TRAVEL

Giants, Spirits and the Holy Grail? Unravel the Mysteries and Legends of Venice

Unlock some of Venice's most mysterious legends. (Photo: Getty Images)

Gondoliers who can walk on water. Monster masks that can ward off the devil. Haunted palaces, meandering ghosts and magic stones. Venice is a city built on legends, lore and mysteries.

Every calle leads to a new mystery, and through every sottoportego is a new legend to explore. Below are some of the most intriguing tales.

Witches Wake-Up Call

In the labyrinthine streets near the Accademia Gallery is the quiet Calle della Toletta, where a so-called “witch’s clock” keeps the neighborhood ticking. Hanging off exterior piping (look for a yellow house) is an old-school alarm clock.

Legend says that a witch once lived here and dabbled in the business of black magic. She used the alarm to remind her customers their payments were due. When she died, the local residents hung an alarm clock on the building in jest.

Years later, it was removed, and the neighbors began to talk of strange happenings, odd sounds and random accidents. The clock was returned to its position, and the events stopped. Years later the clock was removed, and the neighbors again claimed unexplained events, so the clock was placed back permanently.

Death in Venice

Walk by the columns of San Marco and San Todaro — but not between them. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Council of Ten — a feared governing body — ruled the city from 1310 to 1797 with eyes everywhere thanks to its hundreds of anonymous informants who shared residents’ secrets and lies, condemning many to prison and death.

According to gossip, the narrow Calle della Morte was the Council of Ten’s “death alley,” an advantageous location where condemned people would be tricked into visiting only to be killed on site. Most likely, the street is named after a dead body found in that location.

What is fact is that the secretive Council of Ten were very forthcoming with public executions and designated the small area between the columns of San Marco and San Todaro at Piazza San Marco as a site for city-sanctioned deaths, and to this day, Venetians do not walk between the columns. Take a stroll here from the nearby Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice.

The Giant of Corte Bressana

Listen for the bells. (Photo: Alamy)

Venice is a chameleon of a city, changing its personality drastically from daytime charm to nighttime fright. According to Castello neighbors, if you find yourself meandering the streets surrounding the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo after midnight, you may meet a giant looking to buy his bones back.

Who’s the giant? According to legend, he’s one of the last bell ringers of St. Mark’s Bell Tower, clocking in at nearly seven feet tall. The Bell Ringer’s height made him such a local celebrity that the director of a scientific institute offered him a small fee to leave his skeleton to science upon death. The giant bell ringer agreed to the offer, rationalizing that he would outlive the institute director and the deal would be forgotten.

To the contrary, the bell ringer died shortly thereafter, and his skeleton went on display at the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia. Castello residents say that every night, just before midnight, the skeleton walks out of the museum to Piazza San Marco, where he climbs to the top of the bell tower, rings the bells and then walks the streets toward his home on Corte Bressana (Castello) begging for money to buy back his skeleton.

The Holy Grail

Pretty much everyone agrees that the most coveted artifact for would-be Indiana Joneses is the Holy Grail, aka the chalice that Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper.

According to legend, after Joseph of Arimathea collected Jesus’s blood in the cup, the Grail was removed from sight for centuries and eventually secreted away to Glastonbury by the Knights Templar.

Here’s where the Venetians have a bit of a deviation. At some point before the Grail’s journey to the British Isles, it was hidden in none other than the throne of the Apostle Peter (a marble seat), forcibly removed from Constantinople during the Crusades and brought to Venice with the rest of the plunder. Where’s the chair today? Inside the Basilica of San Pietro in Castello.

House of the Spirits

Are you a believer in dark magic? (Photo: Alamy)

A quick 6-minute vaporetto ride from The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice, at the edge of the Fondamenta Nuova in Cannaregio sits a beautiful 16th-century palace overlooking the water. For centuries, the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo, better known as the Casin degli Spiriti (house of the spirits), has been notoriously recognized as a hub of dark magic; a preferred location for cults, orgies, pirates and smugglers; and as a gathering place for the restless spirits of Venice.

One ghost in particular can’t seem to leave — that of Pietro Luzzo, a painter who shot himself in the palace grounds, despairing of unrequited love. The day after he died, his tormented ghost appeared at one of the palace’s windows, prompting the owner to cover it with bricks.

Luzzo appeared at another window and then another, until the owner walled in all of the palace’s windows. Supposedly, Luzzo continues to haunt the palace, returning on dark evenings, screaming throughout the palace.

This article first appeared in Marriott Traveler, April 2019.

The 6 Sestieri: An Insider’s Guide to Venice’s Distinct Neighborhoods

Explore Dorsoduro's church of Santa Maria Della Salute. (Photo: Getty Images)

Thanks to its labyrinthine streets and impossible canals, Venice is one of the world’s easiest cities in which to get lost. But with a bit of research, it is also the easiest town to understand. From a bird’s-eye view, Venice is made up of two central islands that look like intertwined hands.

Neighborhoods, called sestieri, subdivide the islands into six characteristic areas, which range from busy marketplaces to quiet communities. Here’s a look at each of these distinct sestieri.

Dorsoduro

Traverse the wooden Accademia Bridge to arrive in Dorsoduro, known for its charming artsy vibe thanks to a mix of families and university students. Its beautiful palazzi and campi (squares) are picture-perfect, and the area is peppered with bars, galleries and restaurants.

The southern neighborhood spans from Punta della Dogana, the old customs building at the very eastern tip of the island, to the Port Authority in the most southwestern edge and includes Giudecca, the long residential island immediately to its south.

Sites not to miss: Gallerie dell’AccademiaPeggy Guggenheim CollectionIl Redentore, Campo Santa Margherita, Chiesa Le ZitellePunta della DoganaSanta Maria della Salute.

Castello

Campo Santa Maria Formosa. (Photo: Getty Images)


Named for a former fortified palazzo, Castello is the largest of the six sestieri and the greenest. Its western border lines up with the edges of San Marco and Cannaregio, so expect a bustle of tourists and souvenir shops.

Head east down the calle and along canals; the farther afield you go, you’ll find Castello becomes a charming microcosm where the tourist flow trickles down to a near standstill.

Eventually, the eastern half of Castello becomes a large public garden and shipyard — the Biennale Giardini and Arsenale — home of the annual La Biennale festival. The cemetery island San Michele is also part of Castello.

Sites not to miss: Basilica of Santi Giovanni e PaoloChurch of San Zaccaria, Campo Santa Maria Formosa, Complesso dell’Ospedaletto

San Marco

St. Mark’s Square. (Photo: Getty Images)

Named for the city’s patron saint, San Marco is the most visited of all Venetian sestieri. The sestiere’s heart is Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), the number-one destination for all visitors to Venice. Here you’ll find tourists taking photos of the inimitable Basilica San Marco or enjoying a spritz at the square’s historic cafés.

The San Marco neighborhood spans from the Rialto Bridge to St. Mark’s Square, so once you’ve visited the piazza, head deeper into the neighborhood. Wander past small-scale piazzas and peek into lavish museums, and keep an eye out for waterfront photo ops across the lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore island, also part of sestiere San Marco.

Sites not to miss: Basilica di San MarcoDoge’s PalaceTeatro La Fenice, Campo Santo Stefano, Palazzo GrassiScala Contarini del BovoloMuseo CorrerCaffe Florian

San Polo

To many, this tiny sestiere is the heart of Venetian life. One of the oldest neighborhoods in Venice, San Polo is a dynamic neighborhood filled with families, shops and students who all seem to converge on Campo San Polo, the second-largest square in Venice.

San Polo is also a thoroughfare for tourists walking toward San Marco after visiting the Rialto market, the historic and picturesque fish market.

Sites not to miss: San Giacomo di RialtoSanta Maria Gloriosa dei FrariGrande Scuola San Rocco, Campo San Polo.

Cannaregio

The Rialto Bridge. (Photo: Getty Images)

Cannaregio is the gateway to Venetian life. Starting from the steps of the Venezia Santa Lucia train station and extending eastward on the famed Strada Nuova to the Rialto Bridge, Cannaregio is a vivacious sestiere of boutiques, restaurants, squares and palaces.

The wide Strada Nuova is a busy shopping promenade, while its side alleys lead to niche communities like the Jewish Ghetto, which dates back to the city’s original 4th-century Jewish settlements. Fondamenta Nuova, the northern edge of Cannaregio, connects to the island of Burano via vaporetto (boat).

Sites not to miss: Ca’ d’OroMuseo EbraicoChurch of Santa Maria dei MiracoliChurch of Madonna dell’Orto and the Oratorio dei Crociferi

Santa Croce

This sestiere is said to have a dual personality. The southwestern area of Santa Croce is a transport center, with Piazzale Roma as a hub for buses and taxis. Its northeastern area is more typical of Venice, filled with canals and alleys lined with historic palaces. Though tiny, Santa Croce packs a cultural punch with lavish architecture ranging from Byzantine to contemporary.

Sites not to miss: Fontego dei TurchiSan Giacomo dall’OrioSan Zan DegolaPonte della Costituzione (Constitution bridge) and Palazzo Mocenigo


This article is part of a series which appears
Venice travel for Marriott Bonvoy Traveler.

Andiamo! A Local’s Guide to Island Hopping in Venice

This article first appeared in Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, March 2019.

The Island of San Giorgio. Photo: Getty Images

With 118 islands making up the Venetian archipelago, there is far more to see in Venice than St. Mark’s Square. Whether an afternoon or a weekend affair, island hopping is the best way to get to know Venice and its 1,500-year-old culture. Here’s a guide to some of Venice’s most must-see islands.

San Giorgio Maggiore

The emblematic San Giorgio Maggiore is one of those islands that is always photographed but rarely visited. Dominated by the San Giorgio Maggiore church, a multilevel marble landmark designed by Renaissance phenom Andrea Palladio, San Giorgio Maggiore seems to float impossibly in the middle of the Venetian lagoon.

Today, exhibition spaces Le Stanze del Vetro, a former boarding school, and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini showcase contemporary arts projects, while the rest of the island remains green — impeccably pedicured gardens hiding mazes and more.

Discover the art of glass blowing. (Photo: Getty Images)

Murano

For centuries the tiny island of Murano produced the world’s most beautiful glass pieces behind closed doors. Its reputation seeped out of the lagoon, and now Murano is the most popular of the Venetian islands.

Master glass artisans open studio doors to give tourists a select glimpse into their secretive workshops with organized, behind-the-scenes experiences at historic fornace (furnaces) like Seguso. The key to best experiencing Murano is to get past the souvenir shops and explore deeper into the island. Visit the Museo del Vetro to learn Murano’s glassmaking history.

Catch the colors of Burano. (Photo: Getty Images)

Burano

Of all the Venetian islands, Burano is the one most remembered. Here visitors find a mini version of Venice, with a rainbow of brightly colored houses lining picture-perfect canals.

Burano, like most of the outlying islands, is a microcosm of locals who have grown up with one another for generations and for generations have been making its famous lace products by hand. The Museo del Merletto (Lace Museum) chronicles Burano’s more than eight centuries honing lace craftsmanship.

Mazzorbo

Linked to Burano by the Ponte Longo, a wooden bridge, Mazzorbo is a quiet island of less than 400 inhabitants and was once an important political and commercial scene in medieval Venice.

Mazzorbo’s draw today is that in the midst of Venice’s tourist-laden streets, it remains untouched and out of the way of clutter and kitsch. Charming residential areas line up with stretches of cultivated land, including vineyards such as Venissa, a walled-in vineyard reviving heritage dorona di Venezia grapes. The 13th-century Chiesa di Santa Caterina, the island’s last remaining church, has a bell tower with one of Europe’s oldest bells and is also worth a visit.

San Michele

Within a gondola ride from the fondamenta nuova, Venice’s northern waterfront, you’ll find the mysterious San Michele. Beautifully landscaped with tall cypress trees and surrounded by a pedicured redbrick wall, San Michele has served as the city’s official cemetery ever since a Napoleonic decree banished burials from Venice churchyards.

Serene and tranquil, San Michele is the final resting place for Venetians and famed outsiders, including American poet Ezra Pound, Italian painter Emilio Vedova and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

Lido di Venezia

Everybody loves Lido, the large Venetian island best known as the home of the Venice Film Festival, the august cinema fest where the world’s best directors and actors celebrate their films.

What most people don’t know is that all year round, Lido remains a charming community of families. The seven-mile-long Lido is also a jewel box of art nouveau and art deco architecture — including villas, hotels and ornamental gardens.

In the warm months, Venetians from all over the islands head to Lido’s stabilimenti balneari, beautifully coiffed and colorful waterside establishments on the island’s six miles of uninterrupted beach.

Torcello

Located on the northern edge of the lagoon, Torcello is one of the most remote islands in the Venetian archipelago and the oldest that has been continually populated — in fact, its origin story predates Venice.

Once a busy settlement, today Torcello is sparsely populated. What remains from its resplendent past are a few structures, including the seventh-century Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta with its beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaics and a head-spinning bell tower that overlooks Burano. It’s definitely the place to clear one’s head.

Find your way to remote Torcello. (Photo: Getty Images)

How to visit the islands

The only way to travel the islands is by water. A network of vaporetti (waterbuses) zigzag the Venetian Lagoon, connecting the islandsThe best option is the ACTV tickets offering unlimited travel within a 24-hour period at 20 euro. Less economical and far more efficient is a motoscafo, a sleek, wood-paneled water taxi, which can privately arranged through Consorzio Motoscafi.

Window Seat: Quadri in Venice

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Venice in its inkiest hours is my favorite time to walk through La Serenissima, and perhaps the only time to peruse St. Mark’s Square. The arcades are lit with a warm glow, reflecting in the basalt pavement and setting the square on fire. Foot traffic is different. It’s not rushed, it’s not crowded. People quietly cross the piazzas to get from here to there. Stragglers are trying to snap a Basilica night shot, while others are hiding behind columns to catch some bars of Brahms or Mozart from the small ensemble orchestras at Quadri and Florians. A St. Mark’s evening is decadent, romantic and slightly heartbreaking, like a fading memory that won’t disappear.

Me? Time and time over, I chose to stay. St. Mark’s is an old friend, and so are its cafes. The square comes at a premium, even with knowing a few secrets on how to enjoy an aperitif at the most expensive bars in Italy. And I am willing to pay for the experience if it is unforgettable. Quadri is more than just one of the epic cafes in the square with a live orchestra and front row seats to Basilica San Marco. It is a gastro-cultural experience. In 2011, the Alajmo brothers took over the more than 200-year-old property, with the intent of creating the very best pastry and coffee bar, along with opening up the first floor to an experiment restaurant. If you know the Alajmo brothers you know that they are full immersion- they idealize, create and personally execute every detail from concept, mentality, and dishes to vibe and design down to the glasses in your hand. At the beginning of 2018, the Alajmos brought in expert conservation artists to restore the Grand Caffe Quadri, original hub to writers and artists of the Grand Tour, and asked their friend and constant collaborator Philippe Starck to come back to the Michelin-starred Ristorante Quadri for a design upgrade.

Flavour Hunter in Condè Traveller, September 2018

This grand cafè opened in 1775 on St. Mark’s Square and over the years gained a list of regulars than included Lord Byron, Alexandre Dumas and Marcel Proust. But the romantic veneer of the square diminished amid the relentless commercialism that swept over venice at the end of the 20th century (along with pigeon photographers and gondolier hats), and Quadri was no longer the place to be seen.  Then, in 2011, chef Massimiliano Alajmo and his brother Raffaele arrived, a duo with three Michelin starts at Le Calandre in Padua, and it wasn’t long before Quadri earnt one of its own.  The Max and Raf menus highlight each of the brothers’ personalties; Max is the innovative one, Raf the more traditional. But the tasting menu- 16 courses for two- is a combination of oth, with dishes such as cappuccino di laguna, a mix of lagoon seafood and moeche, a soft-shell crab only found in the Venetian islands served with green fronds of samphire-like agretti. 

Yet it is only this year that the restaurant’s 250-year-old interior caught up with the kitchen’s contemporary attitude.  Philippe Starck, the man responsible for projects as diverse as the Mama Shelter hotels, Steve Job’s yacht and the interiors for a new space station, set to launch in 2020, has uncovered the palace’s original stuccowork from beneath layer upon layer of paint. Old-fashioned wall coverings have been replaces with earthy tones modelled on a 16th-century silk brocade - but look closely as there are rockets and satellites as well as portraits of Massimiliano and Raffaele within the fabric.  And on shelves above the doors, whimsical taxidermy rabbits and foxes are ready to take flight, a nod to the winged lion that guards the city.  Reserve a table by the window on the first floor for a front-row view over the square, high above the crowds - because this is once again the most-coveted spot in Venice.a

Peep the Alajmo brothers’ portraits in the brocade. Photo credit: Quadri.

Quattro Atti. Photo credit: Quadri.

Have I eaten at Quadri? Twice over the past two years at Ristorante Quadri and both times (a lunch and a dinner), I have not only relished the view, but loved the dishes. Massimiliano is a genius, fact. He is clever, he is instinctive, he is innovative. His dishes are heart-warming, reminiscent of past lives and history. And most of all they are unexpected. But let’s be serious- I love Quadri for its location, especially the window seat in the evening where I have the glowing piazza below me.

Mornings, I am at Grand Caffe Quadrino as much as I can. I frame myself below the beautifully restored walls and mirror next to the elderly German man who sits in the corner every morning. On a brisk and clear morning, I will sit outside, but usually before the orchestra starts so that I can read. Tip: For the experience with less of a price tag, you can also get stand up service at the bar.

Me enjoying Quadrino, the ground floor Grande Caffe Quadri.

A Fashionable Packing List for the Venice Biennale

This article originally appeared in Fathom on April 28, 2017.

Highlights from the most recent Biennale. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Every other spring, the contemporary art world flocks to Italy to celebrate art, dance, architecture, cinema, and theater at the Venice Biennale. Fathom contributing editor and Biennale regular Erica Firpo gives us a peek at what she's packing in her suitcase.

VENICE – Flashback to the 1999 Venice Biennale, a time where I spent many months covered in red powder. Anne Hamilton, an artist representing at the U.S. Pavilion, made a crimson snowfall cascade down the walls for her installation Myein, and it was my job, as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection assistant, to make sure the powder and everything else flowed smoothly. There was nothing glamorous about the long hours, often spent alone, in a bone-chillingly cold pavilion, occasionally greeting guests and explaining the installation — but the full immersion into contemporary art was unforgettable, and every 24 months, I return to the Biennale for that very same pleasure, though now as a journalist covering the art.

Over the decades, the press preview for the exhibition has evolved from a quiet industry event for artists, gallerists, and journalists to 72 solid hours of art and hobnobbing with the Pantheon of Glitterati — art, fashion, literature, and film folk from all over. As soon as I arrive in Venice, I have to be ready for nonstop exhibitions, openings, and cocktail parties. Style, efficiency, and fun are my goals — and the same can be said for anyone visiting the Biennale. My suitcase is a balanced mix of form and function, organized Matryoshka-style. Here's a peek inside.

Mophie Juice Pack Air

The Biennale is more than an all-day affair — I'm out the door by 8 a.m., photographing Venice street scenes, perusing every pavilion in the Venetian Arsenal and gardens, visiting collateral events, and partying late into the evening. The Biennale doesn't just kill my feet, it quickly and painfully kills my phone, a.k.a. my life source. Because there is nothing worse than trying to find a free outlet in Venice, I always bring an extra battery pack, and lately it's been a pretty rose gold case that snaps right onto my phone. If I'm feeling extra gamey, I bring two. ($100)

Insta360 Nano Video Camera

The Biennale is not just freeze frame art, it's panoramic performance. For the rare times I broadcast on Facebook Live, I love giving the full 360-degree experience so viewers can choose what they want to see. ($199)

Kasia Dietz Nice Clutch

My handbag has to be stylish and easy to carry. I love Kasia Dietz totes for her choice of vintage fabrics, which are perfect for the exhibition's artsy vibe. I also make sure to have one of her clutches, for a quick switch to evening glam. (€70)

 

Opening Ceremony Silk-Satin Bomber Jacket

Venice is tricky. Misty mornings burn into hot days, while evenings are chilly and humid. The only solution is a satin bomber jacket and the reversible nature of this one makes it easy to do a quick outfit change. ($525)

 

Moleskin Ruled Reporter Notebook

The first time I ever purchased this notebook was in Venice, and I have carried one in my handbag ever since. The hard cover makes me feel like Lois Lane scooping the art world. ($13)

 

Hydaway Water Bottle

I don't like feeling the weight of a water bottle in my purse, but I don't want to be dehydrated either. My solution: a lightweight, collapsible water bottle introduced to me by my friend Livia's 90-year-old nonna. ($20)

 

Tom Smarte Panama Fedora

Most of my time is spent outdoors, walking from one exhibition to the next. I love a good hat with a little charm to protect my face and lift up my outfit. ($449)

 

La Roche-Posay SPF 50 Sunscreen

My London BFF introduced me to the French sunscreen. It's light, non-greasy, and the best way to protect my skin from the Venetian sun, which never seems as potent as it really is. ($34)

 

MSGM Jumpsuit

I love Italian brand MSGM and would wear anything they put in front of me. The fun, striped number would work well for artsy selfies at cocktail parties. ($700)

 

Tod's Tattoo-Inspired Sneakers

If there is one lesson it has taken me a while to learn, it's that style should take second place when it comes to shoes for an event like the Biennale. Comfort is everything when you're standing on your feet all day. Thank god these sneakers are chic. ($845)

 

Herban Essentials Peppermint Towelettes

You definitely need antibacterial hand wipes. Added plus: These smell amazing. ($7)

Olloclip Core Lens Set

I use this set of lenses to up my Instagram story game and love playing around with the fisheye and wide angles. ($100)

Two Days in Venice with San Clemente Palace

There is another like an island getaway, and some say there is nothing like a Venice escape.   But the beautiful Serenissima is not quite a respite, especially once the weather warms up.  But what if it was? A few weeks ago, I was invited by Kempinski hotels to come to visit the newly opened and renovated San Clemente Palace, a luxury hotel in a small island across from San Marco and the Giudecca that entices you to best of both worlds-  the meandering charm of Venice and the quietude of an island .  (You may remember that I wrote about the San Clemente Palace last year in Forbes Travel round-up of the new/updated St. Regis-Starwood line up-   Yes, same space, same place but new owner with some great surprises).

My weekend was perfect. The sky was constantly painted by Titian, the water never made up its jewel-toned mind, and the temperature was warm to a balmy chill at night.  And the hotel.... it was fabulous. Or maybe I just like history with a luxe decor?   San Clemente was a crusader stop over, a monastery, a hospital and sanitarium (famously, Mussolini's first wife had a Zelda Fitzgerald finish here), and now  190 room hotel, most of which opt for that Baroque-inspired finery we've come to expect of Venice- Venetian plaster, carved wooden headboards, velvet covered furniture, gilded mirrors and opulent drapery with incredibly large tassels.  My Junior Suite was just that, with the most comfortable bed in the world, a beautiful view of the lagoon and San Marco, and a large marble bathroom stocked with Acqua di Parma products and a very, very good hair dryer.  Yep, I was in heaven until I walked through the San Clemente Suite, a stand-alone top floor apartment which is probably the love child of Poltrona Frau and SanLorenzo Super Yachts dancing in my seaside fantasies: exposed wood beam ceilings, gorgeous contemporary Italian furniture in leathers and velvets, floor to ceiling windows with a front row view of the Venetian Lagoon, and did I mention private dock?  Consider it a 10, 000 euro sunrise... San Clemente Suite.

Let's round it up:  San Clemente Palace is a time piece.  Its long hallways and a vintage bar are reminiscent of a favorite Kubrick film.  San Clemente is a compound.  You could quite possibly stay here without visiting Venice because it has *almost* everything- three restaurants, under chef Vincenzo di Tuoro,  three bars under superbarman  Alessio Venturini, (note: try his White Lady, my new cocktail), pool, putting holes, tennis courts, park benches and enough grounds that I lapped the site 3 times for my morning run - admittedly, I stopped a few times just to take in fresh air. But even Kempinski knows you need to get lost, so if offers guests complimentary water taxi service to and from San Marco each half hour.  [For a walk around San Clemente Palace, please flip around my Steller Story].

What didn't I like? More like, what would I like to see next? I'd love to see the herb garden they are talking about cultivating, with chef's tabl dining. In fact, I'd like to see how Chef di Tuoro evolves the restaurants.  The pool is beautiful- but will Kempinski expand to more spa services and perhaps enhance the on site gym?  And that's it.

My two days in Venice were just what I needed to clear my head from Rome.  I made sure to cross over to Venice for some cicchetti and art. I stumbled across the Joseph Klibansky Beautiful Tomorrow exhibition at Palazzo Franchetti- humorous and beautiful, best combination-- and then went to the Pinnault Foundation double header opening of Sigmar Polke (Palazzo Grassi) and Acchrochage (Punta della Dogana). By the time you read, Klibansky will have ended but you should plan to catch Polke, an excellent retrospective of the German artist who had far more fun than Andy Warhol.  But yes, I was lazy and stayed on the island- participating in a master cooking class with di Tuoro, where we talked gnocchi, and then met up with  Alessio at the Clemente Bar for another White Lady. My kind of weekend in Venice.

Venice Dreaming: The Contest [updated]

A decade and a half ago, I lived in Venice, that dreamy archipelago of islets and moody blues.  Manganese in the mornings, Idranthene at night, cobalt turquoise in the reflections, Phthalo turqouise and Phthalo green cobalt mix in the rain, Ultramarine and Davy's Grey mix in the winter.... a Winsor Newton palette plus Campari red and Aperol orange accents.  Venice bore into me with azure and indigo moments that I can still feel if I close my eyes.

I get the same feeling when I open up the pages of  Joann Locktov's Dream of Venice. A Venice love letter, Locktov's book is a beautiful curation of photos by photographer Charles Christopher and prose by writers, artists, directors, Venetians and Venetophiles, including Nicolas Roeg, Julie Christie and Patricia Highsmith-- artists who led me to get lost in a Serenissima of Don't Look Now and The Talented Mr. Ripley. 

All 37 lyrical contributors, like luminaries Peggy Guggenheim, Marcella Hazan, Erica Jong, Woody Allen and friends Jessica Spiegel, Giampaolo Seguso,  Nan McElroy and Eleonora Baldwin, are paired with Christopher's beautiful photos of Venetian alleys, disappearing campi and piazza, and glittering water, in color and black-and-white shots.  It is the perfect book to get lost in Venice for a minute or a whole afternoon.

Venice Dreaming:  The Contest

Welcome to my very first contest (and quite possibly the only one).  Through November 11, I want you to share with me your Venice Moody Blues by posting your favorite Venice photo on Instagram. Make sure to tag me  @EricaFirpo, and #VeniceMoodyBlues so that everyone can find the photos.

On November 12, I will announce a winner, (by random selection), who will receive a copy of “Dream of Venice", shipped directly by Joann to anywhere in the world.

WINNERS UPDATE:  After 170+ submissions, I needed help so Joann and I perused through all of them came up with a tie: Alessandro Sarno and Brian Etherington.  To see all,  please take a look at #VENICEMOODYBLUES.

A photo posted by Alessandro Sarno (@thelonesomephotographer) on Nov 11, 2015 at 1:14pm PST

A photo posted by Brian Etherington (@notdavidbailey) on Nov 10, 2015 at 7:38am PST

48 hours in Venice for #myhiltonstory

Ain't nothing like a rooftop, and better yet if it comes with a beautiful pool, a clever cocktail and a full frontal panorama of Venice.  This is just one of the things I do when given 48 hours of free reign on La Serenissima.  From art openings and the Accademia to a glass of Vermentino and the Venice Film Festival, I lived it up so that I could share with you my two days as a HHonors guest at the Molino Stucky Hilton, Venice's historic mill and pasta factory on the Giudecca.

For the curious, #myhiltonstory is a dynamic social media project where I get to tell my tale of two days in Venice using my favorite platforms ~ Instagram,Steller, and Twitter. I like to think of it as free-form Faulknerian storytelling for the digital age- a little bit of wit, well-thought photos and those 24/7 apps, and that was all I needed to say yes to this project. Nope, not a hotel review, simply a story...

For the curiouser, the rumor mill says that the Molino Stucky (stoo-kee), has the very best pool in Venice.  They are right.  It is.

    *Postscript: I am writing this post on my iPad whilst on the train (and lucky me, Trenitalia switched up trains, so my secong class seat was moved tiny Carozza 3 First Class, Frecciargento). There is something about technology and railway transport that turns me on.  And yes, my Moleskin and pencil are right next to me and in good use.

Venice Biennale: The Season of La Serenissima and Luxe City Guides

If you know me, then you know I love luxe-- not just a fabulous shopping spree but Luxe City Guides, a company I have known, loved and worked with ever since I stumbled into founder Grant Thatcher in Hong Kong.  From 2007 forward, I've worked with Luxe to conceive, edit and curate its Rome City Guide, first in print, then digital and now mobile.  And I've it- from the very picky selection of all entries to emulating Thatcher's sass, style and eye.  And if it weren't for Luxe, I wouldn't have met my friends Phoebe and Magnus. With my hands in the Rome pot, I constantly am on the look out for Luxe Rome and on occasion, I turn off the Rome volume and write about amazing places and experiences outside of the Eternal City for the website.  This time, I've walked my heels off in Venice... enjoying every bit of the Biennale and La Serenissima.

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What comes once every two years, widens your eyes with absolute wonder, runs you ragged for a few months and then, with the same blaze of glory that it entered your life, departs again?

Why, La Biennale di Venezia, of course! Venice may be known as La Serenissima – the most serene one – but during the months of La Biennale di Venezia, the floating city is anything but calm. This year’s fair brings together 136 creative talents from 53 countries under the theme of All the World’s Futures, curated by the Nigerian-born critic and art-ficionado, Okuwi Enwezor.

For almost seven months, the lovely lagoon is awash with artistic expression, international hi-so, unmissable exhibs and Champers-drenched events. While we encourage putting the map away and getting lost in the city itself, there’s nothing worse than a blundering biennaler. Here’s our guide to making the most of your art agenda – bring on the glamour, the food, and of course, the art…

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Put The Gritti Palace on speed dial, as this ritzy flopspot hits the art target with suites honoring and inspired by aesthetic icons including patron Peggy Guggenheim, art historian John Ruskin and interior designer Angelo Donghi. Occupying a perf Grand Canal posi, the Gritti offers direct agacqua access with its tricked-out Riva Yacht, ideal for a spot of creative exploration. Zip over to the Arsenale or cruise the canals to see Venice’s gorgeous churches.

When it’s time to refuel, Jules, Venezia’s answer to finger-licking canapés, chicheti, is calling. Nip down a narrow alley behind San Marco in search of Osteria da Carla for fabby bar-side bites like bacalà mantecato, creamed cod on a bed of polenta – yumsome.

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Appetite and whistle whetted, make tracks for Corta Sconta, where you’ve had the good sense to reserve a table in the vibey, vine-covered courtyard. The seafood antipasti go-to for those in the know, this tiny Castello trat also serves up a mean vongole allo zenzero (clams with ginger).

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more glam, strap on those Rene Caovillas and stiletto-step over to the city’s prima piazza. Nope, no orchestra dining for you; head inside Caffe Quadri to the Mich-spangled FROW resto-with-a-view. Helmed by the Alajmo brothers of Padova’s tri-star Le Calandre, Quadri offers four spectac tasting menus executed by cucina capo Silvio Giavedoni, but keep your eyes on the Laguna menu that features flip-fresh fish sourced straight from the sea.

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Finally, reward yourself with a post-prandi at Starck’s sultry PalazzinaG – park your Prada, and order a Martinez. Didn’t you do well, darling?

For more hotspots in Venice, check out the LUXE Venice guide or download our fabulous new app with maps!

Details

Address

La Biennale di Venezia 9 May-22 November, 2015

Various locations throughout the city labiennale.org

The Gritti Palace Campo Santa Maria del Giglio San Marco, Venice +39 041 794 611 thegrittipalace.com

Osteria da Carla Calle Corte Contarina 1535 San Marco, Venice +39 041 523 7855 osteriadacarla.it

Corta Sconta Calle del Pestrin 3886 Castello, Venice +39 041 522 7024 cortescontavenezia.it

Quadri Piazza San Marco 120 San Marco, Venice +39 041 0522 2105 alajmo.it

PalazzinaG Ramo Grassi 3247 San Marco, Venice +39 041 528 4644 palazzinag.com

On Deck: Riva Lounge at Venice's Gritti Palace

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Before I headed to Venice for the Venice Biennale,  I heard the news that the Gritti Palace was opening a new canal side lounge bar designed by Riva Yacht.  Yep, that Riva, the gorgeous and century-old boat-making company of luxury flotilla (runabouts, row boats, yachts, motoscafi and all) that has the remarkable ability to make my heart beat just a little faster  and my mind conjure up overly styled images of me arriving in my best cruise wear just upon hearing the those beautiful syllables: riva.   Did I mention it is canal-side? Ahem, Grand Canal side? And thus Riva Lounge was shortlisted for cocktails in my Biennale beat, in other words, 24/7 pastries, art, cocktails, repeat.

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Here's my take: the Riva Lounge location (front row view of Venice's Salute and Punta della Dogana and a 4 minute walk to Piazza San Marco) is worth the Bellini alone. What solidifies it as a place where I will be having repeat cocktails are the details. Long known for its unforgettable style both large and small- wooden hulls through the 1960s and sublime sexy fiberglass from the 1970s forward, hand-stitched upholstery, gorgeous chrome ornaments, and color, precisely picked color, Riva Yacht has given the exact same attention to its land-locked vessel, aka The Riva Lounge.

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And it is on fleek.  The classic design is subtle at times, and best shown off in its aerodynamic, Acquarama-inspired chairs of nautical Navy blue back casing, white upholstering, and chrome.  But I had my eye on a table- the gorgeous round  tops made of inlaid wood and chrome.  My only suggestion to Gritti is to not cover them with linen cloths during table service so that people, like myself, can obsess over the chrome while enjoying the bacalà tris and a Riva cockail.  I've never been shy to share how much I love the classic and unforgettable Riva lettering.

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If design and material is so very Riva, so is color.  Riva's Robin's egg blue is just the menu,  but also the signature Riva Cocktail (orgeat syrup, white rum, orange bitters, grapefruit juice). The menu itself is a very lovely selection of light Venetian dishes, including the Bacalà tris.  But next time you find me there, I'll be the woman testing out the cocktails and cicchetti.

Riva Lounge at The Gritti Palace