‘ With a visual mindset’
In May, the Venetian air sends whiffs of detergent that spreads from the hanging laundry (very evident in narrow lanes where the air sits still) combined with the blooming syren trees that is all shadowed by the calm salty sea air from the canals.
The breathtaking city of Venice famed for its many bridges, decades of art and iconic sites is surrounded with charming facades and views like nowhere else. For a photogenic journey, simply wander, get lost and soak up the stunning scenery that will give your lens vast visual pleasure. Chat to locals that will gladly give you historic insight and observe the stylish people in one of the lazy piazzas, over a strong espresso. With sun-baked roses and honeysuckle spilling against the ancient walls, Venice will prove its glamour and captivate your attention. Breath in the humid sea breeze and experience Venice via boat for the most spectacular views of its surroundings.
Find inspiration in the details
You don’t need to walk far to find inspiration, study the details. Venice has the most mysterious architecture, with lots of attention to detail, arched windows and rich balconies making it a pleasure to keep exploring. All the pastel shades of the faded bricks or cracked walls create a mythic-illusion. Slow down to find inspiration for your home in small antique/jewelry shops from teapot sets to melted platinum paper weights. Find hand-crafted masks that are highly respected at Ca’ Macana in the Dorsoduro region. Get lost in the artisan world of velvet and satin in Venetia Studium that is hidden on San Marco 69. They have beautiful handmade tassels, robes and pillow cases. Visit Gianni Basso, an old school letterpress for exquisite craftsmanship and shop for old antique books in Liberia Acqua Alta. You’ll discover cute little boutiques once you get lost away from the tourist shops and don’t be foolish and buy copies of Murano glass that are actually made in China, not Italy. I brought home some linen from Burano, sage coloured tassels from Venetia Studium and antique art books and drawings from Liberia Acqua Alta. I also got the cutest espresso for a small food shop that is a must, every time in Italy. Most our money was spent on boat rides and slow lunches/dinners to gain amazing culinary experiences.
Equally, be inspired by the dramatic allies, street artists and the life on water. Always have your camera ready for the next cute wooden boat that may speed past you! Here, you will find the chicest boat drivers of all ages!
Marco San Piazza at sunrise
Capture the beauty at sunrise & sunset
Have the city to yourself and see Venice at sunrise to capture the softness and reflections of the canals. The square is at its most beautiful at this time that allows you to capture the symmetry of the architecture and the beauty of the piazza uninterrupted by people. The sun hits the corner of the palazzo at about 6.30 in May that reflects a misty hue of softness.
While everyone else is lining for Doge´s Palace, take a private photo/cultural tour with a photo journalist and learn about the hidden gems from a local standpoint. Walking around the old town will show how the delicate foundations are being destroyed by passing cruise ships, rising tides and climate change as many front steps are already under water. This was a highlight of my trip and a once in a lifetime experience. We discovered hidden courtyards and walked for 3 1/2 hours off the beaten paths to the most visual places. If you are into photography, the Getty image ambassador will guide you on technique.
In contrary, capture Venice at sunset, this is the best time for a Gondola ride as the canals are fairly empty and peaceful. We decided to take a scenic gondola ride from our hotel to dinner that was great at this time in the evening. Dressed in fishnets and a ocra silk dress, my friend and I took advantage of the lens flare moments.
Capture the beauty of local life in different neighbourhoods
Walk around the Castello region that is just minutes away from the buzzing St Marco square. This neighbourhood will give you picturesque white laundry hanging from the window sills, plenty of greenery, hidden gardens and a tranquil mindset. Cannaregio, that is home to the jewish ghetto is fairy residential. It’s off the beaten track, full of Venetian restaurants and has a strong jazz scene. The area is filled with delicious bakeries and hidden cafes. If you are on calle San Pantalon, stop at Pasticceria Tonolo ( Dorsoduro / Santa Croce region ) for mouth-watering pastry treat and be aware of a small que.
A more commercial and historic part of the city are San Marco and San Polo areas that are the main touristy neighbourhoods that holds major landmarks such as the Rialto Bridge and the Basilica di San Marco. San Polo is home to the food market and a foodie area that is mixed with both locals and tourists. Enjoy some wine and cicchetti when your feeling parched. Visit one of the oldest druggist in Venice (Antica Drogheria Mascari) right by the Rialto market and find dreamy treats like spices, loose teas, coffee and respected wines. End the food tour with a cheese shop called Casa del Parmigiano in the corner of the Rialto bridge. San Marco is a large area and it has many calm streets if you get lost in the crossways from the main shopping road! Here you will also find luxury design stores and fascinating smaller boutiques.
Venice proved me all wrong as I was worried that tourism has spoiled its original charm. Of course it differs from 40 years ago, Marco (photo journalist) told me but I was still impressed by the laid back feeling and lack of mass crowds. Traveling during the beginning of May is a great choice as this allows you to capture the beauty of empty streets and the weather is warm, but not too hot. Venice is much bigger than I imagined, so it wasnt hard to find areas away from the craziness.
Where to stay
Stay centrally located to keep the feeling of Venice alive, but further from the main tourist Sites as these tend to collect a lot of people during the daytime. I would avoid areas such as the Rialto bridge, Piazza San Marco or really the outer lanes where Bacino di san Marco exists even though this holds many luxury hotels. We walked by the water of this area a few times and it was overwhelmingly full of people docking in from boats and it was the base to water taxis to other islands. Personally, I thought it was too much hassle, full of street venders, people taking selfies and we were happy to leave to the location!
My friend and I stayed in the 16th century Palzzetto Pisani that was located on the grand canal with views of the Guggenheim and cathedral. I highly recommend staying here, we had a 40 square metre suite that felt very luxuriously Venetian. We spent a lot of time on the lounge area balcony enjoying a pre dinner prosecco taking in the sea breeze and salty air. A fun fact about the hotel is that scenes from the movie casanova (with Heath Ledger) were shot there.
Leave the hotel and you are greeted with the music conservatory and often hear singing through one of the open windows. Walk through Campo Santo Stefano into the narrow lanes and discover the beautiful old facades of the region. This will lead you to a cute piazza of Campo sant’ Anzolo and its little narrow streets. Stop at caffe brasilia right opposite of the flower shop for a wine and espresso that is buzzing with locals.
Seafood Lunch in Fishing Village, Burano
A highlight of our trip was the visit to Burano, the colourful island of lace. This slow picturesque little island is about 45 minutes away from Venice. We took a private boat back and forth (130 euros/one way) to experience the golden sunset and easiness in transport. In the 16th century, the woman of the island were known for their delicate stitching of the intricate lace that was highly sought after. You will find little lace and linen shops scattered all around the place that are worth a visit. It is essential to eat (make sure to reserve a table) in Trattoria al Gatto Nero, that is one of the best seafood restaurants ever. We became acquinted with the owner Massi, whom provided amazing dishes for us. We ended up having a 7 hour lunch and sat with Massi talking about life and how him and his father fish for the restaurant. He offered us coffee and lots of drinks/dishes on the house that created such an amazing and unforgettable experience. We were very lucky as Burano was not crowded with people, the only place that was buzzing was the amazing restaurant that was packed with people!
Famous for its colourful houses, families used to distinguish their houses via paint to show off their quarters. According to legend, the houses are bright so fishermen could see the bright colours during fog. End the day with a mouth-watering gelato and walk around the splash of colours to put you in a great mood. Take a taxi boat during sunset so you can experience the magic of the lagoon at this hour.
Murano island is closer to Venice and is famed for high quality glass production since 1291. Glass makers were forced to move factories to the island of Murano as the Venetian republic was worried it would set fires to wooden buildings on the main island. Here you can experience glass blowing, see factories and shop for unique glass designs. We did not visit Murano as my friend fell ill, but it leaves something for the future!
Coffee at Cafe Florian
Despite a bit of a cliché, a first timer in Venice should stop by for coffee at iconic Florian as it is the oldest cafe of the city. Stroll San Marco square early morning unencumbered by throngs of tourists. Capture the symmetry in the architecture and the glimpse of sunrise as it hits through the pillars of the Doges palace. With the peaceful surroundings, stop and marvel at the details in the architecture and spot the oldest window in Europe made from original glass bottle bottoms. While you are in the region, cross over to see the bridge of Sighs and perhaps witness a few wedding shoots that will be here at sunrise. Stop for coffee, franciacorta and tea sandwiches at the famous cafe Florian (also most expensive) and listen to the live orchestra music they provide throughout the day. Sit by the pillars in the old wooden table with marble tops for the most photogenic views. Thankfully most of the crowds sit right on the square in the sun, so you can shoot beautiful photos of the cafe without much interuption.
Liberia Acqua Alta
Spend a good hour at this old book store finding antique treasures to take back home with you. Find the most unusual coffee table books and get lost in the smell of old book pages. This place has a calming aura, people are quiet focusing on the next best find.
photography tip: For al the shots, I used the 50mm/1.2 and 35mm/1.4. A wide-angle lens is a must for capturing the canals, bridges and gondolas and both lens are a good travel size. The 35 mm will give you more room to capture a larger scale and both create easy portrait shots. In Venice, it’s tempting to focus your lens on the glistening canals and bridges, but don’t forget to look up and discover the overflowing balconies, dead-end streets, details on the buildings and the flying birds.The unique door knobs which reflect on the vast global trade mecca Venice once was, the street signs that were once carved by tradesmen and symbolic signs above doors that were used for protection. Step away from the sea of tourists to capture the famous landmarks from more unique angles. The morning light is most precious, in my opinion.
Luxurious garden getaway to Belmond Hotel Cipriani
Experience a gourmet lunch overlooking the lagoon in a quite luxury resort that has the most enchanting gardens. We enjoyed a fine lunch in the restaurant and tea by poolside later on. It’s a short boat ride away from Bacino di san marco, where the hotels boat drive back and forth every 15 minutes. Try the cod fish, it’s simply divine. Walk around the garden and breath in the powerful Austin roses that lush over the pathways you walk under.
Eat: Ristorante Da Ivo order tuna roe with beans, spider crab and truffle beef tartar. Head over to Trattoria al Gatto Nero a seafood feast in Burano and order basically everything on the menu! You can’t go wrong, we had a selection of seafood, plates of baby scallops, large scallops, pasta 2 ways, sole fish, langustino topped off with a creamy tiramisu and limoncello. Head over to Harry’s bar for a carpaccio and a Bellini and try cicchetti at All’Arco. Sit in the quiet piazza for lunch and eat a grilled whole seabass at La Patatina San Giacomo. Stop at the more modern antipasti bistrot (Chat qui rit) and indulge in a cheese and parma ham platter and crab meat with a divine salty reduction.
Wander: Visit in a season with little tourists, the beginning of May seemed to be fabulous. Get lost in the small streets of the neighbourhoods, stop for numerous coffees, antipasta plates and take a boat ride to the islands. Burano is a must see and wander to a luxurious resort hotel for an easy chic lunch for a calm afternoon. Other nearby islands include Murano and Giudecca Island.
Rest: We stayed in Palazzetto Pisani (suite Alcova), that was faded in pink tones and a lovely marble bathroom. The breakfast was vast with freshly picked flowers on a daily basis. We loved to overlook the grand canal from the balcony and enjoy prosecco in the warm sun. The staff was so friendly towards us and can’t wait to go back! For a splurge the Gritti Palace and Aman Venice are known for luxury but Cima Rosa is a hidden modern chic boutique hotel. For a quiet resort stay, Bauer Palladio Hotel and the Cipriani have both stunning gardens.
Love: wake up at sunrise and explore Venice at its full beauty in the morning light. Stop and stare at the perfect reflections of the canals. Enjoy the silence of the streets and take in each lane that seems like a real-life painting. Order an espresso standing at the bar in one of the small cafes that is buzzing with workers (whom start their day early) all waiting for fresh sweet pastries. Indulge in fresh apricot croissants that have the most flakey crusts. Soak in the history of the beaten walls, discover hidden gardens and observe the chicness in elderly locals. Women, dressed in black with large statement earings and red lips carry rundown designer purses while charming old men sit in little cafes that are totally photogenic. Love the city through the canals and move with boat to capture the essence of Venice. Pay attention to detail to discover traces of culture and history. Overlook sunset while taking a ride back from Burano and see the lagoon a soft golden haze.