A somewhat milky atmosphere. A great silence. Small islands, each of which has a particular history: San Servolo once housed a psychiatric hospital; San Clemente has long served as a stopover for pilgrims en route to the Holy Land; Sacca Sessola, bought by a multinational, recently saw its disused hospital transformed into a hotel complex; Poveglia is now abandoned and so on…
Here and there, sandbanks outcrop and serve as a refuge for migrating birds. The boats circulate inside the navigation channel delimited by the “briccol”, these wooden posts which, linked by three, emerge from the water at regular intervals. Further on, on the right, many fishermen’s huts on stilts.
If, on the horizon, the bell tower of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice watches as usual, no “sea giant” disturbs the tranquility of the lagoon south of Venice: under pressure from Unesco, the Italian government ended up really banning the biggest cruise ships from approaching the heart of Venice. Since the summer of 2021, they have to park far away, in the industrial port of Marghera.
While admitting the need to protect this shallow lagoon, traders seem chagrined by the decision. This makes them fewer customers while they remain, moreover, deprived of the juicy clientele of Chinese and Russian tourists in particular.
The jostling is over
Rid of the excessive influx of tourists by the Covid-19 pandemic, Venice is again pleasant to visit. At the start of spring, in the tourist “trough” which follows the carnival organized in February, and precedes the start of the summer season in May, it is possible to walk around without being jostled in Saint Mark’s Square, too (and fortunately) almost deserted by pigeons.
Similarly, sitting on the terrace of the Florian, a famous café once frequented by illustrious writers, no longer requires queuing. And, after having reached (by elevator) the top of the Saint Marc bell tower rebuilt in 1912, taking all your time to enjoy the splendid 360 degree view of the city is no longer an inaccessible dream.
Finally, whoever treats himself to a gondola ride on the canals is not bothered, as before, by river traffic jams. However, the Grand Canal remains the main street of this lakeside city and the setting for its most beautiful palaces, built, like that of the doges, in brick and white Istrian stone…
In this context, there is hardly more than a small cruise ship like the M/S Michelangelo which, thanks to its shallow draft (1.3 meters), is still authorized to dock on the quays near the Arsenal, only 7 bridges from the square and Saint Mark’s Basilica.
Those who walk with difficulty will probably find the distance still significant, just as, the next day, they will find the walk through less frequented areas to the Rialto Bridge a bit demanding. Yet they benefit from a privilege as valuable as the long boat trip south of Venice, in the lagoon. This is an opportunity to better understand why this region has always been the scene of an incessant struggle between the sea, the rivers and the land. Why, too, its conservation is a growing concern.
Indeed, it silts up, Venice sinks and during the acque alt, salt water is increasingly eating into the ground floors. Fortunately, in 2020, the system of submerged dykes called Mose ended up showing its effectiveness in preventing high tides from submerging the city of doges. Is Venice saved? It would be presumptuous to say so.
Continue to Padua
More classic is, on the other hand, the navigation in the lagoon north of Venice. Those who board the M/S Michelangelo first discover Burano, the island of fishermen and lacemakers with colorful houses. In its Saint-Martin church is a “Crucifixion” painted by Le Tintoret, as beautiful as it is unknown.
The next step is Murano, the island of glass artisans. Those who have already visited it, will offer themselves a ticket of vaporetto (7.5 €) to return directly to the center of Venice, unless they prefer to slip away, always vaporettoto Torcello: the basilica and its Veneto-Byzantine mosaics testify to the illustrious past of this now sparsely inhabited island.
The next day, the boat docks in Chioggia, a coastal town to go by bus to Padua, which was once part of Venice’s conquests on dry land. The relics of Saint Anthony are exhibited under the Byzantine domes of the beautiful basilica dedicated to the Santo.
A student city since a university was created there in 1222, this city is not lacking in charm with its canals, its streets lined with arcades, its elegant cafés and of course its monuments, starting with the Scrovegni chapel decorated with frescoes. by Giotto or the extraordinary Prato della Valle: this elliptical square is surrounded by a circular canal lined with statues. There is that of Galileo, a scientist who also met in Venice: it was at the top of the bell tower of Saint Mark that he had presented his astronomical telescope to the senate and the doge of the lakeside city. This had earned him the appointment of professor at the University of Padua.
► In practice
The Croisieurope company is relaunching its cruises to Venice aboard its M/S Michelangelo. Sailing times do not exceed a few hours, but this modest-sized boat (154 passengers) makes it easy to discover the treasures of this mythical city, while approaching, in small touches, Italian gastronomy.
5 days including 4 nights on board. From €595 (delivery to Venice not included). Tel: 0 826 101 234. Website: croisieurope.com