My first encounter of La Serenissima was on a misty winter’s day just after Christmas, in the 1980s with a Milanese family friend. It was a tantalising taste, and I vowed to return.
Some five years later, I found myself at the opening week of the Art Biennale known as the Vernissage with my father, Claude, where we delighted in the energy and magnetism that characterises the wonderland world of Venice at full art throttle.
Ever since, in my role Art Advisor, my Venetian adventures have been intertwined with a ‘pilgrimage’ to the Biennale (which runs until the end of this month). On each occasion the city imparts another perspective, another hue, spoiling me with a rich retinue of memories and experience upon which to add to my Venetian arsenal of wonder – a sample of which I share in some highlights below.
VISIT • PALAZZO FORTUNY
Art Museums figure prominently on my list of things to do in Venice, and the Palazzo Fortuny is exquisitely intriguing. Its 19th century fabric draped interiors transport you to an otherwise inaccessible past. The museum is renowned for thoughtful and intelligently curated exhibitions that bring the collection of Mariano Fortuny (fashion designer, architect, inventor and all-round polymath) into conversation with works drawn from institutions and private collections from all over the world. It has the magical ability to cast you simultaneously in the past and the present, and as both into a reflective and interrogative space it is very much a trip of the mind as much as it is a rich visual and visceral experience.
Witness the eloquent architectural language of of architect Tadao Ando within the robust and atmospheric walls of 17th century customs house. This incredibly spacious and handsome venue provides the platform for engaging exhibitions of contemporary works from Francois Pinault’s immense and burgeoning art vault. Punta della Dogana represents the new energy in Venice and it joins the growing presence of contemporary museums and foundations that are recalibrating the spirit of an historical city and renewing its cultural vigour.
Equally, a visit to the Gallerie dell’Accademia is a must to behold works by Hieronymous Bosch and the magnificent Renaissance paintings of the Venetian masters Bellini, Carpaccio and Tintoretto. The contrasts between the classic and the contemporary art museums makes for a sensational and thought provoking dynamic.
Aside from the classic and essential activities of museum and church hopping, bacari (bar) assignations to sample appetisers like ‘cichetti’, the walking, getting lost and walking, I would suggest the following:
– Push pause on the cultural and culinary button and simply enjoy riding bikes at the Lido (a sandbar island) and relaxing on the beach.
– Experience a sung Mass at the chapel within Basilica di San Marco (Sundays 10.30am) and the beautiful Gregorian chants at Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore on the island of San Giorgio (Sundays 11am) and then climb the tower to embrace the magnificent vista of La Serenissima.
SHOP • MARINA E SUSANNA SENT
Their jewellery and Objets d’Art reveal the special properties of glass in a fluid and elegant language that embodies a contemporary aesthetic. Steeped in the traditions and magical methods of Murano magic, the sisters bend glass to create eye-catching, distinctive, sculptural jewellery and sumptuous glass vessels to adorn your modernist home.
The factory showroom in Guidecca is textile nirvana with the most beautiful textures and intoxicating colours that you could ever imagine, as well as handsome lighting designs that have become 20th century classics. Secrets abound here, from the 100-year-old fabric methods developed by Mariano Fortuny, which are still proudly kept under close wraps to the rare garden hidden from public view.
DINE • OSTERIA SAN MARCO
This restaurant and wine bar is a haven from the tourist traps that pepper the popular sestiere of San Marco, offering authentic yet modern Italian cuisine. My close second would be Co Vino and, if you’re in search of a vegetarian option La Zucca is wonderful.
STAY • CASA FLORA VENEZIA
Venetian Hotels have long been attuned to a more classical wavelength, whatever their rating and degree of luxe. Recently, however there has been a discernible trend towards new ventures that bring a modern edge and attitude. Casa Flora in San Marco represents an exciting new direction, and is a hybrid of boutique hotel and stylish apartment where every object and piece of furniture has been made by Italian designers and Venetian artisans. (You can bring the design experience home too, as everything can be bought through their online shop). Your curated engagement can be extended further with the option to enjoy cooking classes onsite, or maybe a private chef holds greater appeal? Or perhaps a visit by a master shoemaker to create some bespoke footwear – what’s not to love!
This hotel holds particular appeal during the Biennale Vernissage (the three-day preview) as you can enjoy a cocktail with the hip art crowd at the luxuriant Art Deco B Bar, and then tiptoe a mere few steps on your tired tootsies to your room after a day of punishing pounding on the Venetian pathways. The next morning, another spectacle awaits you – breakfast on the balcony overlooking the fabled Grand Canal, where behind dark sunglasses you can discretely observe the elegantly attired guests and just chill before you kick into the overdrive that you may need to cram in Venice’s myriad delights. It is glamour on your doorstep.
Find out more in Sophie Ullin’s amazing hardcover, ‘The Venice Book’ . Published by Thames and Hudson, it is available here (RRP $39. 99), as well as at all good book shops nationally. Sophie also post images of Venice and all her art adventures on her Instagram, here.