Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

venice's great neighbourhood...the enchanting cannaregio!

Venice is magical. It really is like a fairytale...

But, to truly experience Venice you need to move off of the beaten path...only steps away to enjoy Venice's neighbourhoods. Away from the tourists you will find the most beautiful corners where the Venetians actually live.

The six Venetian sestieri (neighbourhoods) are nestled together in bundles of bridges and small canals, and seem to vie for attention from the ‘most beautiful street in the world', the Grand Canal, which carves an elegant ’S’ through each of them.

I hear many comments from visitors to Venice that the crowds of tourists and the cost and quality of the food, made their visit unpleasant and not as remarkable as they had hoped. Trust me, don't leave Venice off of your European adventure. Do not strike it from your bucket list! Just be smart, and visit the parts of the city where the Venetians call home...where the locals eat and live and experience this most incredible place. And most of all, respect the fact that this is their home…where they work and play, and then you will know and see the treasure that this speck of the earth is.

Just like in Amsterdam, where the flow of tourists, like a dedicated stream of ants to a picnic, follow one congested route through the inner city,  in Venice the twenty-minute route along the Strada Nuova, from Piazzale Roma and San Lucia train station to Ponte di Rialto (the bridge) and Piazza San Marco (the square) can seem like three hours. Every day thousands of extra people flood the city between dawn and dusk, only to then clamber back onboard their massive cruise ships and float away again the same day.

Locals say, and I can completely agree after visiting Venice four times (the first time at the tender age of twelve), that the city’s iconic landmarks can only truly be enjoyed in the early morning, or after dusk when the hives of selfie sticks are long back on their boats and preparing to invade the next port.



Cannaregio is the sestieri which the most Venetians call home. Here is where the locals come to live…and to eat. It blankets most of the northern part of the city in an almost orderly lattice framework. It is one of the most beautiful parts of Venice, settled in the 15th century, and exudes charm and elegance around every corner.

The architecture is very traditional, and many of the original facades remain wonderfully intact. I received two local tips on where to enjoy a great traditional meal in Cannaregio; Osteria Ai Osti (Corte dei Pali gia Testori), usually filled with locals and which you will miss if you're not looking for it, and Osteria Bea Vita (Fundament Della Capuccine), another local favourite sitting on a quiet side canal away from the tourist masses. If you ask locals where they love to dine you will rarely be disappointed, and that is something that I try to do in each new city I am fortunate to experience. It won't break the bank and you are sure to enjoy the food.

Walk just a few steps north of the tourist hub and you will enter the Venetian Ghetto, or you'll bump into the incomparable Santa Maria dei Miracoli, or you'll just experience the quiet solitude of normal Venetians running errands by boat or foot. Santa Maria dei Miracoli is also known as the 'Marble Church', built in 1481 with a facade completely made from light pink Venetian marble. The houses along the canals will greet you with blooms overflowing from flower boxes and the constant calming sound of the water slapping up against the canal walls will guide you along your way.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

At the northern edge of the district you will find the Scuola vecchia della Misericordia (School of Mercy) which is attached to the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia, built in 1310. Still very much intact, on the facade hangs an original bas-relief of Madonna with Child by Clemente Moli.

Scuola vecchia della Misericordia

But, what you won’t find here are bikes. I didn’t see a single bike in Venice. Of course, that’s because every 20 feet or so you have to climb 3 or 4 or 5 steps, and then go back down again to cross the insanely many, and oh-so-cute, bridges that pop up around almost every corner.

This is not a friendly place for wheel-chairs or delivery trolleys, or for that matter, luggage-toting tourists. But still they come. Because it really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world…at least that I’ve seen so far.

Here, in Cannaregio, you will find many a osteria or trattoria filled with locals dining on the specials of the day, prepared with the freshest ingredients found that morning at the Rialto Market.

Rialto Market

If you’re Air BnB-ing it during your Venetian holiday, then I recommend heading to the market in the morning hours and watching what the locals are snapping up that day. Located just across the Ponte di Rialto, on the San Polo side of the Grand Canal, the market will provide you with all of the local specialties and freshness from the sea you will need to live like a local.

Or head out to one of the simple Baccari, a traditional Venetian bar, and join the locals after work for an aperitivo while standing at the bar. I knew that this tradition, which originated in Milan but has now become all-round Italian thing, was a must-do on my very busy Italian schedule of ‘doing as the locals do’. So, I sidled up to the bar, in a quiet side calle, where I could see a few people already taking a nip, and asked the bartender for an apertivo...whatever he recommends.

He nodded, and within a minute had prepared, as if he’d done so already a million times (probably has), a beautifully peach-coloured concoction (which I recognised as aperol) in a large wine glass and placed it with a napkin on the bar in front of me. ‘With campari’, he said.  Since I’m not an aperol aficionado I just smiled and said ‘mille grazie’. Thereafter it was easy to strike up conversation with a few smiles and a ‘chin-chin’ (the local 'cheers') and a wave of my glass to the others standing along the bar. After a few sips of my spritzy drink I began to notice that campari is a bit stronger than the usual aperol, white wine and water spritz that I was familiar with. No wonder these people are all so friendly, standing here enjoying their 2nd or 3rd aperitivo, while the gentle laps in the small canal outside serves as the best background music.

You will notice that even the darkest little taverns, if you peek inside, will have people standing at the back in the afternoons, loitering about. That’s because in the back of all the traditional baccaris, hostarias, and even pasticceri, there is a bar at the back, along with a serving of inexpensive cicchetti, the Venetian answer to tapas. This is how many locals get their fill when they go out for lunch or a light dinner. You will find them at the bar, always standing, having a drink and munching on a few cicchetti; such as grilled squid, prosciuttos and salamis, all sorts of amazing Italian cheeses and fresh baked bread.

As you make your way around Venice, two things are for certain: you will get lost, and you will experience amazing moments. Just wait for them.

And, a personal tip, book a hotel or hostel with a rooftop deck (and believe me, it doesn't cost extra). On one recent visit, where I spent only one quick night, I stayed in an exceptionally friendly, perfectly situated hostel, which included breakfast and a rooftop for just 35€ (Bed & Venice, Calle della Pietá, Castello) and for a solo-traveller who just needs a clean bed, it was perfect. It is a treat to experience a city, especially one like Venice, from among its rooftops. And Venice is exceptional. 

Not to be missed on your Venetian holiday, no matter how short or long, is to see the Grand Canal at dusk. Sit down and enjoy a glass of Venetian Friuli and a plate of deliciouso pasta at an outdoor osteria, if the weather permits, and soak in the view. It is hollywood magical, and you will pinch yourself to prove to yourself that you're not watching a movie. At least that's how I felt while I sipped wine and ate a delicious bowl of Spaghetti al Arrabbiata at Al Pesador (Campo San Giacommetto 125, San Polo), taking in the sights around me...while snapping a million pics.

For my last night in Venice, just a couple of weeks ago, I finished off with a Tiramisu. It was as beautiful as it was delicious, and I savoured every bite. Gracie mille Venezia!

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