Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Venice 2009

Getting there
In order to get to Venice we had a few options, but we only short-listed flying from Manchester to Venice with SWISS (stop-over in Zurich) and flying from Liverpool to Venice with Ryanair (no stop-over).
We opted for SWISS because of the arrival time in Venice, which was ideally scheduled when looking at the hotel's check-in time. Manchester airport is closer anyway and SWISS flies to the international Marco Polo airport in Venice, while Ryanair flies to Treviso airport, which again is further away from where you ultimately need to be.

Getting from Marco Polo airport to our hotel Ca' Sagredo was actually easier than expected. I had read about many different options available to us, but one of the quickest and cheapest options was to simply take the ATVO private line bus to Piazzale Roma. From Piazzale Roma take the Vaporetto (Venice's floating equivalent of the public bus) Line 1.

ATVO Private Line bus tickets can be bought in the arrival terminal at Marco Polo airport (3 Euro), and the bus can be found just in front of you when you exit the terminal building. Just make sure to ask the ticketing desk when the bus is leaving, check the electronic display signs outside the terminal and aim for the blue bus. Don't forget to validate your ticket when you are getting on this bus, because you could risk a 40 Euro fine each.
When you get off the bus at Piazalle Roma, the Vaporetto boats actually leave from this square (please refer to this map). Look out for a ACTV ticketing office on a corner of the square (get yourself a single journey ticket at 6.5 Euro), the boats are docked just behind it. Try to go sit at the back of the Vaporetto, which is outdoor and allows you to take in the scenery. In order to get to our hotel we took Line 1 (leaves every 10 minutes) for a few stops and we got off at Ca' d'Oro, which was in front of our hotel. We just had to walk around the block to get to the main entry.
The entire journey didn't take more than 45 minutes and gave us a flavour of Venice.
When making this journey in the opposite direction, make sure not to make the same mistake I made and buy ACTV bus tickets to get back to the airport. These busses will take twice as long because they make several stops. I realised this after buying the ACTV tickets, so I had to buy new ATVO tickets again.

Places to Stay
When looking at hotels in Venice, we came across Ca' Sagredo on XO Private's web site. The pictures of the hotel looked absolutely amazing, so we decided not to go through our usual route of checking out all the hotels on TripAdvisor and booking direct, or through one of the popular booking sites. We saw something we really liked on XO Private and we just went ahead and booked via them. 

We had booked a "standard" Premier Room, but when we were shown to our room we realised we had been upgraded to a really nice Prestige Room with view on the Grand Canal. We also had some chocolate-dipped fresh strawberries in our room. Excellent start!

The hotel's interior looks absolutely amazing, while the exterior doesn't really give this away. Imagine having a room in a museum or palace, and you're about there.
Everything in the room and the hotel looked absolutely immaculate. Not the tiniest stain to be spotted, no signs of wear-and-tear and everything was impeccably clean (I mean flawlessly clean).
The staff at reception were very kind, efficient and service-minded. I asked to confirm (and reschedule) restaurant booking a few times, which was always done with a smile. When I went to the reception to ask for a bath robe, this was delivered to the room before I actually managed to get back to the room... speedy!
Service is always discreet but very efficient with a focus on guests' privacy.

When booking the hotel, I wasn't aware of how well it was located actually. The Traghetto (little ferry that gets you across the Canal) was just on the hotel's doorstep and this takes you to the vegetable and Pescheria fish market. 

Now, we didn't intend on making a 3-course meal ourselves but nearby this market square you find a high concentration of excellent Osteria (similar to a tavern, pub, restaurant) that are not solely aimed at tourists.

The Traghetti don't run at night time, but you can still easily cross the canal via the nearby Rialto bridge.

Some tips:
  • Since we had a view of the Grand Canal this also meant that the noise from the Vaporettos could be disturbing in the morning. Just pack some earplugs like we did and you will be fine.
  • Seemingly legislation doesn't allow hotels in Italy to have an iron and ironing board in the rooms. So try to be clever about packing or make sure you will know what you will be wearing in the evening or the next day and use the hotel's pressing service.

  • Ca' Sagredo is a fantastic hotel in an excellent location, especially if you will be sampling the local food. If/When we go back to Venice, there is no doubt in our minds we will be staying at Ca' Sagredo again.
  • XO Private's selection of hotels is spectacular and this experience has now changed my online hotel search habits. I will now start with XO Private first before looking further on other sites.

Places to Eat
First things first: order Venice Osterie, by Michela Scibilia. If you like your food, this will be your best few quid spent in preparation of a Venice trip.

On our first night in Venice, we decided to give Alle Testiere a try based on the review in Venice Osterie (a 10 minute walk from the hotel). We had booked during the week and we were only able to secure a table for 21:30. On arrival, there was a really nice buzz in the restaurant, both owners (I think) who manage front of house and the kitchen were standing behind the counter with a big smile on their faces. This happy vibe, of staff and customers, went along with excellent food. Since we had some chicetti earlier that evening, we asked if we could skip the starters, order the swordfish main to share, as a starter because we both fancied this, and afterwards have the mixed grilled fish. This was no problem whatsoever and they immediately understood what we meant. The swordfish dish was excellent and the grilled mixed fish was very good. The latter dish didn't come with condiments, nor cover-up sauces but was a dish of excellent fresh produce. We didn't even ask for anything to go with the fish because it was just that good (and it was a generous plate of food). The white wine that was suggested to us was good, but a little strong to my partner's taste (14 degrees for a white wine is quite strong). However it did work well with the food, but would be a little heavy as an aperitif wine. I unfortunately don't remember the name of the wine.
The almond ice cream and pistachio pannacota were really good deserts to finish off an excellent meal.
We would certainly go back and this restaurant really deserves its good reputation.

  • Even after 21:30 people were still coming in to have food. The restaurant was packed throughout the evening.
  • The same owners have opened Pesco Pronto at the Pescheria Fish market. An excellent place to have an excellent fresh quick lunch.

On our second evening we went to I Figli Delle Stelle, located on Giudecca. Getting there from our hotel was a bit of an expedition really. I had imagined it as having an enjoyable Vaporetto ride, enjoying dusk from the outdoor back-section of the Vaporetto and taking in the views of the Giudecca island opposite San Marco while jumping on a second Vaporetto that would get us to the restaurant.  It was more something like being in a rush because we wanted to have a rest after a long day of walking around Venice, meaning we were running late for the restaurant. The romantic-envisioned Vaporetto ride didn't really turn out that way. The outdoor section was not an option because it was freezing. Inside was more like being stuck on a damp public bus in England. You couldn't see anything outside and that was going to be our ride for over 30 minutes. Romantic ... not really! In my "Men are from Mars and can read maps" attitude, I had taken control of the Vaporetto lines' map, which unfortunately ended up with us shooting past our intended San Zaccharia stop. So we had to jump off and get the next Vaporetto back for one stop, before taking another Line to get to the island of Giudecca (Zitelle).  My partner, Siân, was not impressed with my restaurant selection by this point, and neither was I actually. One hour to get to a restaurant I had read about on TripAdvisor  and in Venice Encounter was just a bit much, especially considering that we had so many good Osteria near our hotel.
So, when we finally got to I Figli Delle Stelle it looked nice but there were only 4 other customers present at 20:55, and I do mean 4 customers not 4 tables, on a Saturday evening. This was a big contrast in comparison to our previous night at Alle Testiere. We had booked in advance, so we had been allocated a really good table at the window with views across the water of the Southern part of Venice.
I did kind of get why this restaurant would be a really good option during the summer when you are staying in a nearby hotel such as Danielli. Under the sun this must indeed be quite appealing if it is a short Vaporetto ride away, but in our case it just wasn't a good option.
Now, back to the food and wine. The Prosecco and our starter of crostinis with fish were tasty indeed, but unfortunately this is where the good news ended. Being in Venice, we again ordered the grilled mixed fish but this time the experience wasn't as positive. The filleted sea bass had gone cold, because it was put on a cold plate. This was quite unfortunate because the taste was good. The accompanying scallops were raw. We didn't want to make a completely fuss, so we quickly ate the sea bass before it was beneath freezing point, returned the scallops and proceeded to eat the langoustine which was nice. The same, slightly chopped up, scallops were heated up a bit longer and we got them back after a few minutes. The initially raw scallops were supposedly the Chef's way of cooking them ... hmmm!
When we mentioned that the sea bass had been quite cold, because of the cold plates, the lady who was serving us said "oh I will tell them in the kitchen because they are still very young". Did I hear this correctly? Who exactly had been cooking our food?
We proceeded with some desserts, a coffee semifredo and a white chocolate mousse, which didn't have the texture of a mousse at all (more of a froffy custard) but was still ok.
We had also ordered some coffee and were told a little later that our bills were ready at the till, which was probably the owner's way of letting us know it was time to go because we were the only ones left by that point.
So after this average dining experience we headed back to our hotel, only for my partner to be sick during the night. Was it food poisoning? It really looked like it (and was affecting her for several days) but according to a lady at the Farmacia a virus was currently affecting quite some people. So, it would probably not be fair to resolutely blame this on I Figli Delle Stelle's food, but with the raw scallops, lukewarm food and low turnaround I am not entirely dismissing the idea neither.

  • I Figli Delle Stelle specialises in Puglian food and just maybe we should have opted for some of the typically Puglian dishes instead of the fresh grilled fish?
  • This restaurant could still be a good option in the summer, if you stay at a nearby hotel and go for the more typical Puglian dishes while enjoying the scenery, which I'm sure must be amazing at sunset. The owner/manager even said "people come here for the location" and then hastily added "and for the food of course"... I guess that just about sums it up really.

On our last night in Venice, I went for a quick discovery tour of the nearby Osteria and from Ca' Sagredo we were spoiled for choice really. Ca' d'Oro, Banco Giro, Naranzaria, etc are all just a short walk from the hotel and favourites of Michela Scibilia, the author of Venice Osterie, and I can understand why. I really enjoyed the atmosphere at Campo San Giacometto where Banco Giro and Naranzaria are located, with people having a glass of wine while standing outside or having some wine and cicchetti inside. Both places also allowed for a seated meal (Naranzaria also does sushi which makes sense with the daily fresh fish). I went back to the hotel and did my best to get Siân, my partner, out of bed because she still wasn't feeling well. Some medication and loads of braverie from her part, and off we went to actually have a drink and some food at these Osteria (well I did most of the drinking and eating obviously).
I had some chicetti at Narazaria and they were good, but I must admit that Banco Giro's chicetti were excellent and topped Naranzaria's but both had a really good atmosphere and served nice spritzers and wines. Many of the places I wanted to try, such as Al Marca and All'Arco were unfortunately closed. Maybe because they needed some time off after the Carnival weekend that had taken place the previous week.

  • There is loads of great food in Venice, when you look beyond the beaten track and go on a cullinary discovery trip in little side alleys. But there is also loads of rubbish pastries and cakes being sold in the main shopping streets. And strangely, the more rubbish a place was, the more expensive the coffee. The nicer places only charge something like 1.5 euro and the rubbish tourist traps (not even on San Marco) charge 3.5 euro. The quality of a place is seemingly inversely proportional to the price of its coffee. (this might not apply for luxury hotels of course)
  • Get yourself Venice Osterie in order to have great food while staying in Venice. I'm really happy I did.
  • I haven't seen one overweight Italian in Venice, so I guess their diet, which is rich in fish, combined with loads of walking keeps the locals really fit.

It's quite simple really. If you are looking for designer brands head for the streets surrounding Piazza San Marco.

If you are looking for artisans' shops go to the Dorsoduro area. The shops there are quite different from the shops and stalls where mass produced items are being sold. We came across the artisan's shop who supplied many of the masks used in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. So, we bought a signed mask there and packed it carefully for our trip back.

You can buy Murano glass all over Venice but I didn't spend as much time investigating shops as I did places to eat. Michela Scibilia also wrote a book about shopping in Venice, which might be worth checking out if you're more of a shopaholic.

Venice, the verdict:
Venice is an amazing place, where I would definitely like to return to. Next time I might however opt to go in Spring or Summer, during the week, while avoiding bank holidays. Even during low season some of the streets get really crowded so I expect things to go a little mental during high-season bank holidays.

More pictures to give you a feel for the place.

1 comment:

hotel Treviso said...

I like your Venetian experience, I had a great time reading it.