Murano not only has glassworks, it also has churches: Santa Maria e San Donato has a stunning apse (from the outside) and an extraordinary marble mosaic floor on the inside; and San Pietro Martire contains my favourite Bellini.
Once you've done the classic tour of the Doge's palace, do the extra one of the "hidden" bits, to see the torture chamber and where Casanova was imprisoned (and escaped from). You come out with a very clear idea of how the Venetian state really functioned.
Renting an apartment allows you to experiment with the local cuisine - risi e bisi, fegato alla veneziana, and sarde in soar (sardines), all taken with polenta. There's two or three good cookbooks in English (mostly written by Americans, of course) available in the best bookshops (mostly behind San Marco).
Take an ombra (a glass of wine) in a bar at mealtimes, and eat the delicious snacks on offer (whose special name I've forgotten) - all classic Italian antipasti. There are good cheap bars everywhere, each with their own ambience. Our favourite was facing onto the fish market.
Buy a slice of pizza and a bottle of wine, then sit on the steps looking down towards the shimmering moonlit cathedral and watch everyone come and go, the couples slow dancing to the string quartets dotted around the bars and restaurants. It's wonderful, and as good as free. Be prepared, however, to fend off approximately 400 rose sellers an hour.
St Mark's square
If you go in October or November, take a boat ride in the early morning from Lido back into Venice and watch the light of the water play with the spires and domes. If it's been foggy - all the better. Venice will appear out of the mirage.
If you do want to escape the tourist areas head for eastern Castello and the island of San Pietro where you will find the oldest church of Venice, San Pietro di Castello, which was the cathedral of Venice untill the XIX century.
The island, connected to Venice by two bridges, is the oldest settlement in the city of Venice and a church was built there already in the XIII century. The church you will find there now has been remodelled over the centuries but it features a facade by Palladio and a splendid leaning bell tower clad in candid white stone which was built during the renaissance.
The "Campo" in front of the church is a heaven of tranquillity and the silence is broken only by the activity of local fishermen and by occasional boats sailing along the canal.
Nearby you will find the busy via Garibaldi still a pretty authentic street full of locals and lively bars and restaurants. Stop for a light lunch at Bar Mio, in front of the public gardens gates and try their delicious "Tramezzini". The area is perfect for a relaxing break, especially when visiting the nearby Biennale exhibition and you will have the chance to see how the "last" locals live.
Good restaurants in the area are "il Giorgione" or the Pizzeria "Ai tosi", and obviously the fantastic "Corte Sconta", just a short walk away.
Eastern part of the Castello district, past the Arsenale. Ferry stop: Giardini or Arsenale.
Situated to the east of the Duomo in via Pietrapiana where it joins Borgo la Croce, this is a local's market with a great range of food and there are also clothes stalls around the outside of the building. Cheaper than Mercato Centrale, it has a small cafe with large marble tables where the market workers eat. You can have a bowl of pasta and a litre bottle of beer for around four euro.
An amazing and unique guidebook. If only every city was written about with such passion and knowledge. This book is not your average Lonely Planet/Rough Guide/Time Out book and doesn't do restaurant or hotel listings. However, it unlocks the magic of Venice, takes you to some hidden places you probably wouldn't otherwise find and even makes you laugh. Links talks about having a Campari in Piazza San Marco on Christmas Day - if that's not dedication to a city then I don't know what is. A review describes it as not only the best guidebook to Venice, but the best guidebook to any city ever written. High praise indeed.
A small coastal medieval town 75km east of Palermo. It is easily accessible by car (1 hour) or a train runs along the coast (1.5 hours). Like most Italian town /cities, the old town has been well preserved and the cobbled, narrow streets, buildings dating back to 12th century and magnificent churches give this little town character. The restuarants are out of this world offering the local wines and regional food. Pizzerias are in abundance. I went in May and the weather was perfect during the day (25 degrees) but a little chilly in the evening. Coming from the northern climes I was able to swim in the sea although no Italians seemed to join in the fun. The summer months are hot. Visits to the Lipari Islands and Mount Etna make wonderful day trips.
In Bologna, this is the quintessential eaterie. The menu is hand-scrawled, only in Italian, as if the Bolognese want to keep Fantoni a secret for themselves. Simple, perfect Italian food with no frills and excellent prices. Queue or book ahead as the al fresco terrace is jammed all summer long.
Go to Fantoni, it is worth a trip to Bologna in itself.
Via del Pratello, 11; tel: 051 236 358
This marvellous monastery is tucked away in the back streets and has the calmest and prettiest cloister in Rome, a fine church with good mosaics, and a massive fortress tower above the entrance. Definitely a place to relax if you've seen too many sights in a morning.
Oh yes, it also has the most superb little mosaic chapel - ask one of the friendly nuns.
Up Via dei Quercetti from the main drag of Via S Giovanni in Laterano
'Spaccanapoli', the historic centre, is the heart of Naples. Go to Piazza Gusu and pick up a map that shows the locations of the architectural treasures of this area. There are numerous churches, monasteries, palazzos and some great cafés. Whatever you do, don't miss the monastery of Santa Chiara. It's breathtaking. Scarturchio's café has some of the best pastries and coffee in Italy.
Keep your wits about you and you'll be fine.
Piazza Dante underground station. Enter the historic centre through Port'Alba, the city gate behind the statue of Dante.
Go to the glass factory in Murano. Get off the vaporetto turn right, head along the canal over the first bridge and double back. You get a free tour and load of hard sell. It's a good morning's entertainment disappointing the salesman of uniformly hideous glass. Then it’s back across the bridge to the nearby bar for a freshener.
A small, family run taverna, close to Piazza Navona.The owner, Paulo brings produce from his hometown in the Sabine Hills. The roast chicken, with potatoes roasted in oil and rosemary is real comfort food. Bread, tomatoes and fresh basil to start, helped on it's way by half-decent house wine. My wife, daughter(ice cream scored well) and I had a truly great evening, and left with change out of £30.The Taverna is closed Tuesday, but signs direct you to a sister taverna, a few steps away (slightly larger,but almost as good).
Via Monte Giordano 12Tel: 06 68 80 10 53
A department store but not as we know it. This being Italy, Tad is a super-slick joy of a shop with beautiful displays of home-ware, furniture, perfume and designer clothes. Makes John Lewis look like Woolies.
Via del Babuino 155Tel: 06 3269 5131
The labyrinthine, subterranean graveyards of the city's early Christians will remain the most memorable experience of a trip here. No grand views, no Roman poseurs to ogle, just an immersion (literally) in the rituals of early first millenia Italians.
The catacombs are at various locations around the city
A bar housed in a former garage - hence the name (Brakes and Clutches). Just across the bridge into Trastevere this small bar spills out into a little square, with candles burning and throngs of good looking people perched on the wall surrounding the square.
The bar had a real buzz, which is what first draws the attention from the bottom of the steps, I found it to be a really friendly little bar with a good mix of patrons, the staff were friendly too and only too happy to help.
Cocktails are a speciality and the mojitos were amazing especially on a hot summers evening - the whole cocktail list looked fantastic and there seemed a good wine list too, although regrettably I didn't sample any. There was also a very tempting buffet on offer which looked much better than the second rate tourist crap I'd just eaten.
The decor of the place was a juxtaposition between the futuristic and reclaimed which created a unique ambience.
Via del Politeama 4-6,
Tel: 06 5833 4210
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