Gillian Thornton stayed on a river cruiser with Jules Verne.
Eager for my first daylight view of the Venetian lagoon, I jumped out of bed, pulled back the curtains and quickly shut them again as a water bus packed with commuters chugged past the window. Fortunately I was half decent, but when you book a lagoon-view cabin on board the MS Michelangelo, it pays to pack your pyjamas.
Venice is spectacular from any angle, but it’s hard to imagine a more atmospheric or romantic place to stay than on board the river cruise boat MS Michelangelo on the waters of the lagoon. We booked the Venice from the Water package with Voyages Jules Verne, flying to Venice Marco Polo, where a coach collected the group for the half-hour drive to join our vessel at the Maritime Station.
Once everyone was settled, the Michelangelo cruised down the broad Giudecca Canal, past St Mark’s Square and the Doges’ Palace to the Riva Sette Martiri where it moored for three nights. Given the unique location, we felt it worth paying the small supplements for a lagoon view cabin on the upper deck – you simply can’t put a price on drawing those curtains (carefully!) and watching the flotilla of water vessels from the comfort of your holiday bed.
Jules Verne (VJV) run ‘Venice from the Water’ on selected dates from spring to Autumn. We travelled in early November when you obviously take a gamble with the weather, but the chance to see the city without the crowds more than made up for the grey skies.
Expect to walk if you want to see Venice properly. Hills are obviously not a problem, but there are many small footbridges up and over the canals so flat shoes are a must. From the Michelangelo’s mooring, it’s a delightful 15-minute stroll to St Mark’s Square, and I’d recommend going back at least once after dinner to enjoy the illuminated square and quiet canals at their most tranquil. By day, the cruise-boat tourists who flock to St Mark’s rarely walked up as far as our floating hotel.
The MS Michelangelo is operated by French company CroisiEurope and we shared it with French and German travellers. Cabins are compact but very comfortable with big picture windows to take advantage of that view, and if you don’t want to pay the lagoon view supplement, the quay option showcases some elegant buildings.
The vessel is immaculately maintained and crew were forever cleaning and polishing, inside and out. We found the multinational staff friendly and efficient, and a lot of effort had clearly gone into the crew entertainment on the final evening in the lounge bar – music, comedy and a modest degree of good-natured audience participation. There was also dancing on two nights to international hits performed by a local singer. Or you can just sit back and watch the others strut their stuff over a drink.
Venice from the Water offers full board with wine, beer and soft drinks included with lunch and dinner. Our party of six had a table to ourselves, but couples and foursomes have to share, so intimate dinners are a no-go. We found the food consistently good rather than great, mostly safe international favourites, but always well cooked and attractively presented with three courses at lunch and four at dinner. Special dietary requirements need advance notice though as there is no menu choice, which may not suit fussy eaters.
The package includes a morning cruise of the northern lagoon, past the island of Burano to Torcello. On Day 4, the Michelangelo left its mooring before dawn, gliding silently down the lagoon side of the Lido to the working fishing port of Chioggia where we disembarked to experience a couple of hours in a very different kind of town.
On top of that, there are optional excursions that include the Doges’ Palace, the craft workshops on Murano and Burano, Padua, and a gondola ride. Be aware though that minimum numbers are generally required. One wedding anniversary couple was disappointed to miss the musical evening in a historic palazzo on their big day, simply through lack of other interest from other passengers. But they were offered – and much enjoyed – an alternative opera concert in a church.
But the real star of the show is the city itself. You can’t beat just walking the canals, turning off down tempting backstreets, and soaking up all those glorious buildings and iconic views from the deck of a water bus up the Grand Canal. And at the end of each atmospheric day, we carried on watching the water traffic of the Venice lagoon through the windows of the Michelangelo, right up until the very last moment when we closed the curtains on one of Europe’s most compelling views. Fabulous.
More about Gillian
Gillian Thornton has been a freelance journalist for more than 30 years, writing everything from parenting features to celebrity interviews, corporate copy to heritage articles. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, she has been concentrating on travel writing since 1998 and is a widely-acclaimed specialist on France, writing for all the Francophile newsstand titles as well as for ferry magazines, airline publications and tourist boards. Gillian also contributes travel features to The People’s Friend, My Weekly, Woman’s Weekly, and Go Holiday, on destinations as far apart as Finland and Oman, Florida and Poland, but she also loves travelling round Britain. “I never mind where I go”, she says. “There’s always something new to discover”.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Jules Verne