Venice is a favourite destination of ours – somewhere to go for a few nights out of season. We’ve been many times, usually in October or November, when it is much cheaper and less busy. Our last visit, however, was in May 2019 when we went with my sister and her husband and my adult son, who had never been before. Going in May was obviously more expensive but although the weather was ok, it wasn’t as good as expected, so I think we’ll revert to October visits – when/if we’re allowed to go to Italy again. My photos were taken on different holidays, so some were taken in May and others in October.
No matter what time of year it is we usually take a trip to Torcello, which is the less well-known neighbouring island to Burano on the northern fringes of the lagoon, so the trip takes about an hour. The vaporetti for Burano and Torcello leave from Fondamenta Nove; in peak months I think there might be a direct route to Torcello, but out of season it’s necessary to go to Burano and then over to Torcello, which is only a 5-minute crossing (www.visit-venice-italy.com) Once off the boat a footpath – Str. Della Rosina – alongside the canal, takes you on a direct route to the Byzantine complex. This path was a dirt track when we first visited, but it is now paved the whole way down to the end. As we start our walk I always have some coins ready in my hand to give to the busker playing his accordion just round the first bend of the route; up to now he’s always been there, and it’s a lovely musical welcome to the island. Torcello was the first island in the lagoon to be inhabited, a 7th century settlement that was the earliest centre of Venetian civilisation. In the 10th century there were 10,000 inhabitants, but this part of the lagoon started silting up so by the 14th century it was a malarial swamp. Nowadays only about ten people live on Torcello permanently, so it’s a quiet haven a lot of the time, although at weekends Venetians flock there to enjoy a walk and a meal at one of the restaurants or tavernas. The Locanda Cipriani is a four-star hotel at the far end of the canal – somewhere the glitterati come to, arriving in private boats to have a `simple` lunch – unsurprisingly we haven’t eaten there.
We have, however, eaten at two of the other tavernas sited on the path side of the canal. The first taverna you come to – I think it is Taverna Tipica Veneziana – is a simple bar and `takeaway`, although there are tables and chairs in the large outside space. Drinks are bought at the bar that overlooks the canal and then food is ordered at the counter at the side of the building. To us English-speaking visitors, it all seems a bit complicated but once you get the hang of it, it’s a good, cheap place to get a simple lunch; something like pizza, pasta, fritto misto, salads. Having ordered and paid you get a sort of raffle ticket, but I can’t remember if they also take your name, but you listen intently for your name/number and go back to the counter to collect the food, all served on disposable plates. There are trays, cutlery and paper napkins available. The garden is a large area of grass and there are animals in pens at the rear – things like goats and rabbits – which provide extra interest., especially for children. There are a couple of toilets available inside and the entrance to them is at the back of the building.
The other place we’ve had lunch is Bar Ristorante Villa `600 which is almost opposite Locanda Cipriani. It is set back from the canal in a large grassed garden and there is a very pleasant outside dining area. I think we ate there on that occasion because there was a sign outside advertising a set price 2-course lunch, so we knew that we could afford to go in, and we were very glad we did as the food was delicious.
When we first visited Torcello we saw a couple of cat sanctuaries there – groups of little wooden huts for the stray cats. We had told my adult son about this, and he was looking forward to seeing them as he loves cats, however, in 2019 we discovered that their huts had been removed, and we didn’t see any cats, which was a shame. I suspect properties on the island are being bought by wealthy people who do not want the cats there anymore. (Later that day, when on neighbouring Burano, we did see a solitary cat hut/kennel on a grassed area in a residential area.)
At the end of the path is the basilica of Santa Fosca, built by the Greeks in the 11th century to house the relics of a martyr. It is a beautiful, if simple, building and is open to the public. Next to it is the basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, (www.venetoinside.com) built in the 7th century and housing the most extraordinary mosaics, including a 13th century one portraying the Final Judgement in all its horrors. There’s also an amazing ceiling; it is well worth a visit but check opening times which vary according to the time of year and be aware that photography is not allowed inside, even without a flash. I haven’t climbed the 11th century bell tower yet, but it is open for visits and there is a good view from the top, according to my husband, who made the ascent, which is made up a steeply sloping corridor, with occasional steps, that winds around the inside walls of the square tower. There’s a small entrace fee and joint tickets for the tower and the church can be bought. The bell tower is a prominent feature of the island and can be seen from miles around. In the piazza outside is a Roman marble seat and many stone statues and artefacts near the museum, which is nearby. The museum (www.serizimetropolitani.ve.it) is housed in two buildings and exhibits cover local history; there are also fragments of mosaic from The Last Judgement in the nearby basilica, left over from a poor restoration carried out in the 19th century. There is an entrance charge. Behind the museum are very clean and well looked after public toilets but they require coins to put in a slot to get in, but there is generally a lady there to give out change if necessary.
There are usually a few stalls selling tourist items – postcards, scarves etc. – and one for cold drinks. There’s also a large antique shop which has some very impressive statues on display – ideal for a garden on someone’s private island in the lagoon! A walk further on past the antique shop leads past a small vineyard adjacent to the antique shop, with more interesting reclaimed artefacts and old metalwork. A bit further on is an open area of grass and a mooring for private boats, with views of a small, presumably private, island opposite. It’s quite interesting exploring some of these little paths round the island. One place we’ve yet to visit is the Casa Museo Andrich (www.museoandrich.com) which is down a side path off the Str. Della Rosina (the main path). We walked down the rural path as far as the entrance last time we were there, but we’d run out of time to investigate further; looking online it appears to be an art gallery that also sells lovely hand printed cushions, balsamic vinegar etc.
Torcello is a magical and quiet place out of season, but I think it might get crowded in the summer, especially at weekends.