The Trip: Backstreet Venice – a guide to the hidden gems

Lee Osborne explores the wonders of Venice, district by district, avoiding the crowds to go under the radar and uncover the finest backstreet gems. Eat like the locals and discover the delights of “cicèti”, a Venetian version of tapas

Cannaregio

Cannaregio is the second largest sestieri (district)

Eat/Drink

Il Paradiso Perduto

Even though it’s some way from San Marco, this Osteria, in the shadow of the Jewish Ghetto, rocks. Its counters positively heave with mounds of delicious cicetì waiting to be devoured by a hipster, arty crowd sat on conversation-inducing canteen-style tables. With its rainbow-coloured mosaic façade, Paradiso is the place to be if you want atmosphere, and is particularly noted for its Monday night gigs; Keith Richards has played the small stage here. Try and bag one of the canalside tables outside and dine on a bounty of the Venetian lagoon’s crustacea, the house speciality. An Aperol spritz here will only set you back €2,50, unlike the €15 specimens in St Mark’s Square. 

Il Paradiso Perduto, Fondamenta de la Misericordia Cannaregio 2540, 30121 Venice

While you’re there, don’t miss:

Gianni Basso Stampatore 

If you’re heading to catch the Vaporetto to the island of Burano, chances are you’ll pass by this wonderful old-school printer, who is still a passionate exponent of the Gutenberg press – tucked away in a quiet side street not far from Fondamente Nove. Barack Obama, Hugh Grant and Ben Affleck are just some of the celebrities who’ve stopped by for personalised business and correspondence cards, from this Smythson of yesteryear.

Gianni Basso Stampatore, Cannaregio 5306, 30100 Venice

BallereTTe 

BallereTTe, on the main thoroughfare linking San Marco and Cannaregio, is a homage to women’s shoes in innumerable styles and shades of the colour spectrum. An Italian equivalent of French Sole, offering everything from leopard-skin ballet pumps, through to suede moccasins, loafers and leather-fringed Oxfords. Flats, medium or high heels, they have you covered, whatever your elevation persuasion. Prices range from €75 to €150.

BallereTTe, Strada Nova 3927, 30121 Venice; ballerette.com

BallerTTe

Santa Croce

Slightly off the beaten tourist track, it occupies the north-west part of the main islands

Eat/Drink

Cantina Arnaldi

Probably my pick of the bunch, Arnaldi epitomises the new wave of “bacari” that are popping up across the city. Traditional from the outside, yet contemporary within, it’s run by charming hosts Andrea and Katia, who are dab hands at introducing you to lesser-known Italian grape varieties. Quite simply an oenophile’s delight with an impressive, informed selection of wines, many of which are available by the glass as well as draft artisanal craft beers. There’s a cicèti counter and “house special” cheese boards to help stem the flow.

Cantina Arnaldi, Santa Croce 35, 30135 Venice; cantinaarnaldi.com

Cantina Arnaldi

While you’re there, don’t miss:

Vintageria Venezia 

Vintageria Venezia, in the laid-back neighbourhood of Santa Croce, is a living, breathing example of how a vintage store should look, and a great reflection on Paolo, the store owner’s personal taste. You’ll find a masterfully curated selection of goods for both men and women, ranging from classic military field jackets, Levi’s jeans, Burberry trench coats (in all manner of fabrics) to Gucci loafers.

Vintageria Venezia, Santa Croce 2120, Venice; @vintageriavenezia

San Polo

The Rialto Bridge is the most famous sight along the Grand Canal in San Polo, smallest of Venice’s six sestieri

Eat/Drink

Osteria Bancogiro 

Concealed beneath the arches of Campo San Giacometto, within earshot of its medieval bell tower, it would be easy to miss Bancogiro. Simply translated as “credit transfer”, it’s where the public mercantile bank was founded in the 1600s. Thankfully, you don’t need a bank loan to dine here. Choose from the informality of the ground floor bar where a spritz and an assortment of cicèti (the cheese with truffle shavings crostini with ham and pistachio is delectable) will set you back no more than €12 per head. For something more substantial, head upstairs beneath the porticoed ceilings to feast on the delights of Signor Capponi, Zamboni and Masutti’s creations. I recommend the baby octopus marinated with tangerine on lentils to start followed by liver Venetian style with stewed baby artichokes.

Osteria Bancogiro, Campo San Giacometto 122, 30125 Rialto, Venice; osteriabancogiro.it

While you’re there, don’t miss:

L’Arte di Casanova

Its floor-to-ceiling windows perfectly encapsulate the exquisite glassware that lies within its art gallery-esque interior, at the foot of Rialto Bridge steps. L’Arte di Casanova showcases meticulous examples of the famed glassware brand Murano, crafted on a neighbouring island of the same name. Technicoloured glass-blown balloons cascade gracefully across its façade, reeling you in for closer inspection, while, inside, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, earrings and rings complete the picture, all designed by Massimo De Rossi. If you wish to emulate a similar art installation when you return home, it won’t come cheap. The small balloons start at €25.

L’Arte di Casanova, S Polo 77, 30124 Venice; artedicasanova.it

Dorsoduro

Dorsoduro includes the highest land areas of the city as well as Giudecca island and Isola Sacca Fisola

Eat/Drink

Cantina del Vino Già Schiavi

This is essentially a wine shop that has metamorphised over the years into a bacari. On a balmy summer’s night, you’d be hard pressed to find a more serene location, as the sun sets over the Canale della Giudecca. Order a glass of wine or an iridescent Aperol and a handful of cicetì at the bar (tuna crostini dusted with cocoa powder is divine), then take a pew on the canal wall and gaze across to the city’s only remaining gondola workshop, which   proves that glimpses of authentic Venice, beyond the tourist veneer, are not as hard to find as you’d imagine.

Cantina del Vino Già Schiavi, Fondamenta Nani 992, 30123 Venice

Cantina del Vino Già Schiavi

While you’re there, don’t miss:

Grom 

Conversations will run long into the night if you ask a Venetian to recommend their favourite gelato but my allegiance is with Grom, who has a handful of ice-cream parlours dotted around the city. If you’re as sweet-toothed as I am, don’t miss its sublime coupling of chocolate and coconut. Settle down canalside near the fruit and vegetable barge, and people-watch as you savour the flavour.

Grom, Campo San Barnaba 2761, 30123 Venice

San Marco

San Marco is the beating heart of Venice that also includes the island of San Giorgio Maggiore

Eat/Drink

Antico Martini

Akin to dining on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Antico Martini rekindles the romance of the rails, transporting you back to the golden age of travel without ever pulling out of the station. Giuseppe Cherubini’s lavish paintings keep a watchful eye as you feast on convivial delights like scorpionfish ravioli served with ratatouille, washed down with local Soave.

Antico Martini, Campo Teatro Fenice 2007, 30124 Venice; anticomartini.com

While you’re there, don’t miss:

T Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store 

Arguably the most aesthetically beautiful department store in the world, Tedeschi opened to considerable acclaim in 2017. Its “palazzo meets New York loft” interior showcases a jaw-dropping atrium of cascading balconies that showcase the very finest in haute couture. Gaze in wonder at the Grand Canal from its stunning rooftop terrace, or sip a cocktail in Amo’s bar. 

T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Calle del Fontego dei Tedeschi, 30124 Venice; dfs.com

Atelier Segalin di Daniela Ghezzo

Having served her apprenticeship under the great “Cobbler of Venice”, the late Rolando Segalin, Daniela Ghezzo continues his great shoemaking legacy. A visit to her quaint atelier in idyllic Calle dei Fuseri allows you to witness first-hand the exquisite artistry that goes in to making a pair of bespoke handmade shoes. A pair of Ghezzo’s creations will set you back anything between €650 and €1,800.

Atelier Segalin di Daniela Ghezzo, Calle dei Fuseri, San Marco 4365, 30124 Venice; danielaghezzo.it

Al Duca d’Aosta Venezia

Sartorial playground for impeccably bedecked Venetians, Al Duca d’Aosta’s immaculately curated window displays draw in discerning gentlemen from far and wide. While the former men’s shirt fabric store houses a glittering array of predominantly Italian brands, its own-label offering should not be overlooked. Think plaid patterned blazers (€590) with pocket squares nonchalantly placed to festoon like spring flowers from the breast pockets, paired with tailored denim shorts with natty turn ups. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, I recommend Spada (Via Sestiere di San Marco 5383, 30124 Venice; spadaroma.com),which knocks out a very fine line of sartorially savvy menswear at a fraction of the cost at its store a minute’s walk from Rialto Bridge. Sports jackets from €190, shirts and chinos from €40.

Al Duca d’Aosta Venezia, San Marco 284, 30124 Venice; alducadaosta.com

Al Duca dAosta Venezia

Castello

Castello is the largest of the city’s six sestieri 

Eat/Drink

Al Covo 

Al Covo’s mission when it opened in 1987 was to create dishes that expressed the true character of the Venetian Lagoon, a territory that is unique in the world. It’s the kind of place that epitomised the Slow Food movement long before the term even existed. Chef and owner Cesare Benelli, together with business partner Paolo Semeraro are staunch advocates of sourcing the very finest local ingredients from small producers. Great defenders of their own unique terroir, dishes such as fried zucchini blossoms with bufala ricotta and fresh mint, exemplify this – absolutely divine.

Al Covo, Calle de la Pescaria 3968, 30122 Venice; ristorantealcovo.com

While you’re there, don’t miss:

Libreria Dell’Acqua Alta 

Resigned to the phenomenon of Acqua Alta, the term used in Venice to describe the exceptional tidal peaks that bring flooding to the northern Adriatic Sea, this hidden gem of a bookstore, quite like no other, has resorted to storing its books in bathtubs and boats – and even a full-sized gondala! With its eclectic ramshackle vibe it could be straight out of a Harry Potter movie. What other book shop do you know where lifebuoys are a pre-requisite?

Libreria Dell’Acqua Alta, Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa 5176/b, 30122 Venice

L’altraottica 

Venice has an extraordinary proliferation of cutting-edge optical stores, perhaps unrivalled by anywhere else I’ve been with a particular penchant for foldable specs. L’altraottica specialises in premium eyewear, offering a selection of the finest European, American and Japanese brands. It also designs and produces its own frames, made of natural materials like wood and bamboo. For something more in budget, head to J Pajetta (Spadaria, San Marco 665, 30124 Venice), where heavily discounted past-season frames are displayed on shelves that come in an iconic yellow that resembles Emmental cheese.

L’altraottica, Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa 6206, 30122 Venice; laltraottica.com

Lee Osborne is a travel and style journalist and photographer

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