I love the Rialto area of Venice and while at first thought it conjures up visions of many tourists crowding across the famous bridge; traffic jams on the Grand Canal as water taxis, vaporettos, speed boats and gondolas all compete for space; and stalls full of tacky souvenirs at inflated prices, you need only walk a short distance away from the bridge towards Santa Croce to find a little peace and a sense of being somewhere that’s a little closer to the real Venice. Of course, what is the ‘real Venice’? The city welcomes over 22 million tourists a year and in busy months, the tourists outnumber the locals by 20:1. You cannot completely escape the sense that you are in a kind of film set: there is undeniably something ‘unreal’ about Venice and nearly everything is set up for tourists. But I did notice on my travels there this week that things were cheaper in the San Polo/Santa Croce area. There are a lot of leather goods for sale, of course, and I saw a small handbag for €25 near St Mark’s Square while an identical one in Santa Croce was only €15. And of course in the famous Rialto market, while there are plenty of tourists snapping away taking photos of food they’ve no intention of buying, there are plenty of locals filling their bags with the vegetables, meat and fish to take home or to restaurants to cook. You’ll see gondoliers taking a break and standing in local bars drinking espressos or something stronger. And locals cluster in campi to talk to friends while children play around them, often holding, even early in the day, a glass of wine or their favourite Aperol drink, its bright orange colour a beacon in the crowds.
I thought it would be fun to tell you about my favourite places in the Rialto area. I have to confess that the photo at the top is from 2 years ago. The weather on that trip was much better than this past week, but also the Rialto bridge is covered in scaffolding and surrounded by cranes at the moment as major renovations works go on, so it’s not quite as pretty as usual! However, the following photos are from mainly my trip this week, and this is all about why I love Venice and keep going back to the same place:
I can’t imagine staying anywhere other than the beautiful Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo – or not while owners Walter and Sandro remain there. It is without doubt my very favourite hotel. It’s small, friendly and beautiful. See a previous post for more details: click here. Situated in Santa Croce, it’s wonderfully quiet and peaceful but only a stone’s throw from the Rialto. When the weather is good, it’s lovely to sit in their courtyard for breakfast, but even from the indoor breakfast room the view is still wonderful:
The fruits and vegetables always look so amazing. Look at those wonderful bundles of asparagus, small little purple artichokes – tender enough to be cooked whole. Labels often tell you where the produce comes from and you can see what’s local – and little comes from very far away. Of course there’s the famous fish market too.
It’s all so tempting and I often think that some time it would be great to stay somewhere where I could do some cooking too. But then I’d miss the experience of being out and about in Venice and sitting with a drink and food on the edge of the Grand Canal.
Campo Erberia, just off the Rialto market, is a wonderful area for bars where you can sit by the edge of the Grand Canal with a great view and enjoy a drink, cicchetti (Italian ‘tapas’) or a meal. I often go there for a snack cicchetti lunch, an early evening glass of prosecco and it’s a great place to be late at night to end the day. Here are my three favourite bars – all selling cicchetti:
This is where I go when I arrive in Venice and have dropped my bags at the hotel and head straight off for a light lunch. It was closed my first day this year (Monday) but open after that and I enjoyed my last meal of the trip there on Thursday evening with this fantastic view.
They do great cicchetti, meals and wine by the glass.
Al Merca in Campo Bella Vienna is definitely one of the places to be. It’s always crowded. It’s a tiny place – just a counter really that opens on to a campo just off the Rialto market. Here you really feel you’re with the locals as old friends meet up for a drink, young and old. There’s nowhere to sit – just a small bench outside that seats about four people; a barrel made into a table nearby. But really you just stand and enjoy the atmosphere and some of the best wine and cicchetti you’ll find in Venice. It’s cheap too. A glass of wine ranging from just about €2 to €3.50. The cicchetti are mainly little rolls full of wonderful things like San Daniele prosciutto, baccalà mantecato, speck with gorgonzola, mortadella. They are making fresh ones as fast as they sell them. You won’t find fresher. I had a light lunch there on Wednesday before going off to meet Isabella and visit Castello Carboncine. To a couple of little rolls I added a melanzane polpette – a little aubergine ‘meatball’.
It was all amazing! Note the glass for my prosecco. Glasses of prosecco never come in flutes in Venice; they come in wine glasses. And the Veneto is where genuine prosecco comes from, so they should know!
I’d read about All’Arco on previous trips but it was always so busy I never managed to get in. But when I passed by this trip, one early lunchtime, and saw it fairly empty (which didn’t last long!), I just had to go in and try some of their famous cicchetti.
It’s a great little place, gorgeous cicchetti, a wonderful buzz to the atmosphere. Here again, like Al Merca, you’ll probably have to stand to eat your food (although there are a few tables outside) but it’s definitely worth doing so.
If you really want the experience of feeling like a local, then cross the Grand Canal in a traghetto. While making a short crossing or trip down the canal in a vaporetto will cost you €7, you can get a crossing and a gondola experience for just €1 in a traghetto. And it’s much more fun! The one in the photo above goes from the Rialto market across to Cannaregio. If you’re heading to that side of the canal, it’s the quickest way to cross. The locals stand but they won’t mind if you prefer to sit down. It can be a slightly hairy experience as large vaporetti, heavy with tourists, or speeding small boats (although they’re not supposed to speed) whizz by and the canal water churns up and throws you about a bit but it’s something you simply have to try.
St Mark’s is the only piazza in Venice but there are lots of campos (or more correctly, campi). Some are busy and noisy, but some wonderfully quiet and peaceful. My favourite is Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, which I get to quickly from the back of the hotel and heading away from Rialto towards Piazzale Roma. I like it because this is one of the most ‘local’ campos, full of locals shopping, talking, children playing football. Sit at one of the bars with a prosecco or just on one of the benches and watch the Venetian world go by. You’ll feel a million miles away from St Mark’s – even though you’re only a walk away. This is a gorgeous photo of the campo at night from my last trip; a real haven of peace:
Well, it’s been fun to share my favourite things to do in the Rialto area of Venice, where I like to stay, eat and drink. Do you have any favourite places to share?
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