Venice - I still love you...

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Beautiful Venice is surely a victim of her own popularity - on our latest visit, we were stunned to learn that La Serenissima now receives 20 million visitors a year! It's hard to imagine how a city can absorb such numbers and still keep up any degree of authenticity...it's said that Venice is a theme park, but that's been true for centuries...

And yet, still we make the pilgrimage; each of us imagining that somehow we won't be taken for tourists, but will meld into the beauty, and, just for a few magical days, feel a part of the city...

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Nothing prepares you for the first sight of Venice, whether it's a brand new love affair or a re-kindling of the passion, there is quite simply, nowhere like it.  Top of my list is to arrive by water; walk a few hundred metres from the arrivals hall and step onto a gleaming wooden hull of a private taxi; for the next 40 minutes experience one of the great boat rides of the world...it should be said that the same views are available from the public boats, but you don't have the thrill of speed; the beauty of course is free...Should you arrive by train, coming out of Santa Lucia Railway Station is to be thrust into the centre of the city - you're right on the Grand Canal.

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Venice is a city of churches, around 80 are still consecrated, the pealing of church bells is the soundtrack to the city, along with the tinny recorded voice announcing 'prossima fermata' (next stop) on the vaporetti...Vivaldi's genius sprang from this fertile lagoon, and his exquisite stanzas hang in the air of the calles and alleyways...

Touching the stones of Venice is to hold hands with fifteen centuries of history;  if this isn't enough of a connection, spend an hour or two in the jewel-box like interiors of the Venetia Studium stores, silks and velvets with provenance almost as lengthy as the stone; every nuance of the city's colour palette appears...

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The smell of Venice is as multi-layered as it's history...base notes of water, salt and mud, overlaid with incense, coffee and parmesan...

And finally, to the taste...

Restaurants run the gamut from hole in the wall establishments, to bars serving panini and tremezzini; ciccetti and gelato; right through to some of the most glamorous restaurants in a country that does glamour very well indeed.

Ristorante Riviera Dorsoduro 1473 30123 Venezia t:0415227621 – we lunched here one very rainy Sunday having seen corners of Venice from beneath the brims of our umbrellas – gatherings after church; midday passiggiata; slick cobblestones echoing to the sound of purposeful footsteps – not a day for dawdling – we pass the beggar whose eyes will haunt me always – is it for him the bells toll? and into a loud, crowded, narrow restaurant – the owner’s father was celebrating his birthday - and so begins one of those memorable afternoons with nowhere to go and nothing to do but enjoy the generous hospitality of this warm exuberant family and their startlingly beautiful children. Delicious food, and a new discovery – sgroppino – vodka, lemon gelati and champagne – oh dear!  We ate here twice whilst in Venice on our honeymoon and enjoyed another equally memorable occasion – even though the eyes of my conscience are not there, I am still acutely aware of their presence…

Alla Vedova - Cannaregio 3912 Rama Ca'd'Oro 041 5285324 – just at the back of Ca D’Oro – down an alley – fantastic cicetti – the Venetian version of tapas – try a selection as your antipasto especially the baccalao, sardines cuttlefish – be guided – you won’t be misled.

While we're on the subject of ciccetti - head to Osteria al Squero, via Trovaso Zattere 30123 Venice +39 335 600 7513 - at this little hole in the wall on Dorsoduro...you'll discover delicious wines, a warm welcome, and an opportunity to partake of some of Venice's best - a seemingly endless variety of small bites, mostly served on thin slices of bread - interesting combinations, great pairings of flavours, killer spritz, and a view of one of Venice's few remaining gondola workshops...perfetto!

Alla Testiere Castello 5801 Calle del Mondo Novo 041 5227220 Bruno e Luca – slick, groovy, tiny, this is the first time I truly understood grappa – sensational food and floating out into the Venetian afternoon on an alcohol fuelled cloud...

Lineadombra – Ponte dell’Umilita Dorsoduro 19 30123 Venezia (Alberto) t:041 241 1881 – modern, slick and edgy; outstanding fish cooked in a salt crust – theatre and interaction; worth the high price tag.

Osteria ai 4 Feri – Calle lunga S. Barnaba Dorsoduro 2754/A 30123 Venezia +39 041 520 6978 – cheek by jowl; speedy, noisy, delicious fish, curly haired girls with great big smiles (Ron was a favourite).

El Chioschitto - Fondamente Zattere al Punto Lungo This must surely be one of the best-located bars in the whole world!  What was once a small kiosk which served the naval officers from the adjacent offices is now a thriving, funky bar serving all manner of panini, tremezzini and the cheapest Spritz Aperol in Venice.  It's a regular spot for locals for an aperitivo on the way home from work or out to dinner; we have been known to spend many a happy hour here basking in the sunshine and watching the locals out for passeggiata...in a city where staggering views are in abundance, the aspect across the Giudecca is spectacular.

Osteria al Ponte del Diavolo - Fondamenta del Borgognoni 10/11 Torcello.  +39 041 73 0401 When the crush of humanity starts to weigh heavily on you, jump on the vaporetto and take yourself out through the lagoon to Torcello.  This quiet island is one of my favourite destinations in Venice, it has a melancholy, lonely feeling and yet is all the more beautiful for it.  And there's a bonus - Locanda Cipriano, where the rich and famous arrive by boat for Sunday lunch, and Osteria al Ponte del Diabolo, an old establishment set in lovely gardens and filled to capacity on Sunday lunchtime with families large and small.  Fish is the speciality of the house, mostly from the lagoon; always delicious.