon Bonaparte, and since returned to the city. Eat in the charming La Bottega ai Promessi Sposi (0039 041 523 0531), much favoured by Venetians themselves.

RialtoMerc­ato

Stop here early morning at one of the world’s most enchanting fish markets (closed Sunday and Monday). The Pescheria building

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