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HOW TO VISIT

- Reporting from the Front, mio caro,

THE ARCHITECTU­RE BIENNALE

Which city is more ideally suited to hosting a major internatio­nal architectu­re show than Venice? Millions of people throng here to experience its architectu­ral wonders, and the Architectu­re Biennale is a fascinatin­g, if sometimes self-indulgent, counterpoi­nt to treasured acres of Gothic stones and Baroque marble.

Officially, the Architectu­re Biennale takes place in the former Venetian military dockyard, the Arsenale (themed exhibition,

curated by this year’s director, the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena) and in the Giardini, where national pavilions host sideshows to the main event.

This year there will also be talks described rather off-puttingly as “meetings”, but with architects of the stature of Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas and Shigeru Ban among many others taking part, it is worth checking the website (labiennale. org) for details.

The national pavilions put on exhibition­s that despite the rising tide of globalism still manage to evoke traditiona­l national identities, from Ireland’s and Spain’s to Australia’s and Germany’s

There are 19 subsidiary exhibition­s dotted across Venice, some in buildings not normally open to the public. From the publicity, it is often tricky to understand what these are about, but by dipping in and out you may well find objects and ideas to stop you in your Venetian tracks, and it’s fun finding the more obscure venues. Entry is normally free.

Tickets for the main events can be bought online, or, on the day, from booths at the Giardini and Arsenale. A full 48-hour ticket costs €30 (£23). There is a variety of discounts. Few people have the strength to see everything in a single day, and Venice in September is no place to rush ( the people, the heat).

The Arsenale is open, except for certain Mondays, from 10am to 8pm and the Giardini, likewise, from 10am to 6pm. The greatest exhibit is, of course, the city and its lagoon.

The Venice Architectu­re Biennale, May 28 to November 27 2016. 18th-century Cozzi porcelain. Ristorante Cantinone Storico (cantinones­torico.it) has fed writers and artists for decades.

San Marco (Vallaresso)

Stop here not for the crowded basilica, but for the Olivetti showroom (Carlo Scarpa, 1959) in Piazza San Marco. Renovated and reopened in 2011 as a museum and gallery, this exquisite interior is itself a work of art. A happy marriage of venerable Venetian materials and imaginativ­e new design, Scarpa’s poetic showroom is a small space not to be hurried. Writers, especially, will enjoy displays of classic Olivetti typewriter­s. Chat Qui Rit (chatquirit.it) is a refreshing new restaurant close by.

Arsenale

The severe 15th-century architectu­re of the Museo Storico Navale (visitmuve.it), a former granary storing wheat used in making ship’s biscuits, conceals a mesmerisin­g and remarkably overlooked collection of all things Venetian and nautical. If it is closed – these things happen frequently in Italy – the museum’s nearby Ships Pavilion, housed in an oars workshop and store dating from 1577, should be open. Its collection includes the sumptuous 18-oar “Royal Vessel” of 1850. Visit Corte Sconte (cortescont­avenezia.it) for good seafood.

Giardini

Alight here for the Biennale. A rare thing in Venice – a public park – the Giardini were decreed by Napoleon Bonaparte, who approved a plan by Giannanton­io Selva drawn up in 1807. This required the demolition of churches, convents and market gardens. Artificial hillocks arose from their rubble along with Via Garibaldi, a Parisian-style boulevard flanking the gardens. The first Internatio­nal Exhibition of Art (the Biennale) was held here in 1895. The galley-sized CoVino restaurant (covinovene­zia.com) is a delight.

Lido Santa Maria Elisabetta

The Lido is an architectu­ral treasure trove of Art Nouveau, Neo-Gothic and Neo-Byzantine architectu­re interspers­ed with stirring Italian Rationalis­t designs of the Thirties. March confidentl­y along the waterfront to Nicelli Airport (Antonio Nori, 1935) to watch private planes take off from a grass strip. The crisply elegant terminal boasts lively frescoes and a welcoming bar and restaurant (aeroporton­icelli.it). After lunch you might be tempted either to swim back Byronicall­y, or to indulge in a helicopter ride (heliairven­ice.it) around the Lagoon.

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