The sun was setting as we strolled along Fondamente Nove, where the Venetian Lagoon meets the edge of Canareggio. It was so quiet there, in that pocket of Venice, away from the tourists and pigeons and souvenir racks.
I was visiting Europe’s grand historic capital with Denise, my partner of six years. We both fell hard for Venice on our last visits, well over a decade ago, when we knew less about the world, yet were drawn to Italy before so many other destinations. Back then, in the early aughts, we were short on travel savvy, and likely were counted among the bumbling throngs of map-flapping tourists.
These days we are more seasoned travelers, who sought to escape Italy’s, and especially Venice’s, notorious crowds. Happily, we succeeded. That day we spent much of our time in the northern district of Canareggio, where apartments outnumber hotel rooms and there’s silence enough to hear gondola oars splashing in the canals.
Venice was part of our return-to-Italy adventure, which also featured Bologna and, Rome. We aimed to rediscover Italy as forty-somethings, and what we found were that Italian cities, whether new or familiar, never stop feeling magical.
From the airport, we arrived at the Piazzale Roma bus terminal and boarded vaporetto 5.1 to the the southern neighborhood of Dorsoduro. Cruising on a crowded waterbus may not seem magical, except that in Venice the view from the canals includes glimpses of centuries-old buildings donning Gothic and Renaissance styles.
Our home for this visit was the newly opened Axel Hotel Venezia (Dorsoduro 222. Tel: 39-041-523-5404. www.axelhotels.com). It proved to be an instant delight of hospitality, as the city’s first “hetero-friendly hotel” by the LGBTQ-centric Axel brand. In 2019, the property wrapped a full renovation of the pre-existing hotel, and now offers chic lodging with a fabulous breakfast, bar, lounge, and chic guestrooms.
Better still, the Axel had us residing in the southern neighborhood of Dorsoduro, a less-trafficked area that’s home to a beautiful waterfront promenade lined with cafés, pizzerias, and the enticing Gelateria Nico (Fodamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo 922. Tel: 39 041 522 5293. www.gelaterianico.com). It’s strange how just across the Grand Canal crowds gather around the familiar tourist attractions, while a short walk away, they could be enjoying a quieter time at the fabulous Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Dorsoduro 701-704. Tel:39 041 240 5411. www.guggenheim-venice.it). The heiress and legendary arts patron lived in her canalside villa surrounded by magnificent works, and at this compact home-turned-museum, we saw her personal collection of pieces from Dali and Calder, to Pollock and Warhol and Holzer, and so many more.