Unusual Venice: itinerary to the islands of the northern lagoon
It seems difficult to imagine that in addition to postcard Venice, the crowded one of Piazza San Marco, the Rialto and the Grand Canal, there is another, out of the ordinary, still unexplored and secret. Yet, only a short distance from the most famous town square, for those who want to seek out corners of peace and mingle with the Venetians, there is a whole unusual and unexpected Venice, to be explored at a slow pace.
You cannot say that you have known Venice – a city, unique in the world, which rises on an archipelago of small islands in the center of its lagoon – without ever having seen it from the water. The best way to venture into the lagoon, this wide expanse of water and semi-emerged lands dominated by stillness and silence, is to travel aboard eco-sustainable boats, equipped with electric motors and photovoltaic panels, or powered by biofuels. But you can also choose to sail on a colorful bragozzo, the typical Venetian fishing boat, which is still today one of the best known symbols of the lagoon culture.
There are about fifty islands in the Venice lagoon and more than half are located in the northern part, the northern lagoon. Murano, famous for its blown glass furnaces and ateliers, Burano, an island of fishermen with typical colorful houses, as well as Torcello, loved by Hemingway, with its millenary basilica, the oldest in the lagoon, are just some of the islands waiting to be reached, explored and remembered for their beauty. All the smaller islands that are around Venice, even the less known ones, but perhaps for this reason more fascinating, should not be forgotten during a stay in the lagoon city.
Right in the center of the Venetian lagoon, the island of Certosa, whose name derives from the Carthusian Fathers who lived there for centuries, offers the most suggestive views of Venice, Murano and the Lido. The island, abandoned and stripped of its works of art, has in more recent times been used for military purposes.
Today, after a long recovery project still in progress, it has become an urban park, partly accessible to the public, which allows easy naturalistic excursions. The island also hosts a marina with more than three hundred equipped moorings, an accommodation facility with hotel, restaurant and bar, a shipyard and a sailing school.
Once called the island of seven vineyards, the Vignole, although very close to Venice, is today a small town with about forty inhabitants, always linked to the land.
In fact, vegetables from the Rialto market often came from the vegetable gardens of the island, transported every day on large rowing boats.
To visit the sixteenth-century church, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and Santa Eurosia, perhaps the only one of its kind still well preserved among the many – now disappeared – that were located in the islands of the lagoon.
If already in Roman times it was a privileged vacation spot, the island of Vignole is still much loved by Venetians, who choose it for a stop in one of its characteristic trattorias with a pergola and garden.
- SANT’ ANDREA
On the island of Sant’Andrea, at the gates of the lagoon, there is a sixteenth-century fortress guarding Venice, designed by Michele Sanmicheli, one of the greatest architects of the time, to scare enemies who came from the sea.
Currently the fort is not accessible, but even from the water it is possible to fully admire the central body, built on the remains of the original fifteenth-century tower, and the outer bastion at the base of which the batteries were placed.
Here, for a short time, the Venetian adventurer and writer Giacomo Casanova was also imprisoned.
- SANT’ ERASMO
The island of Sant’Erasmo, the largest in the northern lagoon, is known as the vegetable garden of the Serenissima, and is renowned for the goodness of its artichokes, thistles and asparagus. Variety of the island is the violet artichoke of Sant’Erasmo, Slowfood presidium, produced by the local Consortium.
Excellent wine is also produced on the island: right in Sant’Erasmo every first Sunday in October the vines and grapes are celebrated with one of the most popular festivals in the lagoon, the Festa del Mosto.
In Sant’Erasmo stands the Torre Massimiliana, a nineteenth-century fortress that took the name of the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who found refuge there during the popular uprisings of 1848.
- LAZZERETTO NUOVO
The island of the Lazzaretto Nuovo – to distinguish it from the old one – once housed a lazaret for the quarantine of men and goods suspected of contagion of the plague.
From April to October, you can visit the island with a guided tour that includes a historical-archaeological itinerary inside the walls and a naturalistic excursion.
The walk, of about one kilometer, allows you to go through the old “round of patrol” of the sentries and to climb the nineteenth-century ramparts, where you gaze across the lagoon in front of Venice.
- SAN FRANCESCO DEL DESERTO
The island of San Francesco del Deserto, a small paradise of peace and silence that rises in front of Sant’Erasmo, is a Franciscan hermitage, inhabited by the Friars Minor since 1230.
According to tradition, this convent, surrounded by a splendid garden, hosted, around 1220, the Saint of Assisi returning from the East.
The island is open to visitors in search of tranquility, who wish to refresh themselves by walking in the park, visiting the church and the cloister. It will be like entering another world, away from the crowds of Venice.