The scenic view from Venice’s Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) was the last glimpse of daylight for countless prisoners. Fortunately, those now visiting the cells in the Prigioni Nuove are free to leave yet many condemn themselves to only exploring the Centro Storico of this historic city.
To truly plunge into what makes this region of the Veneto so special one must take to the water and not just by gondola around the city center. Boarding Uniworld’s S.S. La Venezia for an eight-day cruise gives me the opportunity to venture throughout the Laguna Veneta without the need to pack and unpack.
Part of the enjoyment of cruising the lagoon is to lounge on deck to take in the views of the islands that dot it and appreciate the amazing skills the ancient craftsmen had to create structures and towns on seemingly every inch of the terra firma they encountered. These islands became fortress towns with the lagoon serving as a huge moat in an attempt to keep the marauding Huns, Goths and Vandals at bay following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Burano, while famous for its lace-makers, is one of my favorite island towns because of its houses painted in a variety of deeply saturated photogenic colors. An easy morning or afternoon trip by water taxi from there is Torcello, the most northerly inhabited island in the lagoon and home to a historic basilica with beautiful Byzantine mosaics.
A second short excursion from Burano is over a wooden bridge, the Ponte Longo, to Mazzorbo, known for its 14thcentury Santa Caterina Church and the Venissa Estate, a walled vineyard where the rare Venetian varietal Dorona grows to produce a golden-hued wine.
Another network of islands linked by bridges is Murano, famed for its glassmaking. In 1291, the glassmakers of Venice were forced to relocate to Murano due to their furnaces being a fire hazard to the capital city. These days factory tours, all connected to showrooms, are available and well worth the visit.
The ship’s furthest port of call is the fishing village of Chioggia which straddles both the lagoon and the Adriatic Coast. Nicknamed “Little Venice” the town has sand beaches making it a popular summer getaway for those throughout the Veneto.
The S.S. La Venezia’s itinerary includes a one-day tour from Chioggia out of the lagoon to explore Northern Italy’s culinary capital of Bologna. At a pasta-making class at Cantina Bentivoglio I learn that to make spaghetti Bolognese is almost at the level of a sin. Tagliatelle is the noodle for this particular sauce. Every type of noodle has a size and shape for a very specific and delicious reason. Bologna is also a great place to shop for balsamic vinegar in a variety of ages and viscosities produced in nearby Modena.
We sail back to Venice for a final day and night in the city and spend time traversing the well-worn cobblestones. At the atelier of Saverio Pastor, I spend time with one of the few remaining remeri (oar makers) who is working on a forcola, a wooden oarlock on which the oar on the gondola pivots for power and steering. It seems that as long as one adheres to the saying “È necessario tenere gli occhi aperti” (You must keep your eyes open) there will always be new discoveries around every ancient corner.