For most visitors, the Venice that they visit is jam-packed with crowds. The city is packed with spectacular sights and is one of the most popular tourist sites in Italy. It is one of my favorite European destinations. The city is wonderful any time of the year so I always schedule my visits for the off-season. Even then, I have been amazed at the number of visitors. Someone recently described Venice to me as a “Disneyland for adults” with crowded streets and long lines at all the attractions. I disagree. The famous areas are always crowded but there are many quiet parts of the city that still retain Venetian charm.
You should devote several days to Venice to appreciate its beauty and grandeur.
A day spent visiting the sights of St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge area offers only a brief glimpse of all that Venice has to offer. I love to spend the day jostling with crowds in the center and then wandering off the beaten path to discover little known wonders among the narrow streets. Even small neighborhood churches contain world-class art and there are quaint plazas scattered throughout the city. These long days can be exhausting but I have found a peaceful oasis on the eastern tip of Venice that allows me to relax and savor the quiet side of the city.
Located a mere five minutes by vaporetto (water bus) from St. Mark’s Square and the touristic commotion, the Santa Elena neighborhood takes you into a different Venetian world. In Santa Elena, tourists are rare. The majestic tree-lined lanes of Parco della Rimembranze (Remembrance Park) provide stark contrast to the rest of Venice. Dogs cavort and children frolic in the tree-studded playground. Local residents enjoy their espresso at quiet tables seemingly unaware of the bustling world that lies only minutes away.
Santa Elena is small-town Italy. With a post office, pharmacy, a few retail stores, a grocer, a bakery, and police station, the neighborhood provides local residents with all their needs. A hotel, a couple of B&Bs and some neighborhood restaurants provide just enough services for the few tourists who venture to the area and prices are reasonable. Here you can join the area’s residents at a park-side table for a morning cappuccino and have a leisurely dinner at a restaurant packed with locals enjoying fresh fare prepared by an Italian grandmother. Compared to the rest of Venice, a stay in Santa Elena is cheap. I love to stay in locally-owned B&Bs and I found ones in Santa Elena that were comparable in quality yet half the price of my favorites in the center of the city. Restaurants are priced for the local clientele rather than overpriced for tourists.
St. Mark’s Square is only a twenty-minute stroll along the scenic seafront promenade called the Riva degli Sciavoni. The best spots to watch the sun set over the city are along the Riva. The nearby Biennale Gardens are home of the internationally acclaimed Venice Art festival that is held every odd-numbered year.
The local vaporetto stop connects you to all the sights in the region. A 35 minute ride takes you to the railroad station. The stop for the airport shuttle (by boat, of course) is only a few minutes away. Regular routes service the glitzy island of Lido, home of the Venice Film Festival and golden sand beaches. Other routes connect to the islands of Murano, with its renowned glass works, and Burano, historic home of lace making.
For me, Venice is always a wonderful destination in spite of the crowds, long lines, and over-priced restaurants. The art, architecture, and history of Venice are unlike anywhere else in the world and wandering off the few well-traveled streets is a rewarding experience. Staying in Santa Elena allows me to feel like I am coming home.