World

rediscover Venice and its lagoon

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A slightly milky atmosphere. A great silence. Small islands, each with its own history: San Servolo once housed a psychiatric hospital; San Clemente has long served as a stopover for pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land; Sacca Sessola, bought by a multinational company, recently saw its disused hospital transformed into a hotel complex; Poveglia is now abandoned and so on…

Here and there sandbanks arise and serve as refuge for migratory birds. The boats circulate within the fairway bordered by the “briccol”, these wooden posts that, connected by three, emerge from the water at regular intervals. Further on, on the right, many fishing huts on stilts.

If on the horizon, the bell tower of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice watches as usual, no “sea-going” disturbs the tranquility of the lagoon south of Venice: under Unesco pressure, the Italian government has finally banned the largest cruise ships from approaching from the heart of Venice. Since the summer of 2021, they have had to park far away, in the industrial port of Marghera.

While the traders admit they need to protect this shallow lagoon, they seem outraged by the decision. As a result, they get fewer customers and, moreover, they are deprived of the juicy clientele of mainly Chinese and Russian tourists.

The hustle is over

Stripped of the excessive influx of tourists caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Venice is once again pleasant to visit. At the beginning of spring, in the tourist “trough” that follows the Carnival organized in February and precedes the beginning of the summer season in May, it is also possible to visit St. to walk almost deserted by pigeons.

Likewise, you no longer have to queue when you sit on the terrace of the Florian, a famous cafe once frequented by illustrious writers. And after you reach the top (by elevator) of the Saint Marc clock tower rebuilt in 1912, it’s no longer an unattainable dream to take all your time to enjoy the beautiful 360-degree view of the city.

Finally, those who treat themselves to a gondola ride on the canals will not suffer from traffic jams on the river as before. However, the Grand Canal remains the main street of this lakeside town and the setting for the most beautiful palaces built, like those of the Doges, in brick and white Istrian stone.

The extraordinary golden mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica fascinate even those who have seen them several times. / Paula Boyer

In this context, there is hardly more than a small cruise ship like the M/S Michelangelo which, thanks to its shallow draft (1.3 metres), is still allowed to moor on the quays near the Arsenal, just 7 bridges from the square and the Basilica of San Marco.

Those who have difficulty walking will probably still find the distance considerable, just as they will find the walk through less-visited areas to Rialto Bridge the next day a bit demanding. Yet they take advantage of such a valuable privilege as the long boat trip south of Venice, in the lagoon. This is an opportunity to better understand why this region has always been the scene of an incessant battle between the sea, rivers and land. Why, too, their preservation is a growing concern.

Indeed, it silts up, Venice sinks and during the acque alt, more and more salt water eats into the ground floor. Fortunately, in 2020, the system of sunken levees, called Mose, showed its effectiveness in preventing floods from flooding the city of the Doges. Has Venice been saved? It would be presumptuous to say that.

Continue to Padova

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More classic, on the other hand, is navigation in the lagoon north of Venice. Those who board the M/S Michelangelo first discover Burano, the island of fishermen and lacemakers with colorful houses. In the Saint-Martin church is a “Crucifixion” painted by Le Tintoret, as beautiful as it is unknown.

The next step is Murano, the island of glass artists. Those who have already visited it will offer themselves a ticket from vaporetto (7.5 €) to return directly to the center of Venice, unless they prefer to slip away, always vaporettoto Torcello: the basilica and its Veneto-Byzantine mosaics bear witness to the illustrious past of this now sparsely populated island.

Since the 14th century, the relics of Saint Anthony have drawn millions of pilgrims to Padua / Paula Boyer

The next day the boat docks in Chioggia, a coastal town to take the bus to Padua, which was once part of the conquest of Venice on dry land. The relics of Saint Anthony are exhibited under the Byzantine domes of the beautiful basilica dedicated to the Santo

This city has been a student city since a university was founded in 1222 and it does not lack charm with its canals, its arcaded streets, its elegant cafes and, of course, its monuments, starting with the Scrovegni Chapel decorated with frescoes. the extraordinary Prato della Valle: this elliptical square is surrounded by a circular canal with statues. There is that of Galileo, a scientist who also met in Venice: it was on top of the bell tower of San Marco that he presented his astronomical telescope to the Senate and the Doge of the city on the lake. This had earned him the appointment of professor at the University of Padua.

► In practice

The Croisieurope company is relaunching its Venice cruises aboard its M/S Michelangelo† The sailing times do not exceed a few hours, but this modestly sized boat (154 passengers) makes it easy to discover the treasures of this mythical city, while approaching Italian gastronomy in small details.

5 days including 4 nights on board. From €595 (delivery to Venice not included). Tel: 0 826 101 234. Website: croisieurope.com