When I set out to find ourselves a weekend getaway as a 40th birthday gift for my husband, I literally didn’t know where to start. Did we want to stay in the UK or travel abroad? Relax in a spa retreat or party the night away in a vibrant city? Take in the culture and romance of somewhere new or simply find ourselves a beach hotel and lap up the sun?
In the end, I decided to travel outside the UK (but kept the flying time sub 2hrs) and visit somewhere we had never been before. I wanted culture, I wanted good food and wine, I wanted a nice hotel and somewhere we could enjoy as a couple (without the children!).
After trawling through numerous websites and holiday search engines, I found myself hooked on the idea of visiting Venice. The thought of casually strolling through the historic streets, taking in the culture and beautiful architecture, dining in romantic restaurants and cruising along the iconic grand canal, filled me with pure excitement.
I fell in love with the look of the Sina Centurion Palace hotel (perhaps it was their snazzy video clip that moved me so much – clearly I’m too easily swayed!) and booked 2 nights over the early May bank holiday giving us 3 full days in the magical city.
We flew into Marco Polo airport in Venice and once there, travelled in true ‘James Bond’ style to the city by hiring our own water taxi…when in Venice! The taxies however are not cheap at €120 for a 30-minute ride (compared to the water ferry at €15pp … for 1hr 10-minutes) but we didn’t care, we had to experience the thrill of a jetting across the water in a speedboat. I am so pleased we did as it was fab!
Our hotel was positioned at the mouth of the San Marco basin towards Dorsoduro. It had direct access to the Grand Canal and enjoyed spectacular views across the water. From our bedroom balcony, we could watch the bustling water boats travelling up and down the canal which was simply wonderful and so atmospheric. What drew me to this hotel was its unique position, its contemporary style and high-end appeal.
We dined in The Antinoo’s Lounge & Restaurant within the hotel on our first night and we were not left disappointed. We opted for the 7-course taster menu with accompanying wines and sat outside in candlelight on the terrace. The food was beautifully presented and called upon true traditions of Sicilian cuisine.
We had no set agenda for whilst we were there although we did take a guidebook and I did have my trusted tour guide by my side (aka my husband!). After seeking advice from other people, we were strongly urged to just “get lost”. Walk the streets, ride the water boats and seek out hidden streets. So this is exactly what we did!
The weather was fabulous – bright sunshine and around 26 degrees celsius. Any hotter and it would have felt uncomfortable walking around. We bought a 48hr vaporetta pass for the water buses which frequently go up and down the canal and around the islands stopping at various points. This is Venice’s equivalent to the London tube line.
One of the things that struck us so much about the city was the sheer scale of it all. There was just so much to see. And around every corner, or down different streets, there was something new to marvel at. Venice is a true treasure trove that stirs all of your senses and it soon became apparent that to try and take on too much over the course of the weekend would have been futile. Instead, Matt suggested a few key regions where we could just wander and explore and in so doing, we found a number of gems that we shall remember for years to come…! I wanted to share a few of these with you and so below I have listed some of the highlights from our trip…
Our favourite region was…
Dorsoduro. Wandering through the streets here had a distinctly more relaxed and peaceful feel than some of those closest to the Piazza San Marco and tourist central. It has a real arty feel, with lots of little shops and boutiques. It felt like the ‘lost city’ to us and didn’t feel like we were having to share it with the rest of the World…
Piazza San Marco (by night!)…
Not long after arriving we headed to Piazza San Marco as it is a somewhat iconic part of the city and in many ways the central hub. We were both somewhat underwhelmed by this first encounter as although the buildings and scenery around the piazzo were no doubt spectacular, the hordes of people made it hard to really visualise it and just made the experience slightly disappointing. On our second evening though, we had to return to the piazza by water taxi after our dinner at the Belmond Cipriani Hotel (see also below) and that gave us a chance to experience it in a very different way. By night, the Piazza takes on a very different feel – the huge crowds have gone and in their place are pockets of diners sat outside being serenaded to by classical quartets and other like-minded souls slowly wandering back to their hotels drinking in the now-apparent charm and majesty of the area. I’m so glad we saw this other side of the piazza…!
Belmond Cipriani Hotel…
Matt had been told about the Belmond and had it suggested that we simply must make our way there for dinner on one of the nights. So we booked dinner on our second night and made our way to the Piazza San Marco from where the hotel operates a private water taxi (the hotel is on another island to the south of central Venice). The water taxi service instantly gave it a feel of exclusivity and when we docked at the hotel and walked into the hotel grounds, there was a wonderful feeling of tranquillity and class to the place. There are two restaurants there, one of which has a Michelin star, but both will set you back a fair few quid…! We sat by the water and loved our evening there (except the vicious attack from the mosquitos on my legs…!), but it was pricey – to give you a feel, 2 gin and tonics cost €54! But, as a special occasion, we loved it.
Our favourite sights around the City…
Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari – a quite extraordinary church, dating back to the 14th Century, with stunning Titian artwork and sculptures along with his tomb.
Rialto Bridge – busy and bustling and surrounded by stalls and shops, but loved the vibrant atmosphere around this iconic structure.
Campo Santa Margherita – very relaxed and chilled out vibe and a great spot for lunch…!
The Bridge of Sighs – iconic bridge where the sense of history is palpable.
Wandering along the edge of the Grand Canal – endless sights and Venician marketplaces to enjoy.
Chilling with a cold glass of wine by the Grand Canal – felt like time stood still as we watched the boats and gondolas pass by.
Numerous Venetian Mask shops – these are everywhere, some better than others, but we loved looking at some of the designs in the better shops!
And of course, the Gondola…
No trip to Venice would be complete without the experience of a traditional Gondola! The Gondolas are everywhere and are the same price wherever, but we were very glad that we decided to take our trip through the canals of the Dorsoduro. We hardly met a soul and it felt like a far more tranquil and exclusive experience than those that we saw in the San Marco area, where boats were queued like a Disney ride.
In many ways, this only scratches the surface of what we experienced and what the city has to offer. This was a weekend that will live long in our memories and I wanted to share just a few key highlights with you. It strikes me that everybody will walk away from Venice with different images and memories to treasure.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this. x