Travel: Floating Bookstores and Breakfast on the Lido… An Insider’s Guide to Venice

Ah, Venice – the Serenissima… For me, it’s still the most romantic city in the world (although sadly, as I know at the cost of my nice new shoes while wading through St. Mark’s Square laden with water, yes, it’s definitely flowing, so get on it ASAP.)

I’ve been dozens of times but my partner was a virgin from Venice so seeing it through her eyes was even more special. For me, it’s the most precious place on Earth.

Venice is built on more than 100 small islands in the Adriatic Sea. There are no roads (so no traffic – yeah!), just canals. The High Street is the Grand Canal and the whole square is lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces and amazing old churches, some dating back to the 12th century.

It’s almost redundant for me to write about the plethora of world-class sights, but here’s a quick rundown: Doge’s Palace and Bridge of Sighs, St. Mark’s Square; St. Mark’s Basilica; Rialto Bridge (always hellish crowds there – especially on weekends when the cruise ships are spitting out in their thousands); the Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the Guggenheim Collection Museum.

There are countless others. Suggestions of lesser-known sites in Venice might be more interesting.

Go and see the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, also called “the Marble Church”, due to its amazing marble facade in the colors of the early Renaissance. Also worth discovering is the Jewish ghetto, the very first in Europe. It is located just behind Strada Nuova near Fondamenta della Misericordia and here you can visit three of the five synagogues and find the Jewish Museum.

Finally, don’t miss the Acqua Alta bookstore in Campiello del Tintor. Where else bar Venice will you find all the books for sale housed in gondolas, boats – and even a bathtub. The reason? The shop is often flooded, so there is method in this madness.

The point of reading a decent travel article these days, however, is to find the inside track of a knowledgeable person that you believe will tell it straight, and often the most useful information is on where to stay , eat and go out.

For those old enough you may remember when I presented Scottish Passport – it was my brainchild for the program when I presented it to STV, because I thought Scotland needed its own version of Wish You Were Here (where I also worked), but it should be less chewy and more factual.

Accordingly, the rest of this article will be devoted to hard facts on where to stay, eat and drink.

For a splurge and a complete treat, head to the legendary five-star Belmond Hotel Cipriani. It is the definition of luxury and perfection. With 270-degree panoramic views of the Venetian Lagoon and its own private speedboat to whisk you five minutes to St. Mark’s Square, this 96-room gem offers exceptional service and a fabulous Michelin-starred restaurant, a Olympic size restaurant. filtered seawater swimming pool and beautiful gardens. It is located at the eastern end of the island of Giudecca and is a haven from the maze crowds of central Venice.

Inside, expect Murano glassware, stunning antiques, and beautiful artwork depicting Venice’s scenic lagoon. Anyone who is anyone has stayed here. It’s more of a case of which A-lister, president, prime minister or royal hasn’t stayed here. Past guests include Julia Roberts, Paul McCartney and the Prince and Princess of Sweden: the list goes on. This is where George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin enjoyed the wedding festivities.

There are three restaurants, but the crown jewel is the Michelin-starred restaurant, Oro – strictly upscale and elegant cuisine. Prices reflect this, but you get what you pay for. Breakfasts are a big deal with an extensive menu as well as an impressive buffet.

Each room or suite has its own private balcony and the furnishings are up to your expectations: of the highest possible quality and with the addition of elegant marble bathrooms. Private butler service is offered to guests staying in the hotel’s Palazzo Vendramin annex.

The hotel has its own clay tennis courts, a spa, and even a private marina. You can still easily see the £100million spent 20 years ago on today’s equipment.

The restaurant at the Londra Palace hotel on the Grand Canal is a great suggestion on where to book and eat – and sample legendary cocktails from Venetian bartender legend Marino Lucchetti. This small Relais & Châteaux restaurant has the Bistrot by Do Leoni, which focuses on creative dishes with well-crafted matching wine selections. They look for fresh and seasonal raw materials which include delicious fish and meat specialties, creative salads and their homemade lasagna is heavenly. After dinner, watch Marino at the bar perfect his art of whipping up the perfect Martini – his Londra Bar 2018 Martini shows why this place is included in Blueblazer Guide’s “100 Best Cocktail Bars in Italy”. Who knew that a very dry refrigerated lemon peel could have such an effect? See www.londrapalace.com.

Another great choice for a “different” place to eat — and indeed stay — is on the Lido, a 15-minute boat ride from San Marco to the beautiful Hotel Excelsior Venice Lido Resort. The last word is the index. It’s not just a hotel, it’s a beach destination in its own right, and it’s the only hotel in Venice that’s actually “on the beach.”

This historic Venetian palace is complemented by the spectacular Stucchi Room, featured in Once Upon A Time In America with Robert De Niro, but then it’s the location of the famous annual Venice Film Festival and the resort attracts A-list celebrities the year-round.

A piano-accompanied meal at the Blue Bar is a treat, but be sure to book ahead. See www.hotelexcelsiorvenezia.com

The second hotel we stayed in was totally different from “The Cip”, but it is also a perfect base.

Located right on the Grand Canal, behind its historic exterior, the St Regis is a modern, cutting-edge property with cutting-edge design and high-tech rooms. The St Regis butlers are a wonderful touch, as is the complimentary champagne at 5 p.m., and dining at Gio’s Restaurant and Terrace — right on the water — is one of life’s best memories. The spa has wonderful therapists and you could, in fact, stay in one of their spa suites and consider it a spa break with a difference.

My permanent memory of this hotel will be this – I have never had such a wonderful welcome in the magnificent suite that we were lucky enough to have.

On the table was a photo of you (from my Facebook page, I guess) welcoming me in person with my mugshot in a frame and some delicious Venetian treats. However, that was nothing because in the room filled with balloons and rose petals, a picture of me holding my grandson had been placed by my bed. Talk about going further – just amazing! The view from your private terrace is only enhanced by where you will have your breakfast, overlooking the Grand Canal. It’s a brilliant contrast to The Cip – a smack in the center of Venice and a bit removed and quiet. Both equally exciting. Both with completely different interiors.

Venice remains one of the most precious, beautiful and unique places in the world, so even if you have already visited it, go back before, unfortunately it may be too late

How did my Virgin of Venice benefit from it? Well, maybe that sums it all up – he agreed to take me back every year. Results!

FACTBOX

The Cipriani – double rooms from 835 euros (about £700) to 10,000 (£8,365).

https://www.belmond.com/hotels/europe/italy/venice/belmond-hotel-cipriani/about

The St Regis Hotel – see www.marriott.com Rooms from 539 euros. (£450)