Italy is such a beautiful country, and one of its most famous cities is undoubtedly Venice. I went there recently with my mum – she was there for the art and architecture, I was there for the food and the alcohol. Neither of us were disappointed. If you’re looking for tips on places to see and where to go in Venice generally, I would recommend the blog The Venice Insider, as it was invaluable for us when planning our trip.
Meantime, here are five things that any foodie or drinks lover worth their salt wouldn’t dream of missing out on in Venice…
Aperol Spritz by the canal
Venice’s most famous cocktail! Literally everywhere you go, the bright lurid orange of this wine-based staple seems to light up the tables of every waterside restaurant table. People drink it before lunch, during lunch, after lunch, before dinner… you get the picture. Mother was hooked on them by Day 2, and by the time we left, she had loaded up on all of the key ingredients to recreate it back home. An Aperol Spritz is just prosecco, mixed with Aperol (a bittersweet aperitif that tastes like oranges and geraniums), topped up with sparkling mineral water and garnished with orange (and sometimes rosemary). If you go to Venice, an Aperol Spritz a day should definitely be on your list to try.
The open-air market in Venice takes place Monday-Saturday from 7am-1pm, and is an amazing place just to wander around. The fruits and vegetables on display will take your breath away with their colours and aromas, but be careful taking or touching what you’re not going to buy. The stallholders, understandably, can get pretty riled by the visitors who come by just to take photos, so make sure you’re buying as well as looking – it’s polite, and what’s more you’re bound to find yourself something gorgeous and impossibly fresh for your dinner. Which brings me to…
The seafood in Venice is stunning! Alongside the veg stalls, the vast majority of the open air market is dedicated to seafood sellers. From salted anchovies to entire swordfish, there’s so much to choose from that you’ll spend ages just working out what to have. Again, it’s polite to buy something rather than just endlessly snapping photos, and you will not be disappointed. We bought half a kilo of fresh cooked shrimp for just 4 euros, which we ate that evening with aioli and a squeeze of lemon. Another group we saw were eating fresh oysters from the shells, accompanied by prosecco and an unbeatable view of the canal. Sublime.
All. The. Wine.
How could I not mention the wine in Venice? I did some reading before I left, and everywhere suggests that the wine is so good here that you can happily go for House wine wherever you go. I did, and it was great. Only problem is you’ll never find it again if you don’t go back to the same place: Italy has thousands upon thousands of regional, complicatedly named regional grapes that you don’t get anywhere else. I found a beautiful, chilled, slightly frizzante red wine at one canalside bar, which we never found again. It tasted like cassis and Ribena with beautiful woody notes and raspberry leaves on the finish. Great for practising my tasting notes, though!
Clearly prosecco needs its own bulletpoint. Being northern Italy, it’s a much cooler wine-growing region, and the fertile regions of Veneto and Friuli are the prime spots for growing grapes for the world’s current favourite fizz. Prosecco is the in-drink right now – it’s made in inert vessels (unlike Champagne or Cava) which means it has fresh flavours of apples, melons and grapes and none of the buttery notes that you get from French and Spanish fizz. In Venice it’s 3 euros a bottle. THREE EUROS. And it’s bloody good. This one came in a weird tie-cork setup that threw me initially: it turns out you just open it like a normal bottle of wine, using a corkscrew (I did it in the bath to be on the safe side).
A must when you go to any Italian destination, surely. There are gelato bars everywhere you go, selling every flavour under the sun, from lemon cheesecake to oreo cookie. I tried a gorgeous coffee gelato (I was obsessed with espresso doppios in Venice, and was basically wired the entire time), my mum went for summer berries. Both were exquisite, and if I could stomach it I would try every flavour gelato you put in front of me. You’d have to roll me on to a custom-made boat to get me home, though.
Pastry and sweets
There are SO MANY different pastries in Venice that I couldn’t try them all. But I made a bloody good go of it. They all have crazy names and very specific shapes, and the bakeries lay them out in stunning displays wherever you go. A lot of them seems to rely on almonds and frangipane as the base flavour, and many others weren’t dissimilar to a sweet scone in terms of texture and composition. Here are just a selection I bought and munched through – I want to try and bake some myself someday, so watch this space!
Things I missed, but would love to do next time
The famous canalside bar, also known as Cipriani’s, that set a number of scenes in Hemingway’s novel ‘Across the River and into the Trees’, and was a familiar haunt of the famous author in the 40s and 50s, alongside Truman Capote and Orson Welles. During the Venice Film Festival you can also spot the likes of Woody Allen and Nicole Kidman who are known to frequent the famous bar when they’re in town. Not only that, but Harry’s Bar is the origin of beef Carpaccio and the Bellini cocktail. I heard great things, particularly about the cocktails, but it’s not a cheap place to go and is in a very tourist-y area (just a few minutes’ walk from Piazza San Marco). Not only that, but it has just 2.5 stars on Tripadvisor, despite being at number 14 for Venice restaurants! Nevertheless apparently it’s a must-visit, just to say you were there.
When I got back a colleague who had also been recently was raving about a tiramisu café he’d found that sold not just your classic coffee tiramisu, but flavours like mango, strawberry and peppermint. I wish I’d known about it! If you’ve been or know where it is, let me know in the comments!
There are cheese shops dotted about in Venice, and though I adore it we just didn’t have time to really investigate all the different flavours and methods of the different cheeses. I wish I knew more Italian so that I could grill the shopkeepers on what was best to try. Next time, for sure.
Visit a Grappa distillery!
I love distillery visits, and when we stumbled across a little grappa store selling the wares of the Polli grappa distillery, naturally we had to go in for a lengthy browse. After much mulling, I bought a teeny 100ml measure of their oak-aged grappa for the OH as a comparison to whisky. It came with a clever flavour map for their different grappas, gins and distillates – handy for future planning and tasting notes. There’s no ageing limit for grappa like there is with Scotch whisky (three years and one day, in case you cared), so the colour was there, but it still tasted very grape-y, and a lot like new make spirit. I’m not a fan of grappa at all – believe me I tried! – but I would love to visit a distillery and see how it’s made, and how it compares to the spirit closest to my heart.
Travel tips for Venice
It’s a magical city, and everything about it seems to defy reality – from the journey you take across the long bridge to this strange island town, to the cobbled walkways that back straight on to the canals. Venice is the subject of a lot of controversy at the moment, as it’s a blueprint for many other touristy cities’ worries about overcrowding due to the influx of visitors. I totally get it, it’s just the same in Edinburgh during August – indeed, a lot of the commuters on the waterbuses had what I call my ‘Fringe face’ on, basically a fixed glare at all the time the tourists were wasting for them. It can’t be helped, if you live somewhere beautiful you have to put up with tourists, but it can be stressful.
Be polite; know the words for hello, goodbye, please and thank you; and remember that this is home for many people.
So, my advice is to visit when you can, but keep your visit short and sweet. There’s a tourist tax to pay per person per night, so it makes sense to give yourself just a long weekend and cram in as much as possible.
Have I missed anything? What are your must-do foodie experiences in Venice? Let me know in the comments!