THE NORTHERN LAGOON

The northern lagoon is dotted with mud flats and abandoned islands where rambling monasteries lie crumbling in the sun, backed by sweeping views of snow-capped mountains. Refugees from the mainland, fleeing the Huns, first settled on Torcello, which grew with the additional influx of influential religious orders. Today, however, only a handful of islands are still inhabited – glassmaking Murano is the most important, while Burano, Mazzorbo and Sant’Erasmo have skeletal populations of fishermen and market gardeners. Salt pans, such as Le Saline, were a source of employment until as late as 1913.

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1. Torcello

See Torcello.

2. Burano

prac_info Ferry No. 12 from Fondamente Nuove or S Zaccaria

A haven for artists, Burano takes pride in its brightly painted houses, fish and lace-making. The islanders cherish an old legend about a faithful sailor who resisted the Sirens’ call and was rewarded with a magnificent veil of magical foam for his bride, later worked into lace, a trade that brought worldwide fame and fortune to the isolated fisherfolk. These days, old women still strain their eyes with patient stitches, but many articles are imported from abroad. The island’s dramatically leaning bell tower is visible from afar.

3. Murano

prac_info Vaporetto lines 4.1 & 4.2 from Fondamente Nuove & S Zaccaria, 3 from P Roma or seasonal lines

Long synonymous with glassmaking, Murano brought blowing and fusion techniques to extraordinary heights in the 1500s, and so closely guarded were the trade secrets that skilled craftsmen could migrate only under pain of death. Though Venice’s glass monopoly lasted only until the 17th century, its fame lives on. A visit to the Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro) with its 4,000 exhibits is a must (see Artists in Venice). Don’t be put off by the reps who invite tourists to see a furnace and showroom; it’s a unique opportunity to watch the glassblowers at work and is free. However, if you accept a free boat trip from San Marco to a glass factory, you’re expected to make your own way back by vaporetto if you don’t buy anything. Glassmaking aside, Murano is a lovely place with canals, alleyways and friendly islanders.

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Glass birds on Murano

4. Mazzorbo

prac_info Ferry No. 12 from Fondamente Nuove

This pretty, verdant island exudes a tranquil air as locals tend their vineyards or artichoke fields. Wicker cages for fattening up moleche (soft-shelled crabs) hang over the water and the produce can be sampled in the low-key trattorias. Amid the scattering of houses are bold modern council blocks, which are painted in pastel hues. Mazzorbo has its own boat stop but is also joined to Burano by a long timber footbridge.

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Quaint waterfront of Mazzorbo

5. San Francesco del Deserto

prac_info Taxi launch from Burano’s landing stage • Monastery: open 9–11am, 3–5pm Tue–Sun • Donation • www.sanfrancescodeldeserto.it

A short distance from Burano, this attractive island of cypress trees is home to a Franciscan monastery. According to legend it was founded by St Francis in person, on his way back from preaching missions in Egypt and Palestine in 1220. In May, clad in their brown habits and sandals, the monks attend the Vogalonga regatta in their heavy-duty boat, much to the delight of the Venetian crowds.

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San Francesco del Deserto

6. San Michele

prac_info Ferry Nos. 4.1 & 4.2 from Fondamente Nove & S Zaccaria • Cemetery: open 7:30am–6pm daily (closes 4pm Oct–Mar)

San Michele became the city cemetery in 1826, in the wake of a Napoleonic decree that the dead should be buried far from city dwellings to improve hygiene standards. Entry to the cemetery is via a lovely Gothic portal surmounted by St Michael at odds with a dragon, and through the monk’s colonnaded cloister. But don’t neglect to visit the pretty marble-façaded church next door, designed by Mauro Coducci in 1469. On All Souls’ Day (2 November), the place is crowded with relatives paying a visit to their dear departed. However, unless you’re a famous resident like Ezra Pound, Igor Stravinsky or Sergei Diaghilev, your bones are dug up after 10 years and placed in an urn to make room for someone else.

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San Michele cemetery

7. Sant’Erasmo

prac_info Ferry No. 13 from Fondamente Nuove

Just over 4 km (2.5 miles) long and 1 km (0.5 miles) at the broadest point, Sant’Erasmo offers tranquil countryside, praised enthusiastically by the Romans who built sumptuous villas here. A couple of rickety old motorcars occasionally bump along the lanes, but bicycles and boats are still the main form of transport. The main activity here is market gardening, particularly the production of delicious asparagus and artichokes, which prosper on the sandy soil and are a mainstay of Rialto Market. There is also a small stretch of sandy beach.

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Asparagus and artichokes

8. Lazzaretto Nuovo

prac_info Ferry No. 13 from Fondamente Nuove • Tours Apr–Oct: 9:45am & 4:30pm Sat & Sun • www.lazzarettonuovo.com

Up until the 1700s this island, across the water from Sant’Erasmo, served as a quarantine station for merchant ships entering the lagoon and suspected of carrying the plague. Together with Sant’Erasmo it held up to 10,000 people during the 1576 pestilence, while cargoes were fumigated with rosemary and juniper in temporary shelters. Later converted into a military stronghold, it now swarms with archaeology enthusiasts, intent on unearthing its secrets, and Italian students attending summer camps.

9. Certosa

Inhabited by religious communities for more than 600 years, the “charterhouse” island went the way of many of its neighbours under occupation by French, Austrian and Italian forces, though currently as the property of the City Council it is slowly being cleaned up as a public park. It can be visited in summer months, though opening times vary; Alilaguna Blu boats stop here seasonally. From the Lido−Punta Sabbioni ferry the impressive ramparts of Sanmicheli’s 16th-century Forte di Sant’Andrea can be seen, much as they must have appeared in the past to any hostile vessels that dared to enter the lagoon unbidden.

10. Punta Sabbioni

prac_info Ferry No. 14 from Lido & S Zaccaria

This locality clings to the promontory extending westward from the mainland – a continuous string of beach resorts equipped with spacious campsites. Alongside sleepy backwaters and canals is Punta Sabbioni (“big sandy point”), a busy bus-ferry terminal that bustles with summer holiday-makers. It came into being as sand accumulated behind the 1,100-m (3,600-ft) breakwater erected to protect the port mouth and littoral. The stretch offers lovely seaside strolls.

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Punta Sabbioni

LAGOON FLORA AND FAUNA

The lagoon abounds in gilt-head bream, sea bass, clams, cuttlefish and crabs, all prey for wetland waterfowl such as swans, egrets, cormorants and the rare black-winged stilts. Sea lavender blooms on land masses, rock samphire clings to crumbling masonry, while glasswort thrives in the salt-ridden marshes.

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SAILING THE LAGOON

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MORNING

To save money, buy a one-day travel card and then take a vaporetto to Murano to watch a glassmaking demonstration at a furnace or one of the workshops. Don’t miss Murano’s very own Grand Canal, before returning via Fondamenta Manin with its medieval porticoes for the turn-off towards the Faro (lighthouse) landing stage. Bar al Faro is a perfect place for coffee (Fondamenta Piave 20, Murano; 041 739 724).

Take a ferry to Burano. Either picnic on the famous Burano biscuits or lunch at Da Romano (Piazza Galuppi 221, Burano; 041 730 030; closed Tue & Sun dinner, mid-Dec–early Feb), a popular meeting place for artists.

AFTERNOON

Pop over to Torcello by ferry for the awe-inspiring Byzantine mosaics in the basilica. Climb the bell tower for views of the lagoon and the Dolomite mountains, if weather conditions and visibility are favourable.

Take the ferry back to Burano and then head east, past low-lying islands and tidal flats towards Treporti. A stretch parallel to the sandy littoral separating the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea takes you to Punta Sabbioni, where a stopover is feasible for a drink on the jetty.

End the day sailing across the broad lagoon mouth, via the Lido, back to Piazza San Marco.

Specialist Shops

1. Cesare Sent

prac_info Fondamenta Vetrai 8B, Murano

This talented artist from a long line of glassmakers transforms the ancient art of murrhine glassware into striking modern objects of beauty.

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Cesare Sent glasswork

2. ArtStudio

prac_info Fondamenta Rivalonga 48, Murano

Watch glass artist Davide Penso at work producing marvellous African-inspired glass beads.

3. Manin 56

prac_info Fondamenta Manin 56, Murano

Striking etched bowls and slender wine glasses from Salviati flank international designer items in this wonderful collection.

4. Nason & Moretti

prac_info Calle Dietro Gli Orti 12, Murano

This small shop stocks a stunning collection of glassware created by these acclaimed Murano designers in a dazzling array of colours and styles. It is well worth visiting.

5. Barovier & Toso

prac_info Fondamenta Vetrai 28, Murano

The oldest family of glassmakers in the world, the Baroviers are able to trace their ancestry back to the 13th century. They still produce stunning contemporary pieces.

6. Mazzega

prac_info Fondamenta da Mula 147, Murano

Vast showrooms at Mazzega display traditional and semimodern glass designs, with an emphasis on chandeliers and vases.

7. CAM

prac_info Piazzale Colonna 1, Murano

This is the first shop visitors see as they disembark at the Murano Colonna stop. It is an internationally known firm specializing in distinctive high-quality, modern pieces.

8. Pastificio e Panificio Giorgio Garbo

prac_info Via S Mauro 336, Burano

Sample some bussolai, Burano’s trademark vanilla-flavoured shortbread, freshly baked in traditional rounds or “S” shapes.

9. Emilia Burano

prac_info Via Galuppi 205, Burano

Superb laceware and exquisite in- house designed linen collections are sold at this family-run boutique.

10. Lidia Merletti d’Arte

prac_info Via Galuppi 215, Burano

While the front of this shop is an emporium of lace tablecloths, hand towels and mats, the rear has a gallery with a priceless 18th-century wedding gown, a lace fan owned by Louis XIV and lace altarpieces.

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Lidia Merletti d’Arte

Places to Eat

1. Trattoria Busa alla Torre, Da Lele

prac_info Campo S Stefano 3, Murano • 041 739 662 • Open for lunch only • €

Dine inside under timber rafters or out in the square. Start with ravioli filled with fish, but leave room for the nougat pastries.

2. Panificio Giovanni Marcato

prac_info Fondamenta Rivalonga 16, Murano • 041 739 176 • Closed Sun • €

Pizza with tomato and olives, zaletti biscuits and pincetto (sponge cake with chocolate) feature on the menu.

3. Osteria La Perla Ai Bisatei

prac_info Campo S Bernardo 6, Murano • 041 739 528 • Open for lunch only • No credit cards • €

The fritto misto seafood is superb at this restaurant offering home-style cooking at reasonable prices.

4. Trattoria Valmarana

prac_info Fondamenta Navagero 31, Murano • 041 739 313 • Open for lunch daily & Fri & Sat dinner • €

Rombo al forno con patate e olive (flounder with potatoes and olives) is a speciality at this stylish restaurant with a waterside terrace.

5. Riva Rosa Ristorante

prac_info Via S Mauro 296, Burano • 041 730 850 • Open for lunch Thu–Tue & May–Sep: Sat dinner (booking essential) • €€€

Try the Rossini aperitivo with freshly juiced strawberries and Prosecco at this romantic canalside eatery.

6. Trattoria ai Cacciatori

prac_info Fondamenta S Caterina 24, Mazzorbo • 041 730 848 • Open for lunch only • Closed Mon • €

Here you can savour local seafood such as crab with potato dumplings and, in autumn, local game.

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Antica Trattoria alla Maddalena

7. Antica Trattoria alla Maddalena

prac_info Fondamenta S Caterina 7B, Mazzorbo • 041 730 151 • Open for lunch and early dinner (booking essential); closed Thu, Jan • €

Try the spring artichokes or the roast duck with a light, local white wine at this superb restaurant.

8. Al Gatto Nero

prac_info Fondamenta Giudecca 88, Burano • 041 730 120 • Closed Mon, 1st week Jul, 2 weeks in Nov • €€

This alfresco fish restaurant serves fresh seafood and homemade pasta.

9. Locanda Cipriani

prac_info Piazza S Fosca 29, Torcello • 041 730 150 • Closed Nov–Dec: Mon & Tue; Jan–Feb • €€€

The house speciality here is filetto di San Pietro Carlina (baked John Dory with tomato and capers).

10. Venissa

prac_info Fondamenta S Caterina 3, Mazzorbo • 041 527 22 81 • Closed Nov–Feb (restaurant) • €–€€€

Choose between the low-key osteria and the sophisticated restaurant serving locally grown produce.

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