As much as I love Venice there is a flip side to its charms. Yes, the watery city is impossibly romantic and the beauty can bring you to tears. But you know what else can bring you to tears? The crowds. As tourism all over the world reaches new and dizzying heights, Venice is almost always held up as the poster child of how a city can be transformed by the descent of millions of visitors from all over the world.
I have my own ways of avoiding the crowds. I tend to avoid Venice in high season, preferring the relatively sleepy period between November and February. And at any time of year I rarely venture anywhere near Piazza San Marco, if I can help it.
But this year I broke all my rules. I hopped off the train in Venice on July 1, the most crowded time I could possibly choose. Actually, I didn’t choose to be there then, Emma did. She had a break from university and wanted to see the Biennale. So I said yes, as long as we could balance what my friend Gillian refers to as the Death March of Art (there is an awful lot of art to get through) with a huge dose of the far away islands of the Venetian lagoon.
While many tourists take the vaporetto as far as Murano to visit the glass works, few make it further afield. My game plan this trip was to head out over the water, as far as I could get from the July hoards.
One of my favorite islands is Mazzorbo, which you’ve probably never heard of, which is the entire point of staying there. Venissa is the beyond charming inn that the Bisol family runs, set amid a vineyard. I’ve stayed there before, and the thought of waking up to the sound of lapping water and birds instead of tourists dragging suitcases sounded just about right.
But my first evening there I went even further out into the wilds of the lagoon. Mauro Stoppa sailed over to pick me up, along with some friends, for dinner on the Eolo, his traditional Venetian bragozzo. This flat bottomed fishing boat, has been lovingly restored and Mauro has been taking guests out for last 15 years or so, exploring the lagoon, and the surrounding areas. The flat bottom allows it to travel across shallow waters, escaping the more trafficked canals.
We left Mazzorbo and headed off past Burano and Torcello and into the wild northern part of the lagoon that most people never see. Fishermen were bringing in their nets, birds were coming into roost and we finally anchored far from almost any sign of civilization. As we sipped prosecco, Mauro got to work in the galley preparing our dinner. Because, besides owning this fabulous boat, Mauro is also a fabulous chef, using the wooden galley below decks to transform the bounty of the lagoon into stellar meals.
As the sun set, and the moon rose, we sipped our way through many bottles of prosecco while nibbling on delightful appetizers. Eventually a pristine table was set up mid-deck, complete with crystal, silver and twinkling candles. The main course was an incredibly fresh spigola that Mauro bought from a fisherman who pulled up along side our boat. The rest of the dinner combined fish as well as fresh herbs from the surrounding islands and produce.
Rather than continue describing, I’ll share this video. I think it captures the purely magical experience. Far away from the maddening crowds, this is Venice too.
- 1 large, untreated organic lemon
- 1 medium onion
- ½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- 20 mini friselle or rusks (or other type of rustic cracker)
- see video for instructions
To book your own dining experience on the Eolo contact Mauro through his website.
I was a guest of Mauro for dinner on the Eolo, and I was a guest of Venissa on land.
For more information on dining in Rome and Italy download my app, EAT ITALY. EAT ITALY is a free app, and contains guides to Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence and Umbria (and an ever expanding list of regions and cities) available as in-app purchases for both iPhone and iPad.