Guidebook The islands where locals like to keep to themselves


The islands where locals like to keep to themselves

Where do Venetians go to escape the crowds in their densely-packed city? “I usually join friends who have boats, heading out at the weekend into the quiet waters of the lagoon for picnics on abandoned islands,” says Venetian resident John Brunton in The Guardian, “or for a lazy Sunday lunch in a trattoria on Burano, Mazzorbo or the little-visited Sant'Erasmo island, the market garden of Venice, famous for its artichokes and asparagus.” More than 100 islands make up Venice, “yet few visitors stray beyond the city itself,” writes Louise Reddon in The Telegraph, which lists seven islands accessible by vaporetto (public waterbus).      

The small peaceful island of Torcello stands out, because this is where the city began more than 1,500 years ago. “It’s also the spot where Ernest Hemingway holed up while writing Across the River and Into the Trees between duck hunting and bottles of wine with Giuseppe Cipriani --  the founder of Locanda Cipriani, the island’s famous inn and restaurant,” explains Alex Crevar in The New York Times. And here’s a useful Torcello Island video.      

Further afield there is the fishermen’s island of Pellestrina, the mainland fishing port of Chioggia, the palaces along the Brenta Canal and the university town of Padua. Food blogger Nicoletta Fornaro at Naturally Epicurean details some excellent food-filled itineraries to Pellestrina, Chioggia and Padua.  

“Mazzorbo is becoming quietly fashionable,” writes Conde Nast Traveller. It’s where Venissa Ristorante, an eat-and-sleep locanda, has set “a new benchmark for lagoon hospitality.” Owner Gianluca Bisol, “the current doyen of the Venissa estate,” has turned the “charming ex-manor house into a resort with six fabulous suites and an intimate restaurant,” whose daily menu can include “delicate risotto with tiny scallops, soft-shell crabs in season, fish from the Adriatic, and baby artichokes, beets, peas, and sweet tomatoes, all salty with the lagoon's water,” writes Vanity Fair. Venissa brims with “a verdant landscape, a canopy of cherry trees, and a portico-covered patio,” says Forbes. “Scattered flecks of sunlight blaze through a frayed blanket of clouds, gilding Venissa's two-hectare vineyard, produce gardens, and fish farm, all enclosed by an early medieval wall and presided over by a 14th-century bell tower.”      

La Certosa is now home to a number of interesting new initiatives. “The island hosts a marina where you can take sailing lessons, rent a vessel or embark on a lagoon excursion in a kayak or a bragozzo, a traditional Venetian fishing craft,” writes Cathryn Drake at The Washington Post.  And the island’s Certosa Hotel is “no ordinary Venice hotel experience,” comments The Telegraph -- “on a lagoon island just off the eastern end of Venice proper, with the bustle of the Vento di Venezia boatyard and yacht marina nearby, the rooms would be student-residence-stark were it not for brightly coloured works by contemporary artists made especially for the hotel.” The island is “freely accessible and has been transformed into a wide green area where people can enjoy sunny days lying on the grass, watching the dogs and children running free and breathe some fresh air,” says Spotted by Locals.      

The monastery on the Isola di San Francesco del Deserto is “a place apart,” says Hidden Europe -- “an island retreat in the shallow recesses of the northern lagoon.” It is an island blessed by solitude, where “Franciscan monks have prayed … for eight centuries.” Franciscan friars offer free tours of their secluded island home, “which still retains some of its 13th-century elements, including the first cloister,” notes Lonely Planet. “Visitors are kindly requested to speak in hushed tones, as this remains a space of prayer and contemplation.”    

Sant’Erasmo is full of “fields and fields of market gardens,” says Erla Zwingle at I’m Not Making This Up. “In Venice, any mention of the largest island in the lagoon, particularly if it is scribbled on a sign at the market, is synonymous with the best local produce.” So locals come out here to stock up on peas, asparagus and lagoon castraure (artichokes). To explore the island, “you'll have to walk along Sant'Erasmo's road network” that consists of “quiet rural lanes,” explains Italy Heaven. Cycling is a popular activity for visitors to the island -- “the roads are all flat and it's a quick way to get about.”    

Like neighbouring Sant’Erasmo, Le Vignole functioned as a market garden for Venice. “Locals regard Le Vignole as something of a secret; a place to spin out a fish lunch,” says Louise Roddon at The Telegraph. “The smell of fresh-cut grass and rosemary reminds me of Sunday mornings,” muses Peter Munro at Traveller.  

L:ife at the Lido “runs smoothly and quietly,” according to Naturally Epicurean. “I highly recommend visiting it, especially during the summer when central Venice gets over crowded and unbearably hot.” On the Lido you can go to the beach, rent a bike, visit local markets and savour some amazing food. It’s as distant “from the noise and confusion of the Venice tourist crowds as it could be,” says Silvia Donati writes in Italy magazine. A recent push to reinvent the island as a sustainable tourist destination sees Julia Buckley at The Independent beach bound, “sitting on a waterfront bench, sea breeze in my hair, the sound of bells drifting across the lagoon.”

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