If I had to live on an island that would be San Giorgio: the view on San Marco and not the crowd of San Marco!
My favoured place to sit and look around are the steps (photo 2) at the entrance of the church with above me the white façade of Palladio. Under the afternoon sun the façade, the pavement of the square between the church and the lagoon, are brilliant. The sun is playing on the waves which at high tide roll over the edge of the piazza (photo 1).
On each of my visits (in summer) I was surprised there were not more people visiting the magnificent basilica and the campanile (75 m high) from where the view is really amazing. I never had to queue at the elevator and on the top there were less than 20 persons so that everybody could stand at the openings and make a tour of the horizon (photo 3).
From here you see the whole of Venice, the lagoon with its green waters, all the islands of which the biggest, the Lido, in the south and beyond the Adriatic Sea. The island of San Giorgio is separated from Venice by the Basin and Canal of San Marco and the Canal of the Giudecca. The only link with the city is by the vaporetto Linea 2. It is separated from the Large Giudecca island by the small canal della Grazia with no bridge.
In the 9th c. there was already a church consecrated to St George; a Benedictine monastery was established in 982. The present church designed by Palladio was built at the end of the 16th c. The monastery became very important. In 1800 a pope was elected here while Rome was occupied by the French army. In 1806 the French suppressed the monastery and stole a number of works of art among which the "Wedding at Cana" from Veronese now exposed in Le Louvre.
The island became a free port with a new harbour built in 1812 of which you can see the hexagonal lighthouses (photo 4).
A few monks remained to officiate in the church, while the monastery became an artillery depot and underwent grave deterioration.
In 1951 the Italian Government granted the monastery (photo 5 ) to the Cini Foundation, which restored it.
The Lido is a kind of mainland barrier to protect Venice from the sea. It is situated in the lagoon of Venice and offers approximately 12 km of beach along the Adriatic Coast.
Apart from that, many nice old villas and prestigious hotels can be found here. Among them are the Art Nouveau Hungaria Palace Hotel or the 5 starred luxury Hotel Excelsior.
The French under Napoleon, who had overruled the Venetian Republic, suppressed the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in 1806. Transformed in an artillery depot the monastery underwent grave deterioration.
When I learned that the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore had been restored by the Cini Foundation, I read more about the Cini family. There are many cultural foundations but I found something special, something tragic about this one.
During World War II, Count Vittorio Cini was Minister of Communications (1943). He resigned after deep differences with Mussolini and was arrested by the Germans (September 1943) and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. His son Giorgio sold all the jewels of his mother the actress Lyda Borelli and was able to have his father released from the concentration camp by bribing the SS guards (June 1944).
When the son, who had saved his life, died in a plane crash near Cannes in 1949, the father Vittorio Cini established the foundation in memory of his son and devoted his life to works of philanthropy.
In 1951 the Italian Government granted the monastery and the island to the Giorgio Cini Foundation, which restored the monastery and rehabilitated the island. There is an historical library. There are exhibitions, concerts and meetings.
Guided tours take place on Saturday and Sunday from 10 till 16 h, when there are no events, see www.cini.it .
There is an exclusive guest house called La Foresteria where heads of state like Reagan, Carter, Thatcher, Mitterrand stayed. You can't find better in Venice.
Murano is the most visited and the most famous of the Venetian Islands, courtesy of the famous glass-works that produce the famous Murano Glass. Like Venice it is an archipelago of individual islands joined by bridges and divided by canals.
During the Middle Ages the glass makers were settled on the island because of fire hazard from their furnaces.
The 16th century was known as the “great age” of Murano glass, when the island supported some 37 glass factories and a population of 30,000. Murano Glass was one of the few Venetian exports and as such, the secret of this skillful craft was tightly guarded.
The glass-factory's showroom full of magnificent glassware. However, the prices are not cheap here. Some items cost several ten-thousands euros! Prices are much more reasonable in the gift shop where you can buy plenty of souvenirs or simply enjoy the island without buying what you don’t need and don’t want.
Fans of Glass should also plan a visit on Fondamenta Giustinian 8, to the Glass Museum, which was the ancient residence of the bishops of Torcello.
Entrance tickets cost €4,00 or €6,00 for a ticket which combines entrance to the Glass Museum and the Lace Museum on Burano.
The nearby Church of San Mary & Donato has a beautiful mosaic pavement from the 12th Century.
The next stop is a 15-minute ride to the lovely fishing island of Burano. The island is the most picturesque of Venetian Islands of the Lagoon. The village is a scaled down version of Venice with small canals, and pastel coloured houses like in Nyhavn - Copenhagen. Burano is well known for its lace making; in the 16th century the industry was at its height and Burano was cited through Europe for having produced the finest lace.
Legend has it that lace-making began when a Venetian sailor, returning after a long voyage, brought his ladylove a gift of exotic seaweed called mermaid's lace. To while away the hours once the sailor was back at sea, the girl tried to re-create the intricate design of the seaweed in lace.
The Lace Museum, which opened in 1981, is situated in the old Lace-School (Piazza Galuppi 187). The only trouble is that few women are left on Burano willing to spend the time to make these fine artworks. Beware, however, of vendors selling items that are not genuine Burano lace.
Public Transportation: There is a direct boat, the DM, from Tronchetto, Piazzale Roma and the railway station (Ferrovia).
Murano's Faro stop is the first halt on the LN (Laguna Nord) ferry from the Fondamenta Nove on Venice's northern shore, which continues to Burano. From Faro, it's a 33-minute trip to Burano.
Torcello is the perfect antidote to glamorous Venice. There’s time for quiet contemplation, which too often nowadays can elude you in Serenissima.
The island was at one time one of the Byzantine Empire's most important markets in Western Europe with splendid buildings, churches and monasteries, but today just a handful of monuments survive and holds only 100 inhabitants.
One of these is the famous Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral with its Byzantine-Roman mosaics and its imposing bell tower, visible from all over the lagoon; it is open daily from 10 - 12.30am and from 2pm until 6.30 pm
Another important architecture is the Santa Fosca Church, which is surrounded by a five-sided portico built in the form of a Greek cross. Outside, in the garden, stands Atilla the Hun’s marble throne carved from a single piece of stone.
Another main attraction is taking lunch at the Cipriani restaurant, a favourite of Ernest Hemingway, who stayed here in 1948 while writing "Across the River and Into the Trees".
The restaurant Al Ponte del Diavolo offers an alternative for tourists with smaller budget. (tourist menu 25 €).
In the end when you leave back to Venice for your evening meal, take a moment, turn, and watch the buildings of the island melt into the lagoon.
Public transport: The vaporettos (LN route) depart from the Fondamenta Nuove stop in the Cannaregio section of Venice to Burano and then change to the T line to Torcello. The T line normally runs twice an hour in both directions during the day.
Although this small island isn't connected to Venice (unlike the islands of Sant' Elena and San Pietro at its eastern end), it is in the sestieri of San Marco. Its neighbouring island of Giudecca is under the administration of Dorsoduro sestieri.
During my previous visits to Venice, I'd regularly enjoyed the view over to these 2 islands, but had never made it across the waters of the Basino San Marco.
Christmas Day 2008, I caught the number 2 vaporetto from San Zaccaria (this is the only service, but it runs frequently), for the very short trip. My main reason for visiting was to see the church, and admire the views from its campanile.
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore was designed by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) and is considered to be one of his greatest achievements. Its design was based on the classical style of ancient Rome, which is typical of Palladian style.
Paintings, include 3 pieces by Tintoretto, including one which may have been his last piece of work.
The Campanile (bell tower) is signposted. Purchase your ticket (3 Euros) from the ticket desk, then get into the (surprisingly fast) lift. (In my opinion, this is far better than the Campanile in Piazza San Marco - cheaper, less crowded, and better views, especially on a crisp winters day!)
The views of Venice and across the lagoon were stunning. It was a crisp morning, with blue sky, and sunshine (for the previous 2 days it had been foggy or overcast).
It was quite a special moment, especially as Church bells were pealing out across the water.
Different churches were taking it in turns - Oh yes, eventually San Giorgio Maggiore joined in - It was quite something to be stood next to the bells, and quite a shock when they started up!
In hindsight, a pair of ear plugs might have been a good thing to have had.
Adjacent to the church is a monastery, which was built at the same time by Palladio.
There had been a Benadictine monastery on this site for many centuries, the original having to be re built in the 13th century, after earth-quake damage.
At the time of my visit, it was closed. The monastery is now used as a centre for Venetian culture, where exhibitions and events are staged. It also has an open-air theatre.
From the church, I took a short walk along the promenade, past the small marina, where many yachts were moored, before catching the next vaporetta to Giudecca
(I've started downloading videos of views from the campanile and the bells on my San Giorgio Maggiore page
A good opportunity to visit the Isola di San Michele, the cemetery of Venice, is on returning from a "tourist trap" visit to a Murano glass factory offered by your hotel with a commission for them on your purchases of glass.
The island is surrounded with a red-brick wall and a line of tall cypress trees rising high behind it. The pontoon gives access directly to the entrance of the cemetery.
In fact two islands, the one containing the convent and the other one uninhabited, were joined by decision of Napoleon's occupying forces who told the Venetians to start hauling their dead across the water instead of burying them all over town.
Only a few large monuments exist here. The cemetery is divided into sections by plain pale walls, or walls of burial niches. It is a romantic place which alternates cypress, flowers, monuments, graves, and columbarium. The church San Michele built by Coducci from 1469 till 1478 is one of the first religious buildings of the Renaissance built in Venice.
The part of the cemetery most visited by the tourists is the section with the tombs of composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and the founder of the "Russian Ballets" Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929). He created with Stravinsky the "Rite of the Spring". Visitors deposit small pebbles on their graves by way of homage.
This orthodox "Greek" section where rest also some noble Russian families has an atmosphere of rustic decay in contrast to the formal and beautifully tended Catholic gardens of graves.
Other moving place is the row of children's graves. Stillborn children, very young dead children plunge the guest into the fragility of the existence.
The San Michele Cemetery is crowded and the dead are left to rest just twelve years, after which the family must pay to remove what remains to small metal boxes for permanent storage, otherwise the bones will be tossed into a common bone yard.
But let us go back to Venice and its animation of the alive.
There are innumerable sights that are left out from the program of most visitors in Venice.
Everybody walks out onto the waterfront being only few meters from San Marco and admires the silhouette of the church being located on the oposite island. But almost nobody get already there.
At the last stop of vaporetto before San Marco it is worthy to get out for half an hour.
This is that certain island, namely San Giorgio Maggiore. Its name sounds fabulously already, and so the ornament of the tiny island, the Benedictine monastery.
The church itself is worth the bypass; because two huge, five-metre paintings of Tintoretto decorate it. But the real experience is, to climb up into the campanile (there is an elevator for 3 €!) and from there to look across to San Marco.
The main square of uniquely beautiful Venice from here of the height, according to me, the most beautiful experience in the city. It is an extra reward only that we may arrive from the sea onto Saint Mark square by sailing over with the next vaporetto.
It lies immediately south of the central islands of Venice, from which it is separated by the Giudecca Canal. San Giorgio Maggiore lies off its eastern tip. Giudecca is a long narrow island shaped like a fishbone located immediately to the south of Venice. It may have been named after the Jews ("guidei") who settled there during the Middle Ages or the condemned nobles (“giudicati”) who were banished there during the ninth century.
This island reminded us of the many such small islands in India that we chance upon! It was relatively less crowded and we went on a hike way in by ourselves! After the downfall of the Roman Empire, Torcello was one of the first lagoon islands to be successively populated by those Veneti who fled the terra firma (mainland) to take shelter from the recurring barbarian invasions, especially after Attila the Hun had destroyed the city of Altinum and all of the surrounding settlements in 452. Although the hard-fought Veneto region formally belonged to the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna since the end of the Gothic War, it remained unsafe on account of frequent Germanic invasions and wars: During the following 200 years the Langobards and the Franks fuelled a permanent influx of sophisticated urban refugees to the island’s relative safety, including the Bishop of Altino himself. In 638 Torcello became the bishop’s official see for more than a thousand years and the people of Altinum brought with them the relics of Saint Heliodorus, now the patron saint of the island.
During a recent trip, one of my days was spent exploring The Lido. From Venice, you can take numerous vaporetta - only a short ride for example from St Mark's Square. I wanted to see the Hotel Des Bains, in which Dirk Bogarde stayed and starred in the film Death in Venice. The sea is just a short walk from the fermata. It was a perfect day - blue sky and sunshine. I passed a wonderful delicatessen en route where I had a roll made up with proscuitto and melanzane - my picnic lunch! There is a strange pink coloured concrete building on the beach as you arrive which, personally, I think is hideous. I had a pleasant stroll along the beach, caught the Hotel Des Bains on camera and enjoyed my few hours just wandering. I love Venice but it is good to "escape" the crowds now and again.
If you are in Venice for a couple of days and you get a bit tired of all the hustle and bustle of the thousands of people at peak time during the day.... take a trip over to the Lido. I dare say it could be quite handy if you have kids with you and they get a bit bored of all the walking around Venice too.
It is only about 10 or 15 minutes on the Alilaguna. Get off at Santa Maria Elisabetta Square, then head straight down the main road in front of you, think called Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta.. this takes you just a few minutes walking to get there, and hey presto.... Lido beach.
In the peak season it can get very busy at the weekend with locals and tourists, but nevertheless makes a nice relaxing break from Venice if you want to relax.
Pedal boats were available for hire, not sure of the cost though.
If you love glass art, glass blowing, etc. then go to Murano and stroll the numerous glass shops and find yourself a treasure. It all seemed quite pricedy to me but I am not a glass enthusiast. We enjoyed watching the glass makers hard at work. Instead of going to see one of the free tours in the stores we peaked into the back alley door of a glass manufacturer and watched the men hard at work making glass creations.
We didn't stay on Murano long as unless you are into glass there wasn't much else to do. We caught the boat to Burano. It was a surprisingly looooonngggg ride (approx. 45 mins) but worth it. Burano is such a sweet escape. The buildings are oh so colourfully painted. It seems sooooo quiet after having been in Venice. We enjoyed strolling the entire town. We ate our first Italian pizza in Burano and loved it. There are lots of neat stores here too. Most of all it just seemed so peaceful. It was definitely worth the long transit ride here.
When you're tired of walking in the crowded lanes of Venice, and are longing for some fresh air
and exercise, then Lido is the place to go. You can take one of the vaporettos anywhere from the centre and arrive at Santa Maria Elisabetta, Lido. Then you just walk a bit up the main street in Lido, Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, where you'll find several bike rental shops.
The Island of Lido is 12 km long, with very little traffic, and nice flat roads to ride around.
It's an excellent way of discovering small residential areas and unspoilt beaches, and to relax away from stress and crowds.
torcello is one of venice's lagoon islands. venice was founded in the 6th century AD by refugees fleeing the advance of attila the hun's army. at one time the small island of torcello had 20,000 inhabitants. today the number of people living on the island is around 60 people. on the island is the byzantine cathedral of santa fosca. this church was built between the 11th and 12th centuries and is an interesting place to visit. there is a marble seat just outside of the cathedral, it is said that it was attila the hun's throne. other lagoon islands worth visiting are the lido, burano, and murano.