3 November 2017

Forte Marghera, mainland Venice

This afternoon I made a brief trip to Forte Marghera, a 19th-century fort constructed by the Austrian and the French rulers of Venice on the mainland edge of the lagoon nearest to Venice.  Built to defend the city from assaults from the land, it was a heavily armed and carefully engineered island fortress, built to an angular design and protected by a network of canals. It's a strange and crumbling arena of grass, trees, scrub and old military buildings, some falling apart and others restored. You can walk right through, across the double ring of 'moats' and out to the lagoonward side of the central island, where you'll find a landing stage, majestic abandoned brick buildings and places to sit.

A range of varied enterprises are undertaken here, from start-ups to art centres. On the outer ring, on the landward side, are a few rough-and-ready bars and places to eat, with indoor and outdoor seating. In summer this is a very popular destination for an evening out; apparently it gets rammed with people eating and drinking in these unusual out-of-town surroundings. Given the leafy lagoon environment, I can't even begin to imagine how filled with mosquitoes the air must be on summer evenings. When I visited this late autumn afternoon there were just a few people around: some workers, one or two patrons and employees at the bars, a man moving bales of hay, a tractor carrying giant bins across to the mainland. By the scenic outer shore a man sat gazing at the reflections on the still water, and a cluster of teenagers drank and listened to music. A pair of rowers, standing-up Venetian style, were manoeuvring their boat offshore.

I think there were more cats than people. Lots of strays live here, lurking waiting for feeding time or  following their favoured human around. I passed an animal protection HQ with posters advertising adoptee cats, and a hopeful cat sitting on the doorstep.

There isn't much in the way of information available about the various historic buildings and their uses. Some look as though they were barracks, others probably powder stores. A guided tour would probably be fascinating. There's a military museum here, according to a sign at the entrance, open occasionally. As part of an initiative to spread Venice's museum holdings around the lagoon, one draughty old storeroom currently houses a collection of sculptures from Ca' Pesaro in Venice (due to close soon). I had no idea these were here, and it was an atmospheric way to view works of art, alone in this barren reclaimed space with windows and doors open to the green surroundings of the fort.

It's an easy and unusual trip from Venice. Catch tram T1 from Piazzale Roma and travel two stops. The stop is called Forte Marghera. After alighting, cross the road and a few yards to the right you'll find a gravelled footpath leading across a short stretch of countryside.  A few minutes later you come to another road. Cross carefully at the pedestrian crossing. The access lane to Forte Marghera lies ahead, signposted. From its description I did fear this might be a creepy excursion alone, but I didn't encounter any problems and there were a reasonable number of people around.

> Forte Marghera
> Some history (in Italian)
 > Starforts article
> More about Venice

25 July 2017

Where to stay in Venice in summer

As I've just been writing about how to enjoy a summer trip to Venice, I've picked out some good accommodation options for when the weather is hot and the city is crowded. Most are mid-range (3-4 star) options where I've found decent rates, often at short notice. It's important to note that the majority of properties in Venice don't have any outdoor space. Even those that do, rarely have more than a small courtyard garden. Finding space to sit outside or even sunbathe is extremely rare, so if you want a garden or terrace, book a long way in advance. Otherwise, location is the most important factor to consider - how busy is the area, how easily can you get around and how suitable is the location for a summer holiday visit? How near is it to public open spaces or ferry stops for islands and the beach?

Front garden of Pensione Accademia - Villa Maravege

Unless you're on a flying visit, I'd recommend avoiding the areas closest to St Mark's and the railway station, otherwise you'll be confronting crowds every time you leave your hotel.

Staying on the Lido can be a good choice if you want to spend time on the beach and save money. I've spent a good-value night at the Hotel Atlanta Augustus, a historic Lido villa in a convenient but quiet location. There's a good range of accommodation on the island, though the best will get booked in advance for the summer months - so plan ahead.

Hotel Atlanta Augustus, Lido

Away from the worst of the crowds in Venice, I've enjoyed a summer stay at Ca' Dogaressa, which is towards the quieter end of the wide Cannaregio canal, an easy ferry journey from the airport, close to boat stops for the Lido, and close to the pretty canals and canalside restaurants of the district. On one of the most picturesque canals in Dorsoduro I've stayed at Hotel Pausania (faded hotel in an ancient palazzo) and Casa Rezzonico (old-fashioned B&B with a pretty garden); this is a laid-back area and though it's near a busy route and a late-night hub, it's also a short walk along back canals to the wide Zattere waterfront and ferries to the Lido.

Garden at Casa Rezzonico

Another good option is staying at the eastern end of the Castello district (see map link below). There's lots of authentic local atmosphere, a leafy park on Sant'Elena, and it's a short trip over to the beach. The drawback is that you're a bit far-flung from some of the other attractive parts of Venice.

If you don't mind a bit of exposure to crowds, staying in the area between the Ca' d'Oro (on the Grand Canal) and the northern shore (Fondamente Nove ferry stop) is convenient for ferries to the northern islands, as well as the vaporetto down the Grand Canal, and you don't have to go too far to find quiet canalsides. I've stayed at the Pesaro Palace which is right on the Grand Canal by the ferry stop, but only ten minutes' walk from Fondamente Nove.

Similarly, in the Dorsoduro district the historic Pensione Accademia - Villa Maravege has a gorgeous canalside location and gardens, is just off a busy thoroughfare but has easy access to several ferry stops and quieter canals. I stayed in spring but I think it would be an oasis of calm in the summer. This would be my overall top pick for a summer hotel stay. This area, between Campo Santa Margherita and the Zattere/San Basilio boat stops, is in general a good zone to pick in summer for combination of mobility and quiet-ish, picturesque canals.

Back garden at Pensione Accademia - Villa Maravege

Parks and gardens in Venice are both an attraction and a threat - lovely surroundings but more risk of mosquitoes. There are a few hotels in Venice which have their own garden. These include the two mentioned above, plus Palazzo AbadessaSan Sebastiano Garden, Hotel Abbazia (close to the station), Ca' Nigra Lagoon Resort (a rose garden on the Grand Canal) and Boscolo Venezia.  If you can afford to splash out, several of Venice's smartest hotels have their own gardens or even pools, including Palazzo Venart on the Grand Canal (garden), and the Giudecca five-star hotels Belmond Hotel Cipriani (garden and pool), the Bauer Palladio Hotel & Spa (garden and spa) and Hilton Molino Stucky (rooftop pool). The San Clemente Palace is even on its own island.

There are ethical issues to staying in an apartment in Venice. Holiday rentals are causing serious problems for the city (discussed in my post How to be a good tourist in Venice). But there is no denying that for tourists, staying in a self-catering apartment can be extremely convenient in the summer. With air-conditioning, a washing machine and cooking facilities you can escape crowds, enjoy some space, wash sweaty/sandy clothes, cook at home, and keep out of the crowds at busy times. Rather than using networks which book direct with owners, consider finding apartments through larger registered agencies and reputable hotel-booking agents in the hopes that you will be staying in a long-established holiday property rather than one recently removed from Venice's housing stock, and that it will be fully registered with appropriate taxes paid. Make sure you follow the city's rules for disposing of rubbish and recycling separately, and remember to show respect and consideration to the residents you'll be sharing buildings with.

Top recommendations

  • Avoid the areas around St Mark's and the railway station (Ferrovia) unless  you don't mind crowds and are in a hurry.
  • Try some of the hotel/B&B suggestions above, and read the latest reviews
  • Follow the map link below and consider: proximity to ferry stops - especially ferries to the seaside and islands; whether the hotel has a garden; whether it has air-conditioning (most do); whether it's on a busy thoroughfare.
  • Cannaregio: a location in the northern or eastern parts of the district, away from the station but close to a ferry stop.
  • Dorsoduro: the area between Campo Santa Margherita (avoid the noisy square itself), and the Zattere and San Basilio ferry stops.
  • Castello: the eastern part of the district.
  • Giudecca: attractive, low-key and quieter island to stay on. However you'll rely on crowded ferries to hop over to Venice.
  • Lido - a good choice if you want to spend time on the beach or take outings to the southern lagoon.

> Find a hotel, B&B or apartment in Venice (with a location map and price guarantee)
> Where to stay in Venice (year-round advice)
> Ferry maps and timetables (so you can check how easily you can get around)
> How to enjoy Venice in summer

On the Lido