“A realist, in Venice, would become a romantic by mere faithfulness to what he saw before him.” So wrote poet Arthur Symons of a city that is celebrated as one of the world’s great wonders.
INDEED FOR FIRST-TIMERS there is simply nothing that prepares you for your first glimpse of the city. Its graceful maze of buildings rise up out of the water as the spray from boats glints in the sunshine.
Lovers of art, lovers of history and, well, lovers in general, all flock to the Floating City, each with their own sense of what it has to offer. Those seeking stripey-shirted gondoliers will find what they’re looking for, and then some. What’s so wonderful about Venice is that besides the picturesque bridges and gorgeous old houses that line the city’s canals, there are unexpected sights, like lines of crisp white washing criss-crossing the waterways like bunting.
The secret pearl of Venice, however, is Giudecca Island. Take a five-minute launch across the lagoon from iconic Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) and you’ll find this slender stretch of eight little interconnected islets. Once a fishing village in 500 AD, Giudecca welcomed grand, palatial homes and gardens in the 19th century. A hundred years later, industry arrived in the form of shipyards, factories and even a film studio. It is eclectic, romantic and unique, and for this reason the island has become a haven for artists. It has even been compared to Manhattan’s SoHo; among its many galleries, Giudecca 795 gives a good idea of the diversity of local talent here.
With its rich history, art and exquisite views of Venezia across the turquoise water, Giudecca is the home of Belmond Hotel Cipriani. And the hotel, of course, is home to the bellini cocktail—as well as a home-from-home for its devoted guests. Just as Giudecca itself is known for its discretion, a place where fisherman and film stars share drinking spots, so too our regal retreat offers elegance and privacy in equal measure.
It’s a rather delicious thought that one is only five minutes’ boat ride away from the famed square purportedly described by Napoleon as “the drawing room of Europe”. Perched on the lagoon, St Mark’s Square is headed by the breathtaking St Mark’s Basilica, with its iconic domes and golden interiors.
Yet over and above the famous sights, the sheer atmosphere of Venice, islands and all, is what makes it unlike anywhere else. It’s the champagne of all cities; there’s an effervescence and a sweetness to Venice that is truly unique. Perhaps the best way to drink it in is to take things slowly, like the Venetians do. Stop in at a little local bar and join the locals on their way home from work for a Garibaldi (Campari with orange juice), before making your way by private motorboat back to your cool, elegant hotel.