Weekend Escape: Venezia
Venice is one of the most mesmerizing, magical and unique cities in the world. Besides its aesthetic beauty, there is an indescribable aura that surrounds it, which makes you feel as if you stepped back thousands of years. Venice, like the rest of Veneto, has a great food culture, centred around cicchetti, small bite-size snacks to be enjoyed with a glass of wine at any moment of the day – especially aperitivo time. The city also boasts delicious fish and seafood, as well as being the birthplace of baccalà mantecato. Here is my guide on what to eat, drink and do for three days in Venice.
We caught an evening train from Milan and arrived in Venice around 9PM, when most bacari and restaurants were ready to close shop for the night. As we walked towards our accomodation we stumbled upon Cantina Arnaldi, a quaint bar which was serving very appetizing food. We sat down for a few glasses of natural wine, eight polpette (I highly recommend their meat ones), and ten cicchetti. We were about to call it a night when the chef came out and began illustrating his wonderful desserts, leaving us with our mouths watering and newfound space in our stomachs. We indulged in his shortcrust pastry tart filled with dark chocolate & gianduja, topped off with salt from Cervia.
I woke up bright and early the following morning, anxious to experience Venice before the tourists began moving around, so I headed to Majer bakery to grab some breakfast. They have a great selection of croissants, pastries and cakes, as well as savory snacks like arancini. On the way back home I passed a beautiful water market: boat after boat lined up on the side of a canal, each selling different items: from fresh fruit and vegetables to wonderful flowers.
We set off on our tour of Venice by foot, walking from the Accademia to the Palazzo Ducale, which I absolutely recommend visiting if you find yourself in Venice on a weekday. We then made our way to the Rialto Market to peek at all the fresh fish and wonderful artichoke hearts that were on sale. Seeking refuge from the blistering hot sun we headed to Trattoria alla Madonna, a traditional yet slightly touristy trattoria a stone’s throw from Rialto. Our lunch consisted of soft, steamed crab served in its shell, mixed seafood, sarde in saor – another Venetian traditional dish – and spaghetti alle vongole.
With a slightly stuffed stomach we built up the courage of leaving our table and made our way to the panoramic terrace of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a luxury shopping mall right on the Canal Grande. From the top you can admire sweeping views of Venice and its numerous bell towers – just don’t forget to book a time slot!
Our evening was dedicated to chicchetti hopping: the act of jumping from one bacaro to the other, tasting two or three chicchetti in each place, always accompanied by a glass of wine. A great way of spending an evening and discovering Venice, rather than sitting down just in one restaurant. After having traced our itinerary on Google Maps, we set off on our adventure. The first stop was at Osteria Ca’ D’Oro alla Vedova, as I’d heard about their delicious polpette. We sat on the tiny tables outside the osteria and tasted polpetta after polpetta, with an interlude of baccalà mantecato. The polpette were by far the best in Venice. I could have eaten 100 but it was time to move on, so we made our way up the Cannaregio, towards Vino Vero. A hip wine bar with a great selection of natural wines, both by the glass and bottle, and a creative choice of cicchetti. I was ready to move onto the next bacaro but the others were exhausted so we ended up spending the whole evening at Vino Vero, between glasses of Barbacan and pecorino with fave cicchetti.
The following morning I decided to pay a visit, for breakfast, to a few of the bacari I had planned on visiting the previous evening and couldn’t as they close early. The two on my list that were perhaps the most well-known bacari in the whole of Venice, just a few meters from the Rialto market. Happy to find them open at 9am, I enjoyed a lifechanging baccalà mantecato at Bar All’Arco and perfectly greasy polpetta at Cantina Do Mori. Although fish for breakfast might surprise you, I’m happy to admit that I wasn’t the only one: the other people were also drinking wine!
The rest of the morning was divided between visiting contemporary art exhibitions at the Fondazione Prada (which wasn’t exactly my cup of tea) and strolling around the Ghetto. Venice was filling up with people for the weekend and between the crowds and heat finding a place to have lunch – without a reservation – wasn’t easy. We eventually squeezed around a table at Osteria Bea Vita and had a relaxed and easy lunch consisting – quite obviously – of cicchetti. A few hours later we headed to Cantinone Già Schiavi, not far from our accomodation, for a wonderful aperitivo consisting in spritz and curious cicchetti displayed on plastic plates, which we placed to rest on the ledge of the canal wall before quickly realizing that the ferocious seagulls were also interested in them. The area around the bacaro is full of students and locals, so very alive if not chaotic, on Saturday evenings. If you’re looking for a more intimate and calm aperitivo I would recommend going elsewhere.
On our last evening we met up with Venetian friends who brought us to a delicious, local and traditional restaurant, sensing how exhausted of eating chicchetti we were. Sitting down at a proper restaurant, reading a menu and choosing one dish only was an experience we welcomed with open arms, especially because the food passing by behind us smelled wonderfully inviting. We chose an antipasto misto di mare to begin with and bigoli al cartoccio as a primo, both dishes which I would recommend sharing due to their size. Dinner ended in the best way possible: with a sgroppino, a refershing lemon sorbet in which a shot of vodka is poured.
Sunday morning was evening busier than Saturday, with tourists flowing in from every calle and canal – we couldn’t even bring ourselves to imagine what Venice before covid must have been like! Trying to avoid the crowds we made our way through the labyrinth of tiny streets behind San Marco until we reached CoVino, a tiny bistrot with a contemporary cuisine entirely made with local products. Our last meal was also perhaps the best of the whole trip, the bittersweet feeling of departure playing a significant role. We began with a delicious pinziomonio of raw vegetables and ripe fruit followed by a main course, as we chose the fixed menu of main course plus dessert. Being a risotto fanatic, I went for their risotto with mussels, roast potatoes and black garlic—a twist on a traditional Pugliese recipe, made with ingredients from the Venetian lagoon. An admirable selection of natural wines, brilliantly illustrated to us by the host, accompained our meal. I highly recommend dedicating one of your Venetian meals as the food is researched and delicious, and the host knowledgeable and simpatico – just don’t forget to book in advance!
Where to eat & more
Cantina Arnaldi – the perfect place for an aperitivo, cicchetti dinner or after-dinner natural wine or passito.
Majer – well-stocked pastry shop, perfect for breakfast or lunch on the go.
Trattoria alla Madonna – traditional trattoria serving local and seasonal seafood.
Osteria Ca’ D’Oro alla Vedova – great polpette and baccalà mantecato, shame for the less friendly staff, but perfect for cicchetti-hopping.
Vino Vero – hip natural wine bar by a quiet canal, frequented by locals.
Bar All’Arco – delicious cicchetti (especially the baccalà mantecato and tuna meatballs) a stone’s throw from Rialto.
Cantina Do Mori – Just across the street from Bar All’Arco, try their polpette and then let yourself go crazy with their vast cicchetti selection.
Osteria Bea Vita – easy lunch by the canal, great if you don’t feel like sitting down for hours.
Cantinone Già Schiavi – a legendary tavern/bacaro serving great spritz & cicchetti.
Ristorante San Trovaso – wonderful, laid back, local restaurant serving excellent seafood and pasta. A must!!
CoVino – bistrot serving delicious, contemporary food and natural wines. Another must!