Venice In Three Days | A Food & Drink Guide
Life is too short to not visit Venice at least once in your lifetime. The tail-end of last year got us all thinking about our own mortality – what with all the celebrity deaths in 2016 and the smog of depressing news that engulfed us. So as we’d been swooning over Polpo‘s Russell Norman‘s Instagram account for far too long we decided to bite the bullet and just book it.
I am a massive control freak when it comes to holidays and hotels, opting for luxury over budget and scrutinising reviews before I book anywhere. When we told Russell we’d finally decided to visit Venice he said we must stay at the no-frills two-star Pensionne Seguso hotel – in room 23 to be precise. Abandoning my fears of cheap hotels, I trusted his advice and booked it – this is the man who inspired our trip to the city after all so it’d be rude not to.
We were also advised by pretty much everyone we spoke to that we simply must splash out on a private water taxi from the airport. So upon arriving at Marco Polo airport after our 1 hour and 40 minute EasyJet flight, we navigated our way to the boarding area, hoping to split the costs with at least one other couple. But as we speak zero Italian, this plan didn’t materialize and before we knew it the two of us were rushed off onto a boat big enough for ten.
Oh but it was worth it, what a way to be introduced to Venice. Zooming through the water-ways on a speedboat was one of the most exhilerating experiences of our life, it certainly perked us up after our 7am flight and lack of sleep. We arrived at our hotel (which handily has its own landing point) about 25 minutes later and €110 lighter.
Hotel Pensione Seguso was charming and oh-so retro but full of character and beautiful antique Venetian furniture and nick nacks. Our room boasted two balconies and its own private bathroom, many of the rooms share one, which is typical of these old delapidated hotels in Venice – there was no way on this earth I was going to share a bathroom, no matter who told me to.
Antique is lovely but not when it comes to the bed you’re sleeping on – creeky doesn’t even cover it and the cushions are standard hotel lumpy, I normally bring my own but I couldn’t quite fit one in my hand luggage. No mod-cons here, so if you too take Russell’s advice as we did, you need to bring all your own toiletries and be prepared to immerse yourself in the old-fashioned character of the hotel and the city. The staff are charming, the location is fantastic, the light in the breakfast room is stunning – you’ll never stay anywhere else like it.
Yes, tick off the touristy sites like the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square but the prettiest, more interesting places are not to be found here. In fact, they were the two sites we liked the least – they don’t give you a taste of the real Venice, just crowds and selfie sticks. However the view from the bridge is stunning. Another word of advice, bring comfy shoes and be prepared to walk – a lot. We clocked up 37.7km over the time we were there, the streets are like one giant maze but a hell of a beautiful one.
Lunch: First stop was Cantinone (Già Schiavi) disguised as a wine shop in Dorsoduro, handily located just around the corner of our hotel and opposite one of the last gondola workshops. Space is at a premium in Venice and therefore property prices are high, because of this full-sized kitchens with ovens, hobs and grills are rare. Bars made use of fresh cold ingredients that could be prepared within their tiny kitchens – and so cicchetti was created. We met Russell here for some Prosecco and an handy introduction to Venice – alongside some delicious cicchetti by the bridge outside – perfect. We popped back later on for some more snacks – the salt cod is the best I’ve ever tasted and Ade adored the ricotta, walnut and red currant cicchetti, so good. Watch out for those pesky seagulls, turns out they’re quite fond of cicchetti too.
Drinks and snacks: Onto Gelateria Nico for our first spritz but not any old spritz – half-pint-sized ones served with a bowl of crisps and drunk at the counter (it costs more to sit outside.) Here, Russell pointed out the Gianduiotto they serve here – a slab of hazelnut ice cream dunked in a load of whipped cream. We came back for this the following day, before dinner which was foolish as it is ridiculously indulgent (and filling).
Before dinner we popped into a great little bar near the Grand Canal called Ostaria Al Ponte for dead cheap wine and spritzes (which we discovered are plentiful in Venice.)
Dinner: Russell told us that our visit wouldn’t be complete without a meal at Alle Testiere where he said we’d get some of the best food in the city. Well, he was our unofficial guide so we did as instructed heading there for dinner on our first evening for a very intimate evening of delicious and refined food. Once we found it, that was – it’s so tucked away down a narrow street so allow extra time to get there.
This tiny restaurant specialises in fish with a daily-changing menu, it often gets fully booked up so prepare in advance and drop them a line to reserve a table. The sauce on my scallops dish was so delicious, I contemplated drinking the rest from the shell, they sell their own cookery book there too – I should have had a peek for the recipe. The cooking and not the decor is the focus, it’s a very simple restaurant but local foodies consider this one of the best eateries in the city thanks to the chef’s creative take on classic Venetian fish dishes. This is not one of Venice’s cheaper restaurants either so be warned, we went a bit crazy and our meal set us back nearly £200 – but then we did eat a lot and that was with a good bottle of wine.
Post-dinner drinks were at I Rusteghi – another Russell rec that sounded romantic and cosy but for some reason we were the only ones in there. I was just happy to sit somewhere comfy with cushions.
Lunch: Our meal at Trattoria Cà d’Oro alla Vedova known as Alla Vedova was a real highlight and very reasonably priced – we hadn’t booked but managed to just squeeze in for lunch. Russell had recommended this place for a glass of wine (known locally as ‘ombre’ or ‘shadow’) and a meatball at the counter but we wanted to sit and eat our lunch and rest our weary legs for a while. We stood drinking their house wine for €1 a glass (tiny glasses but still, €1) whilst we waited for our table, watching others eat and checking out the food whizzing past our faces. Decor-wise this reminded us very much of Polpo and the service was seamless and incredibly helpful, the fritto misso here is highly recommended – such fresh and juicy fish, we devoured it like a couple of animals. ‘Spaghetti alla busara’ with shrimps, tomatoes, herbs and chilli and was also wonderful, Ade adored his ‘Bucatini all’amatriciana’ – bucatini pasta with bacon, onions, tomato and pecorino’. Their house speciality ‘Polpetta’ (meatballs) are amazing and will only set you back €2, so make sure you try one (or two.)
Drinks and snacks: We headed to the Rialto Market for a wander before lunch, treating ourselves to a more expensive spritz at a table outside a bar that we can’t for the life of us remember what it was called, watching the world go by and the traders packing up.
A must visit was Caffé Rosso known as The Red Caffé in the square of Campo Santa Margherita. No-frills and charming, they have a wonderful old brass and copper Elektra coffee machine from which I drank a latte from a half-pint glass and Ade a ‘Caffe Corecto’ – an espresso with a shot of grappa – best drunk in one hit as advised by the guy behind the bar, so so strong.
We nipped over to the island of Murano on a water bus – the travel cards are great for island hopping, swapping a spritz for a scoop of gelato at Murano Gelateria Artigianale eaten with our legs dangling over the canal.
Our next island stop was Mazzorbo – an island in the northern Venetian Lagoon which we ended up visiting by accident as we caught the wrong boat. This wasn’t such a bad thing as we remembered it was yet another one of Russell’s suggestions. Great minds think alike as the first place we came to – Venissa was calling our name with tables in the sunshine by the water and Radiohead playing inside. Around the back is a vast and tranquil vineyard that’s worth an explore – although what we’d seen so far of Venice was spectacular, it was great to see a different, more open, side. Mazzorbo has an almost Scandinavian look, we could almost have been in Sweden – a shame we didn’t have more time here but it was getting late and we had to make sure we caught the correct bus back for dinner.
Dinner: We made a slight error with dinner on Saturday night, we went back to our hotel for a lay down and went out quite late all foggy-headed. We went to Al Nono Risorto – a rec from Time Out. Very buzzy and busy but the food wasn’t great and we ate some rather unpleasant tasting shrimp, such a shame to waste a meal in Venice – lesson learnt, stick to Russell’s list.
Lunch: Our last meal was al fresco at Paradiso Perduto that we’d booked in person at about 11am the previous morning. Spotting the tables by the canal were in the sun we requested that we sat outside, the problem was the sun was long gone by 2pm so we sat shivering in the shade with no space inside to warm up. Ade couldn’t resist the ‘Maccheroni torchiati in casa al cacio e pepe’ – pasta mixed in a parmesan wheel and served at the table. A thing of nightmares for me but heaven for Ade. We also shared yet more ‘Fritto misto’ and I had a whopping serving of spaghetti with clams, mussells and shrimp all to myself – simple, fresh, delicious.
Drinks and snacks: Our first spritz of the day was at Osteria Bancogiro which we’d walked past several times, always a crowd outside, I felt it only right to see what all the fuss was about. Once inside sipping on a spritz by the window facing the Grand Canal, I remembered that this osteria was on our other list supplied by Beetroot & Beluga – good call, guys.
A spritz at Osteria Dal Riccio Peoco just because we were passing, our feet needed a rest and it looked nice. You can never really go wrong if you see a crown of locals enjoying a drink in the early afternoon sun.
Down by the canal near our destination for lunch was a real hole in the wall bar – A La Vecia Papussa. Love all these hidden unassuming spots in Venice, you could wander around the streets and alleyways all day going from bar to bar eating cicchetti and refueling with spritzes.
Dinner: None for sadly it was home time.
We stayed at Pensione Seguso for €150 per night, including a continental breakfast.