the traveller

People who love Venice also love peace and quiet. Those who live day-in day-out in the historic centre of the city have long forgotten the normal noises of inner city life and traffic. Instead, they are greeted each day by the sound of vaporetti and singing gondoliers entertaining visitors with their serenades. But you only discover what real peace is when you leave La Serenissima and delve into the islands of the lagoon. If I need peace to bring order into my chaotic thoughts, I always take a vaporetto from the Fondamenta Nuove pier.

From there, you come directly to the Murano, Burano and Torcello islands, and from there on even further to San Francesco del Deserto and the Cavallino Treporti peninsula. Your soul will truly feel at home among these islands.

Burano 2017
Burano island
Da Burano a San Francesco del Deserto. Laguna Venezia 2017
From Burano to San Francesco del Deserto
Waterbus towards Murano
Waterbus towards Murano

Murano is home to the world-famous glass kilns and is also where artists like Paolo Beraldo find their inspiration. To go in search of Paolo and find out more about his world, walk over to number 14 Fondamenta Radi. Here he opens up the doors to his laboratory, where he creates gigantic sculptures assembling old scraps of boats and pieces of glass recovered from the island’s kilns. Paolo’s laboratory is in fact where he carries out his main trade as a mechanic specialised in boat and engine repair.

Every day, large quantities of materials accumulate here for landfill, including nails, gears and unusable pieces of metal. Paolo skilfully combines them with coloured and patterned murrine glass – transforming them into works of art like his “Polarizzazione n.2” (Polarisation no. 2), which represents the destructive power of war. I go into the next room, where, together with his partner Maria Luisa De Bin, the artist/mechanic has a truly unique project in store. Maria Luisa is an optician and she came up with the idea of designing arms for glasses sculpted into the shape of a “ferro” (the comb-shaped iron that protects the prow of a gondola from collisions).

The line is called “Lagooneyes” and you can see for yourself the truly innovative side of the work that goes on here.

From Burano to San Francesco del Deserto

The island of Burano is just fifteen minutes away from Murano. You can’t miss it with its characteristic bright façades. It seems that the houses were painted in different colours so that fishermen could identify their own homes even in thick fog. Let’s take our time and wander along Burano’s main street, Via Baldassarre Galuppi, before turning into Via al Gottolo. This is where perhaps the most colourful house on the whole island is situated, the residence of Giuseppe Toselli.

Toselli is, and was, a real Buranello, as the island’s inhabitants are called. Unfortunately, this art-mad island dweller died many years ago, but he’s still known to this day as “Bepi Suà“. The façade, with its striking geometric and abstract forms, continues to delight visitors. Bepi Suà was self-taught and spent his days painting and repainting his house, turning it into a constantly changing work of art. The current version is just one of the many ideas from the master hand of Giuseppe Toselli, who was not only an artist but also a film aficionado. On summer evenings, he would project black-and-white comedy films for children into the courtyard of Via al Gottolo.

If you want to spend a bit of time in Burano and breathe in its atmosphere, I’d advise you to stay at Casa Burano, the hotel project dreamt up by the Bisol family, who have historically made Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. On the nearby green island of Mazzorbo (separated from Burano only by a bridge), the family has also founded the Venissa wine resort, planting ancient Dorona grape vines, known as the “golden grape”, from which the traditional white wine loved by La Serenissima’s Doges is made.

For Casa Burano, following the “Albergo Diffuso” model, the Bisols purchased thirteen rooms located on different parts of the island and renovated them with the help of local workers: craftsmen, carpenters, electricians and bricklayers who live on the island. The rooms don’t have kitchens because the family prefers visitors to go down to the street and meet the people who live in the place; from fishermen to farmers, from restaurant owners to artists and lacemakers.

The vaporetti leading from Burano take us on to the lagoon’s other fascinating islands. The first lagoon inhabitants settled in Torcello, for example. Today, only around ten inhabitants live here, but a visit is well worthwhile if you want a peek into the lagoon’s original way of life. Island-dweller Paolo Andrich was drawn here as he wished to escape hectic city life. He’s the heir of Venetian artist Lucio Andrich, a painter, engraver, sculptor and mosaic artist who created a beautiful house in the Torcello countryside, surrounded by the lagoon. Here he found inspiration for his work. After his death, Paolo converted his uncle’s house into a gallery and museum just a few steps away from the vaporetto pier.

The house offers a wonderful opportunity to pause, take a break and soak up the unbelievable peace of the natural environment.

Mazzorbo, Burano. Venezia 2017
Mazzorbo island, Burano
San Francesco del Deserto, Venice lagoon
San Francesco del Deserto island

An exploratory tour of the lagoon should not miss the opportunity to stop off at San Francesco del Deserto, where a Franciscan monastery stands. Legend has it that Francis of Assisi himself founded the monastery eight hundred years ago after surviving a storm on his return from a missionary journey to the East.

Not only can you visit the monastery and its beautiful gardens, you can also spend a few days here in spiritual retreat from the world. Do note, however, that vaporetti lines don’t stop here. Instead, you’ll need to ask the monks to organise a boat trip from Burano for you.

Paolo Beraldo scultore di Murano. Venezia 2017
Paolo Beraldo's laboratory
Burano 2017
Burano island

To round off our trip, I’d like to take you to the peninsula of Cavallino Treporti, which separates the lagoon from the Adriatic. You can explore by bike, following the coast along until you reach the barene. While cycling between land and water, take a short break and you might have the opportunity to spot the beat of a grey heron’s wings or a pink flamingo.

When resuming your tour, you’ll come across many little old villages along the way, some still inhabited to this day. One is the hamlet of Lio Piccolo, whose centre has just two elderly lady inhabitants – who are always happy to chat with passers-by. In the Cavallino Treporti neighbourhood live Michele Borgo and Achille Scarpa. Michele lives around a kilometre away from the centre of Lio Piccolo and grows violet artichokes. This special type of artichoke is typical of the lagoon and owes its taste to the clay earth rich in mineral salts.

Violet artichokes were named after the explosion of bright violet flowers they produce at the end of their growth period. Michele is from the centre of Venice, but prefers living here with his wife Marica and three children to enjoy the slow pace of everyday life. Achille Scarpa lives in nearby Valle Sacchetta, where he settled after spending years working as a travel agent across the world. Valle Sacchetta has been synonymous with fishing since time immemorial, and Achille has taken this tradition and catapulted it into the twenty-first century.

Under his expert supervision, a fishing business has been transformed into an online shop from which you can order fish freshly caught from the lagoon. His packages are then available across the whole of Italy within 24 hours.

Chatting with people like Michele and Achille is the best way to discover more of the magic of the Venetian islands and their power to enrapture the most solitary and pensive souls, who, every now and then, feel the need to retreat into their own world and listen to their thoughts in peace.

di Silvia Zanardi

San Francesco del Deserto island

Murano, Venezia 2017
Murano island
Mazzorbo, Burano. Venezia 2017
Mazzorbo island, near Burano island

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