Tuesday 19 March 2019

We'll always have Venice - the fairytale wedding city

George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin arrive in Venice for their wedding
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin arrive in Venice for their wedding
Venice Hotel

Edel Kennedy

All canals lead to the fairytale city of Venice following the extravagant wedding of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. But you don't need an A-list bank balance to visit.

The Eiffel Tower wilted just a little when George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin announced to the world that they were to wed in Venice, Italy.

The Hollywood actor — long touted as one of the world’s most eligible bachelors — had vowed he wouldn’t be walking down the aisle again after the failure of his first marriage.

But when his heart was won by the human rights lawyer, they didn’t opt for Paris, the so-called city of love.

Instead they turned to Italy, the country where they had met, to start their life together as man and wife.

And who could argue that Venice isn’t every bit as romantic as the French capital?

In fact, with its narrow cobblestone streets and labyrinth of canals, it is a much more intimate setting than the bustling streets of Paris.

Granted, last weekend was anything but intimate as Hollywood A-listers descended on the city for the nuptials, which were reported to cost upwards of €2.5m.

Images of Clooney on his way to the ceremony via water taxi — while followed by a trail of papparazzi and Hollywood royalty — were published around the world.

The couple were photographed at every step of the way, from the moment they first arrived in the city, until they wed at a party in front of their friends, and later when they went on to make it official at a civil ceremony.

But in reality, you don’t need to be joined by Bono, Matt Damon and Cindy Crawford to feel that there is something very, very special about this city.

Situated in northeastern Italy, it was built on 118 small islands in marshy lagoon which are separated by canals and linked by bridges.

The World Heritage Site has long been renowned for its architecture and artworks. The city’s buildings are constructed on closely spaced wooden piles which are still intact after centuries of submersion. Submerged in water in oxygen-poor conditions, the wood does not decay as it would on the surface. Remarkably, the buildings of brick and stone still sit poised on these wooden stilts.

While some complain that it has lost its allure — overcrowded, smelly canals, overpriced restaurants — it is important to remember that Venice is still a living, breathing city. Home to over 60,000 full-time residents, daily life goes on much the same as it has for generations, with neighbours greeting each other as they stop outside their front door, and washing hanging from lines above the canals.

Still, thousands flock there each day to wander through its streets and it’s easy to see why. From the moment you step outside the arrivals gates at Marco Polo airport, you’re in a place that is like no other. Yes, it’s touristy. But touristy doesn’t always mean bad — it just means that others have also realised there’s something special about it and want to experience it, too.

Following a short walk from the airport, you can jump aboard a water taxi which will zip you across the lagoon, between the myriad islands, and drop you at the door of your hotel. At €100 it’s not the cheapest taxi ride you’ll ever take — but where else in the world can you take a boat ride from the airport to your hotel and feel like a film star en route?

Luxury hotels abound, with the original Bauer Hotel often named as one of the best. Since first opening its doors in 1880, it has always been at the centre of Venetian life and has been frequented by stars including Daniel Craig and Al Pacino.

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Just steps from Piazza San Marco, the Bauer enjoys one of the most enviable locations in Venice, with views of the island of San Giorgio and the church of Santa Maria della Salute.

Family owned and run, the Bauer hotel group incorporates five historic buildings in the heart of Venice, with a hotel water taxi on hand to bring guests between the different locations. Just across the water from the main hotel is the Bauer Palladio Hotel & Spa, which has the largest site of any hotel in Venice. And on a city that is made up of islands, it is no small claim to make.

Originally a convent, the building was left abandoned for over 100 years before undergoing an extensive renovation which preserved all of its original features while incorporating all the luxury of a five-star establishment.

From there it’s a short hop across the water to Piazza San Marco. Easily the busiest place in Venice, the public square is a stunning open space in front of St Mark’s Basilica. A bell tower looms over the square and it is well worth the €6 elevator ride to the top to get a stunning view over the city. The red brick buildings are so tightly packed that the canals are almost impossible to see — but it’s the perfect viewing point of the city as it spreads across the islands.

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Venice Hotel

A queue forms outside the Basilia each morning as security guards check tourists’ bags before entry, but the queue moves so quickly that it’s worth the short wait.

Once inside, you’re free to roam the ornate building — although some sectors such as the treasure room charge a small fee for entry.

From there it’s easy to get lost. And really, that’s the best way to see the city. Forget about trying to get your bearings — it’s almost impossible as there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to how it is laid out.

Besides, it’s down the little alleyways and alcoves that you’ll find the gems of restaurants and bars that the Venetians themselves frequent.

Trattoria alla Madonna is renowned for its seafood, in particular the local speciality of cuttlefish cooked in its own black ink, while in Vineria all’Amarone you can sample large plates of Venetian bar snacks.

For those who want to do Venice on a budget, guesthouses and B&Bs are priced from €70 per night.

And there’s no need to take one of the famed gondola rides (priced from €80) just to experience the city from the water. The public ‘bus’ system is a series of boats which bustle between the islands and cost from €1.

Other free sites include the Scala Contarini del Bovolo (the so-called Snail staircase), the Gesuiti (Jesuit) church which is home to an important collection of paintings and trompe l’oeil sculptures and the Orsoni Colour Library which gives free tours of workshops where famed glass mosaics are made.

And there are simply too many stores making the famed Venetian masks to mention — but it’s impossible to walk past them without going in to see the artists at work.

Venice is sometimes victim to its own popularity but it’s still miles ahead of many other European cities in terms of price, architecture, food and culture.

It just might be an idea to visit before the rest of the world follows George Clooney’s lead and descends on the fairytale city.

GETTING THERE

Aer Lingus flies directly to Marco Polo Airport four days a week until the end of October, with twice weekly flights starting again in February. Flights are priced from €120 return.

Ryanair flies to Venice Treviso (30km north of Venice) twice weekly until the start of November with more frequent flights starting again at the end of March. Flights are priced from €115.

The Bauer Palladio has large double rooms from €255 per night; palladiohotelspa.com

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