Venice - the city that walks on water

�Whether you’re cruising from the airport to your palatial hotel on a boat taxi, sipping Prosecco with the locals at a stand-up bar or taking in the awe-inspiring beauty of San Marco Basilica, the magic of Venice is everywhere.

This fairytale floating city is an engineering marvel. Built on water to make it inaccessible to raiders, it is made up of 120 small islands. There are no roads, cars or scooters, just picture perfect canals, narrow walkways and endless bridges leading to one stunning architectural masterpiece after another.

The heartbeat of the city is the majestic Grand Canal, which meanders along from the bus station at the north eastern tip (the last place cars can reach) to San Marco Square on the south shore.

“Buses” packed nose to tail with tourists and locals vie for space with stylish “taxis” driven by tanned Tony Soprano-types and classical gondolas manned by earthier Venetians in their unmistakable black and white striped shirts.

It’s sheer theatre, but what makes it so stunning and so surreal at the same time, is it all takes place against the backdrop of some of the most breathtaking beautiful buildings in the world.

Historically, the city’s residences were approached from the water, which meant most attention was given to the canalside facade, and the result is that a simple “bus” journey from the coach station to your hotel offers a mesmerising view of the palaces, churches and art galleries that make this the most romantic city in the world.

For us, that first journey ended at Accademia, gateway to Dorsoduro, famous for the Church of the Salute, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Zattere – the long promenade which extends over the southern part of the city.

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Authentic trattorias

One of the great things about Venice is that you can stay anywhere and you won’t be disappointed. There is very little crime because, as the Venetians tell it, “the criminals have no way of escaping”. The worst you see are the street sellers scuttling away from the police with their huge array of fake designer handbags, and they are more Benny Hill than Bonnie and Clyde.

There are no “bad” parts of town. Every little area has its own selection of trattorias, osterias, squares and sights, and Dorsoduro is typical of the new Venice.

By day it’s much calmer than Rialto and San Marco on the other side of the Grand Canal. We spent a day admiring the history, browsing the designer shops and enjoying fantastic views of the Lagoon accompanied by an ice cream.

As afternoon drew into evening we were fortunate to stumble across one of Venice’s best kept secrets, Al Bottegon. This family-run wine cellar offers a beguiling taste of how the modern-day Venetians roll, with people of all ages chatting away at a stand-up bar sipping top class Prosecco at rock bottom prices while tucking into samples of scrumptious bruschetta and mortadella sausage. The atmosphere is fantastic and with the students drinking outside a tiny bar on the other side of the canal alongside the city’s best known gondola repair shop, it offers a snapshot of Venice in all its working glory.

On the first night we stayed at The Charming House DD724, a modern day masterpiece of design which opened in 2003 with the express aim of providing visitors with all the services they need, while at the same time being the least invasive possible. Exposed beams, fireplaces and four poster beds combine effortlessly with liquid-crystal TVs and an uber-stylish communal area packed with guide books and tourist tips.

Tourists flock to this unique city all year around, but spring is among the most crowded times, with it’s day-long sun and sweet smelling blossom making a mockery of tales of stinky Venice.

As the historic gateway from the sea, and the home of the stunning basilica and Doge’s Palace, San Marco Square is Venice at its busiest, and a guided tour is an absolute must.

As well as skipping the huge queues, you learn about the city’s amazing history – a place of peace and justice even as wars abounded on every side. Without land, livestock and factories, Venetians relied completely on trade for survival, so peace, fairness and good relations with all were vital.

The huge gates that greet visitors from the water are evidence of the city’s welcoming nature, but as our fantastic Venetian guide kept telling us “the real beauty of the city is in the details”.

Leaning on the banks of the Grand Canal close to the Rialto Bridge, the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel is a 14th century palace that has been declared a national monument and still preserves the untouched beauty of an ancient noble residence.

The magnificent ballrooms are home to important masterpieces by the greatest Venetian artists from the 17th and 18th century. The stunning rooms overlooking the water have flat screens by the sink so you can watch while in the bath, and the beautiful L’Alcova restaurant offers classic Venetian dishes with a modern twist from a majestic terrace on the water.

Venice is famously expensive, and while it’s true that dining at the top eateries will push you to the brink of bankruptcy, you can box clever. There are top class pizzerias everywhere which won’t break the bank, while the locals can be found enjoying huge plates of seafood spaghetti or squid ink risotto for less than 10 euros at lively Venetian trattorias.

Fantastic present

Our final day began with a gondola ride across the Grand Canal to the famous Rialto Market. Hiring a gondola for a leisurely wind through the city will set you back a cool 80 euros for just 50 minutes, but a cheaper alternative are the 50 cent trips from one side of the canal to the other.

The market itself sports fish and seafood of all shapes and sizes, and fruit and vegetables of every colour. The olives are good but the real steal is 4 euros for half a kilo of the most wonderful sun dried tomatoes, a fantastic present to bring home.

There are other cities in this world that seem to have it all – New York, Barcelona and Sydney to name but a few – but none excites the senses and dazzles the soul quite like magical Venezia.