Venice in summer? You must be mad, they tell you. It’s swamped with tourists - and the stench from the canals…puh!
I’ve fallen in love with Venice in every season – even when the rain has been sheeting down and we’ve had to teeter across Piazza San Marco on raised wooden walkways. In July, as the sun burnt mercilessly through the early morning mist on the lagoon, I jostled through the camera-clicking crowds – and sniffed. Nothing.
And it’s surprisingly easy to escape the throng. While tourists tramp the well-trodden trails, swarming like pollen-drunk bees, veer down any of the little alleyways and lose yourself in the watery labyrinth. The muffled silence of the dank passageways plunges you back in time. You’ll stumble upon hidden gems, secret gardens, tiny neighbourhood shops, as all around you water laps soporifically against the stones.
Meander mindlessly, crossing little bridges, until you come across locals spilling out of a rustic bacaro or bar. Stop and join them for cichetti – tapas-like snacks eaten standing up at the bar with an ombra, or small glass of wine. Venice is one of the most expensive places in Italy to eat, they sniff. Not if you follow the locals.
And forget about the wallet-mugging gondoliers gliding through the canals and cross the Grand Canal by traghetto. For a handful of loose change these public gondolas punt businessmen in suits, teenagers on their iPods, women laden with groceries – standing room only - across the Grand Canal.
As for the water taxis, they cost the earth – so take the bus.Hop on a vaporetto or waterbus. These ramshackle old boats zigzag down the Grand Canal, Venice's high street, past crumbling palazzi dating from the 12th to the 18th-centuries. The trip from Piazzale Roma to San Marco takes around half an hour and, at night, when the canal is floodlit, the architectural extravaganza is even more magical.