Venice and Istria – a perfect combination

Venice and Istria make a perfect two-centre holiday. Only three hours apart by car, or a ferry ride across the Bay of Venice, it is easy to combine the magic and bustle of Venice with the tranquillity and seaside charm of Istria.

Venice seafront at St.Mark's Square in early morningI fell in love with Venice over thirty years ago. We were just into our first jobs and, with little money in our pockets, were camping on the Lido. I had very mixed feelings about visiting Venice. In my mind, it was a magical city and there was no way the real Venice could possibly match up – such a place couldn’t possibly exist in reality. Expecting disappointment, I was met by amazement! Arriving in St Mark’s Square by ferry, Venice blew me away – it was all I’d dreamed and so, so much more. Since then, I’ve been back time and again and my wonder at this magnificent place just grows and grows.

 

Top tips

I’m just back from my latest visit and here are my top tips:

  • Fly to Venice, Marco Polo airport. Take the ferry from the airport and visit Venice. Then pick up a hire car in Venice airport and drive to Istria. The drive round the top of the Adriatic takes around three hours. If you’re coming by car, the airport also makes a good place to park. As well as the airport itself, there’s also off-site parking available which is cheaper, if less convenient.

 

  • Venice is a city defined by water – canals and the sea.
    1. Venice from the seaHowever you arrive, ensure you approach Venice from the sea. Best of all, arrive in St. Mark’s Square by boat – it’s the way it was designed to be approached and creates the most impact. (Be warned, if you’re coming from the airport, the ferry trip round takes ages!)
    2. Take the vaporetto (water bus) down the Grand Canal. It’ll be crowded and you’ll be squeezed, but there is no better way to see this magnificent waterway. Alternatively, if you’re feeling flush or romantic, take a gondola – but be warned you might need another mortgage to cover the cost.

 

  • Choose your hotel location carefully.
    1. Hotels near St. Mark’s Square are great for the impressive arrival, but it will take a long time getting back to the airport and they tend to be pricey.
    2. Grand palaces along the Grand Canal in VeniceMy choice would be a hotel close to Fondamenta Nuove. It is the first or second Venice stop on the ferry from the airport, so is quicker for getting there and back and will probably be cheaper. (For Fondamenta Nuove you need the Alilaguna blue ferry not the orange. The one on the left at the airport).
    3. Alternatively, stay on the Lido where there are some great camp sites and cheaper hotels – the ferry brings you straight to St. Mark’s.

 

  • If you are coming in a group, check the price of a water taxi, it may be almost as cheap to get your own private transfer as to go by water bus. And it’s worth the extra for the wonderful experience – I felt like Sophia Loren when we did it.

 

  • View from the Rialto in VeniceYou’ve got to see the sights – St. Mark’s Square, Ponto Rialto, Grand Canal. And yes, they’ll be packed, no matter when you come, but they’ll be worth it. But also wear out some shoe leather. Get a map and explore (most hotels will give you one, or you can pick one up at the vaparetto stops). The outer areas are far quieter and just as atmospheric, and Venice just goes on and on.

 

  • If you want to visit the big sites – Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, book your tickets on-line ahead of time. The queues to buy tickets when you’re here can be very long.

 

  • Venetian backwaterIf your time in Venice is limited, don’t waste any of it with a restaurant lunch. Buy a pizza slice and eat it on a step, soaking up the atmosphere. We bought ours close to the Rialto and it only cost €2.50 for a huge slice. Then have an ice-cream or espresso, or both! We bought our espresso close to the Rialto. I felt a real Italian drinking mine, perched inside the tiny coffee shop. It only cost €1 and we used the loo for free!

 

  • Stay in Venice and make the most of the times the day-trippers aren’t around.
    1. Get up early and explore before the crowds. On one visit, I snook out of my hotel at 7:00 am, while Empty St Mark's Square, Venice, in early morningeveryone else was asleep and had Venice to myself: no tourists, just a few locals going about their daily routine. I watched shops open and deliveries being made, took photos of empty squares and soaked up the magnificent atmosphere – and then returned to join everyone else for breakfast.
    2. Visit St. Mark’s after dark and listen to the music – it’s magical. With most of the tourists gone, it’s far quieter and looks enchanting. Many of the cafes have mini orchestras playing and the music bounces around the square as they vie to out-perform each other.

 

  • If you can, visit at least one of the islands. Far quieter and less developed than Venice itself, they each have their own charm. These are my favourites: lying between Fondamenta Nuove and the airport are Murano and Cimitero di San Michele. Slightly further out is Burano.
    1. Sleepier Murano, VeniceMurano – visit one of the glass factories and watch Murano glass being made. Then trawl the shops for something special.
    2. Cimitero di San Michele – Venice’s cemetery. This highly atmospheric island houses three separate cemeteries – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, each with their own personality.
    3. Burano – a sleepy fishing island with colourful houses that ooze charm. A photographer’s paradise.

 

  • In general, don’t expect too much of the food. Venice is a delight for the eyes, not the taste-buds. There are plenty of reasonably priced restaurants around which serve perfectly adequate Italian food, but it won’t be a gourmet treat. Of course, if you really want to push the boat out, there are some wonderful restaurants, but be warned they don’t come cheap.

 

Where I stay

My favourite place to stay is Ca’Riccio. It is about five minute’s stroll from the Fondamenta Nuove ferry stop with only Hotel room in Ca' Riccio, Veniceone bridge to navigate – and it is still only a short stroll from the Rialto. The rooms are beautiful and the staff so welcoming (Serena met us with a glass of wine and a beer, both wonderfully cold on a scorching, hot day) – and it’s really good value! The only downside is a hike up four flights of stairs and a somewhat limited breakfast. But in terms of value for money, it can’t be beaten.

 

Fancy somewhere else? Look on Venere.com for a great selection of Venetian hotels.

 

Where I eat

Until my last visit I would have given Venice a thumbs down for food. Yes, there’s plenty of it and most at a reasonable price, but it’s nothing special.

Eating under the vines in Antica Locanda Montin, VeniceThis time we visited a restaurant discovered by my friend, Andy, thirty years ago – Trattoria Antica Locanda Montin. Yes, it’s still there and, according to him, hasn’t changed a bit – not even the menu (though I suspect the prices have gone up quite a bit since then!). We ate in their beautiful garden with vines climbing over our heads and had a fantastic meal, served by a charming, smiling waiter. It was pricier than some places, but not exorbitant – worth every Euro for a very special evening.

 

Venice in a day

Don’t have time for a stay in Venice? Why not visit on a day trip from Istria, travelling across the bay by catamaran? It’s a long day: the crossing takes three hours each way and the package comes with a tour of Venice. I’ve not done it, but many of my guests have and they all say it’s a wonderful, if exhausting, day out. You can book your tickets on-line ahead of time or pick them up locally when you arrive. For more information see Venezialines.com and Adriatic-Lines.com.

 

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