By Regina Lynch Hudson
Blissful destination: When it comes to “dream destinations,” there is no topping Venice, Italy — The Pearl of the Adriatic Sea. I’d made the usual romps along the white sand beaches of the Caribbean, scaled mountaintops from the Grand Canyon to Mount Gimie, safaried in South Africa, and viewed the pyramids of Cairo. Yet, my soul cried out for the ultimate sojourn. The treasured lagoon city of Venice is an architectural gem that lures tens of thousands of passengers via cruise ships -— and thousands who fly in each day, as we did, to bask in uber-intrigue. The compact ‘city of canals’ is one of the most romantic and captivating in the world. Though the population of Venice is a mere 55,000, some 30 million tourists converge on Venice per year.
Talk about grand entrances. There’s no entry more memorable or exhilarating than sailing to your lodgings via private water taxi -— with reflections of magnificence in the rear view mirror. When we arrived at Venice Marco Polo airport, we fetched a water taxi straight to our hotel. Admittedly, hubby and I felt like James Bond and his Bond girl, as we sped over the waves at high speed, past enchanting palazzos (palaces), hotels and homes -— perched in water.
Once settled, we found that Venice’s hot spots are all within walking distance. It’s not as if you can hail a yellow cab or call a chauffeur to explore the best of Venice. The city is a magnificent maze of twisty tight-knit streets and narrow alleyways, with lots of steps and bridges that can be tricky to navigate. Flat shoes, a supreme sense of direction, and hamstrings that won’t give out on you, are a must. However, getting lost in Venice is enticing. Around every meandering turn there’s magic and magnificence.
The Lap of Luxury: Digs in Venice are charming, quaint, historical and expensive. Expect to pay exorbitant prices to laze in Venice -— particularly if you stay on the Grand Canal. A week’s stay at the four-star Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal was majestic, on an intimate scale. Our jaw-dropping suite redefined ‘a room with a view.’ I could throw open my window and literally breathe in the exotica of the Grand Canal, with its gondolas, gondoliers and towers of gothic grandeur. Breakfasts of croissants, pastries, fresh fruit and yogurts were washed down with Italian coffee, from a dining room located a mere 50 metres from the waterbus stop. carltongrandcanal.com
Stunning Sights: You can’t miss thronged tourist haunts like the Bascillica de San Marco/ Piazza San Marco, Doges Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto Bridge and the Guggenheim Museum. And you haven’t truly experienced Venice until you’ve danced among the pigeons at the famed St. Marks Square. Another leading canalside activity is shopping. You’ll find brands like Chanel and Prada amid shops that sell Venetian masks, and works of art by Italy’s artisans.
Ristorante: A download of iPhone app Venice Restaurants Official Mobile Guide, helped us navigate eateries in a city that’s swarming with quaint back-alley cafes, bistros, bars and hole-in-the-wall taverns. Equally as helpful, locals directed us to Osteria Da Fiore, reportedly one of the best restaurants in Venice, with its luscious raw fish dishes. (www.dafiore.net) Ai Mercanti (located near the Rialto Bridge) satisfied taste buds with its mastery of traditional Italian cuisine. aimercanti.com
Ahhh ecstasy: A gondola excursion will be the ride of your life! The elongated canoe-like boats have been a whimsical symbol of Venice for centuries -— with their high gloss lacquered wood finishes, elaborate interiors and oftentimes flamboyant gondoliers. A ride will set you back one hundred bucks -— but it’s worth it. I felt like Queen Nefertiti as I floated down the canals, past convoys of boats, mobs of waving tourists, and buildings that sprung out of the water like sandcastles.
Day Tripping: After you’ve seen every fascinating nook and cranny of Venice, it’s time to ferry to the islands of the lagoon -— Burano, Murano and Torcello. There are 34 islands, most are uninhabited. I took delight in Burano’s rainbow-colored houses and wee canals, which were a contrast to Venice’s ancient gothic mold. Burano is most known for its tediously embroidered lace -— a skill dating back to the 15th century. In Murano, I put my ‘bull in a china shop’ tendencies aside, and bought glass -— lots of it. Murano has long been famous for its Venetian glass blowers, who handicraft glass into vibrantly hued chandeliers, vases, decorative items and jewelry. In Torcello, the main draws are the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, and the adjoining church of Santa Fosca.
Beyond Venice: Holland America Line’s newest ship, Nieuw Amsterdam, offers Mediterranean itineraries round-trip from Venice, Italy, that visits ports throughout Italy, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, France, and Spain. hollandamerica.com