From ghost tours and two-euro gondola rides to immersive opera, here’s a handful of Venetian experiences you might not have heard of.
Enjoy interactive opera
You can see a large opera production in Venice’s famous dripping-with-gold Teatro La Fenice or do an audio tour of the venue but there’s nothing quite like experiencing opera in a more intimate setting. Opera company Musica a Palazzo stages evening performances in Palazzo Barbarigo-Minotto, a now-uninhabited 15th-century palazzo near the Santa Maria del Giglio ferry stop on the Grand Canal. The walls vibrate with every soaring operatic note in this former palatial home where candlelight softens the cracks in the ceiling and stuccowork, the rough walls exposed by deteriorating silk wallpaper and the uneven terrazzo floor. The audience of about 50 follows the singers and instrumentalists from room to room as the scenes unfold, stopping for free-flowing prosecco at intermission. Our pick is Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, a comic opera driven by the antics of the barber Figaro, an unashamed wheeler-dealer. Be careful where you sit, though – Rosina, the object of affection in this comedic love triangle, openly flirts with the audience and Figaro may well plant himself in your lap.
See Australia’s new Biennale pavilion
The Venice Biennale is the world’s oldest biennial exhibition of international contemporary art and a must-do cultural event that takes over Giardini and selected venues around the city. Last year, Australia debuted its new permanent pavilion to much fanfare that included an opening ceremony attended by Cate Blanchett. The canalside box-like structure, which is clad in South Australian black granite and features a cantilever that juts out over the canal, is a fascinating study in shape-shifting architecture and a stand-out among the 29 pavilions in Giardini. In 2017, don’t miss the works of film, photography and video artist Tracey Moffatt, who will represent Australia.
Ride in a gondola for two euros
Gondola rides are notoriously expensive but what if we said you could ride in one for two euros? Traghetti are retired gondolas that have been repurposed to transport Venetians across the Grand Canal at spots where there are no bridges – but visitors in the know ride them, too. While the timber bench seats aren’t as luxurious as the padded loveseat and you won’t have the gondola to yourself, it’s a convenient and very “local” way to get around. To avoid being swept up in the tide of tourists beating a path from the train station, via Ponte Rialto, to Piazza San Marco, take the traghetto from the Santa Sofia stop to the Pescaria (fish market), where colourful fresh-food stalls sell all manner of seafood and seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Dine like Hemingway
Historically the haunt of artists, writers, actors, musicians, dignitaries and royals, Locanda Cipriani, on the island of Torcello, is a casually elegant dining experience far from the madding crowd. Going to Torcello for lunch is something of an undertaking if you take the ferry rather than a water taxi, so set aside enough time for a daytrip and explore colourful Burano island on the way. Of course, it will be well worth the effort when you see the brag wall of famous patrons who’ve dined at Locanda Cipriani. Ernest Hemingway famously penned Across the River and Into the Trees while staying here, his meals and drinks no doubt served with lashings of ego-stroking. Dining in the courtyard affords an unparalleled view of Torcello’s cathedral complex, where the crowning glory is a huge gold mosaic dome centred on a medieval portrait of the Madonna.
Unearth Venice’s ghosts
Discover Venice’s other haunts on a guided ghost tour of the city at dusk and be regaled by age-old tales of mystery and mayhem. Depending on the route, you might visit the merchant brothers who were turned into the stone statues in Campo dei Mori. Or you may encounter the soul of the faithful soldier who guards Garibaldi’s statue on Viale Garibaldi. As an alternative to a guided tour, obtain a copy of Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories by Alberto Toso Fei (available in English) and let it guide you into Venice’s secret corners after dark on a DIY ghost tour.