Venice rarely disappoints. Of all the cities in the world, it is perhaps the one most painted for visitors before they arrive – in words, on canvass, in photographs and movies. And it lives up to the image – every romantic, crumbling, gilded, breathtakingly beautiful bit of it. Those shimmering, translucent pinks, blues and yellows you see in paintings? They are for real. Magnificent palazzos, like ancient ladies decaying genteelly in their finery; glittering domes that smuggle in an air of the East; gondolieri in striped shirts, deftly propelling sleek black gondolas through narrow canals; masked, cloaked figures revelling during Carnival – it’s all true.
There’s no traffic. Daily life goes on in boats. Fruit, furniture, even the garbage is carried over water. Footsteps and voices fill the streets, and at times just silence, or the bumping of a wooden boat as water laps against a wall; an outdoor orchestra, a singing gondoliere. Away from the canals, streets narrow into alleys sometimes barely a doorway wide – then suddenly burst open into squares where children play, people sit at cafés sipping coffee, housewives stop to chat as they haul their groceries home in wheeled shopping baskets. The writer Henry James noted that there is no outdoors in Venice, the whole city is like one giant salon. Of course, these days eighty percent of the people you’ll encounter in the salon are tourists. But that does mean that everyone around you is on holiday – and most are in love.
Venice was once hugely wealthy. Its churches and museums are brimful of some of the most magnificent art in the world. But Venice’s richest rewards are given to those who simply wander. This web-guide will help you do just that… and get the best out of the city along the way.