Guidebook Northern Islands


Northern Islands

“There are more than a hundred islands in Venice’s 212-square-mile ecosystem,” write Ondine Cohane and Mikkel Vang at Conde Nast Traveller “but most tourists simply camp out near St. Mark’s Square and rarely venture beyond the clogged arteries that connect the main sights of the Rialto, the Grand Canal, and the Bridge of Sighs.” The outer islands are where traditional Venetian culture still runs deep, it’s the Venice that few tourists ever see -- “a series of islands scattered in the lagoon like gems, each with its own personality and charms.” If you venture beyond the tourist crush of Venice, comments Josephine McKenna in Gourmet Traveller, “the storied islands of the Venetian Lagoon are a trove of age-old traditions, architectural treasures and culinary gems all their own.”


“Everyone visiting Venice comes over to Murano at least once,” writes John Brunton in The Guardian. The reason: “to see the island's famed glass-blowing workshops.” The largest of the northern islands and the home of Venetian glass-making, visitors flock to Murano’s fornaci to witness glass being moulded from fiery bubbles. The Museo del Vetro (‘Glass Museum’) is a big draw. While there are shops stocking fine-quality glassware, “too much of what’s on sale here is cheap tourist tat,” says Anne Hanley in The Telegraph. “Many of the real artisans either sell direct to collectors or have outlets over the water in Venice”. Keep an eye out for the “Vetro Murano Artistico” trademark decal in the windows of shops and showrooms that sell authentic Murano glass. And have a look at this video -- Museo del Vetro di Murano.

Murano has been occupied since Roman times, and each century brought its own architectural style to the island. Not far from the glass museum is the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato, known for a 12th- century Byzantine mosaic floor rivalling those found in St Mark's Basilica. Like Venice, Murano is split in two by its own Canal Grande, crossed by Ponte Vivarini (‘Ponte Longo’ -- ‘long bridge -- to the locals). Mazzega Glass Factory, found just on the south side, is one of the most renowned of its kind in Murano. The Palazzo da Mula is one of the last remaining examples of Venetian Gothic architecture, notes As We Saw It.

“Relatively few tourists make it to the central campo of Murano,” writes Susan Steer in The Telegraph. Here the church of San Donato has a serene image of the Virgin Mary in its golden apse and a spectacular medieval pavement created in 1141. And there is plenty of fine dining to be enjoyed, writes Luca Pinelli at The Culture Trip, where she lists ten places to “in which to kick back and enjoy the city’s culinary wonders.”

Getting There: From Fondamenta Nove, Vaporetto Number 12, 13, 41, or 42 to Murano. For guided tours to the island, ask at your hotel or the tourist office.


The “Island of the Dead” is unsurprisingly the most peaceful of the islands. “When the independent Republic of Venice fell to Napoleon in 1797,” explains Atlas Obscura, the residents were forced to endure the changing demands of the new Empire, including burying the dead in the churches or below city paving stones, “which was less than sanitary by the standards of most cities of the era, and most definitely a problem in a city which floods several times annually.” Occupied solely by churches and long ranks of tombs, including famous ex-pats Ezra Pound in the Protestant section and Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky in the Orthodox section.

Getting There: A simple stopover en route to Murano, it’s worth remembering it’s just a cemetery and has no tourist services.From Fondamenta Nove, take Vaporetto Number 41 or 42 (that also go to Murano) to the Cimitero stop, usually the first stop.


“The jauntily-hued houses of this populous fisherman’s island,” observes The Telegraph, “look like the result of a bunch of kids let loose with a giant paintbox.” Considered the hub of the lagoon's northern archipelago, the houses flanking the narrow canals provide a riot of rainbow colours. Legend has it this palette was meant to guide fishermen home through heavy fog.

Via Galuppi, dotted with fish restaurants and shop fronts leads through to a vibrant piazza. You’ll spot “lush flower boxes dotting the windows of the bright homes and businesses,” says Martha Bakerjian at TripSavvy. “The island is rightly famous for its artisan lace makers.” The Museo del Merletto, located in a Gothic palace, showcases stunning workmanship. And you can’t miss the island’s leaning tower, with its slant to rival Pisa’s. It forms part of the 15th century church of San Martino and is a picturesque location.

Getting There: From Fondamenta Nove, take Vaporetto Line 12 to Burano


“The Venetian lagoon has a must-see island … secret little Mazzorbo,” writes Victoria Mather in Vanity Fairr. Connected by an old, wooden footbridge to Burano, it’s best known for the Venissa vineyard, “the ancient estate encircled by medieval walls” which has been restored by the Bisol family who have made “the best prosecco served on the mainland for 21 generations and created wine for Napoleon.” When you hop off the ferry at Mazzorbo's only public transport stop, Italy Heaven, “you'll find yourself at once in a different, peaceful world … you'll pass a mixture of buildings from comfortably lived-in houses with flowers on the window sill to atmospheric old stores and villas … this is a very sleepy island, with stretches of cultivated land dividing the scattered housing -- a very different world to the city bustle of Venice or the busy little lanes of Burano.”

The Venissa estate is a charming ex-manor house converted into a resort, says Mather, “with six fabulous suites and an intimate restaurant, also called Venissa which offers a new menu daily -- “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,” with the “wonderful house white wine” a “perfect complement to every dish.” The restaurant is “the brainchild of the Bisol dynasty of winemakers,“ writes Anne Hanley in The Telegraph. Tucked away inside a 16th-century walled compound, Venissa has been planted with herbs, quince and almond trees. But if you’re planning to spend the night, be sure to book early: the six suites are often reserved up to six months in advance.

Getting There: Take Vaporetto LN (Laguna Nord), from Fondamente Nove (40 minutes).


“Torcello goes way back,” writes Frances Mayes at The Smithsonian. The bishop of Altino moved his followers here in a.d. 638 -- “some say the low and marshy island called to the bishop in a vision … there, his people would be less vulnerable to attacks.” Today, with just 20 permanent residents, you can feel practically alone on the island. “At the Torcello stop, you’re let off the vaporetto and there’s nothing, just a path along a canal. Most people come to see the two ancient churches. They pause for a drink or lunch, then catch the boat again. By late afternoon, the island falls into a somnolent peace,” observes Mayes. “Much of the island is a nature reserve, accessible only on the walking paths,” says TripSavvy. Ernest Hemingway spent some time on the island in 1948, staying at the now legendary canalside Locanda Cipriani, where he wrote part of the novel Across the River and Through the Trees.

“After a lazy lunch,” says Oyster, “sights to take in include the island's main attraction, the seventh-century Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell'Assunta and its impressive Byzantine mosaics dating back to the 11th century.” It's also “worth braving the narrow steps of the cathedral's bell tower to take in the fabulous views of nearby Burano. Another local landmark is the Ponte del Diavolo, or ‘Devils' Bridge,’ a small historic bridge made of stone dating back to the 15th century.” The Santa Maria is “one of the most beautiful churches in all of Europe”, writes Conde Nast Traveller, “with the 12th- and 13th-century Byzantine mosaics The Last Judgment and The Mother and Child among its treasures.” This video, Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, gives the flavor. And the archaeological Museo di Torcello is “dedicated to Torcello’s bygone splendour,” writes Lonely Planet of the two buildings adjacent to the cathedral. The main building, the 13th-century Palazzo del Consiglio, displays religious art recovered from the island's many long-lost churches.

The island is home to one of the region’s most notable restaurants. The Locanda Cipriani was opened by legendary Venetian hotelier Giuseppe Cipriani in the 1940s and remains the only property still controlled by the family. “Despite its rustic entrance, Locanda Cipriani serves classic dishes with discreet service in a lush garden setting,” writes Gourmet Traveller. The adjoining hotel features décor that includes framed thank-you notes from the Queen of England and Ernest Hemingway.

Getting There: From Fondamenta Nove, take Vaporetto Line 12 to Burano, then transfer to Line 9.

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