Going beyond the Rialto in Venice, Italy: tips for unique experiences away from the crowds

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Venice may be sinking, but it hasn’t deterred travelers from flocking in great numbers to this uniquely beautiful Italian city. One of our wonderful Venetian guides – the chatty and knowledgeable Viviana - recently took the time to share her suggestions for how a traveler looking to escape the crowds can best spend their time in her fabled city.

Venice is not only St. Mark's Basilica, Doge's Palace or Rialto...These places are amazing and worth a visit, but the best way to discover Venice is going off the touristic paths and getting pleasantly lost. Only by doing this can you discover the REAL Venice! So don’t worry about having a strict itinerary. Venice’s narrow alleyways (where it is rare to meet another tourist) are found in the district of Castello...have a walk in the area of the Arsenale and try to reach San Pietro di Castello which is the old Venice Basilica.

Another way to avoid the crowds of tourists is to go to the fascinating Islands of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Burano, Murano or San Francesco del Deserto (St. Francis of the Desert). A really unusual excursion is to the island of San Francesco del Deserto (Francis of the Desert, reservation is needed and bear in mind that it’s closed on Sundays). The island is rich in history and spirituality. The Minor Friars have lived here since 1230. Tradition maintains that St. Francis stopped there in 1220. One of the Friars will give us a tour around the island telling you the history and legends about it.

Just to the north of the main city of Venice is Murano, where in 1291, all the glass makers in Venice were forced to move. You will have the chance to see the local 'Maestro del Vetro' (glass master) producing his work. And while you are here, why not take part in a private work-shop to learn to create objects like necklaces, bracelets and earrings? At the end of the work-shop you can take away your new self-made jewelry, in traditional Venetian Glass, a lovely and meaningful souvenir of your time here!

Take a vaporetti (a high speed motor boat) to the island of Burano, where all the houses are brightly painted in different colours. Here you will have the chance to see one of the few places where the ladies still make traditional lace.

If you want to do something different and artistic with your family why not make and paint your own Venetian Mask? The technique is at least 800 years old! You can see all of the different phases of the production, from the clay model, the plaster mould up to the finished white mask, ready for decoration. You will decorate your own masks absolutely freely and creatively. You can do this at a few places – I’ve listed details below. (Of course, I am also happy to arrange a workshop for you):
-Casanova Mask's, Calle del Cristo
-Ca' del Sol, Castello 4964, fonadamenta Osmarin, tel (+39) 041 5285549
-Ca' Macana - Dorsoduro 3172 - 30123 Venezia Italy - Tel (+39) 041 2776142.

If you’re feeling more active, why not rent a bicycle in the Lido for a day? Cycling is forbidden in the main city of Venice, but the Lido (a flat, sandbar-type island adjacent to the city) is a perfect place for cycling. You can find bike rentals through 'Venice Bike Rental'.

Or perhaps a rowing experience! The “Venetian rowing” is a very special technique used to row Venetian boats. We all have in mind the image of the gondolier who, with grace and elegance, leads his boat along the canals of Venice, and almost every visitor to Venice has felt the magic of sitting blissfully on these waterways. But why not experience the thrill and emotion of actually being a rower? Play an active part and enjoy the boat as a true Venetian, it is without doubt a unique experience in Venice! If you get in touch with me I can let you know how to arrange this.

EATING AND DRINKING IN VENICE

As I’m sure you can imagine, there are some excellent options for food and drink in my city! I’ve listed a few of my favourite places below:

• Do Forni Calle Dei Specchieri, San Marco 468, tel. 041 523 2148
• Antico pignolo Calle Dei Specchieri, San Marco 451, tel 041 5228123
• A less formal choice is Al Calice in the Frezzeria just behind St. Mark's square (san Marco 1502 tel. 041 5236318). They have pasta, pizza, and some Venetian dishes obviously made with fresh fish, alongside some really good wine.
• Some of my TBL clients have enjoyed and suggested Osteria Enoteca Giorgione Sestriere Cannaregio 4582a, tel 041 522 1725 and also
• Antiche Carampane, Calle de le Carampane, San Polo 1911, tel 041 5240165.

If instead you are hoping to see the real Venetian men huddled in doorways with local snacks (cicchetto) in one hand while sipping wine, 'ombra', from a glass held in the other hand, then you need to find a Bacaro, a typical Venetian Bar. These hole-wall-eateries provide delicious cicchetti as well as an incredible choice of fresh sandwiches, asparagus and egg, courgettes and cheese, prawns and porcini mushrooms and lots of other tasty fillings. And local wines at very reasonable prices. Here are my favourites:

• Cantina Do Spade, Calle Do Spade, S. Polo 859/86 tel 041 5210583
• Cantina Vecchia Carbonera Bacaro,Cannaregio 2329 Ponte Sant'Antonio tel 041 710376
• Cantinone Bacaro, Dorsoduro 992 San Trovaso, Tel 041 5230034
• Ai Rusteghi Bacaro, San Marco 5513, Campiello del Tentor, Tel 041 05232205

Thank you Viviana, for sharing your local tips and spoiling us with so many wonderful suggestions! Travelers headed to Venice in 2013 should definitely get in touch with Viviana to start a conversation about how designing their perfect, flexible itinerary for this magnificent city.
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