Let us hop on a boat and visit the most famous islands of the Northern Lagoon: Murano and Burano await us! If time allows, let us also head over to Torcello, or to a small “hidden gem”: the island of San Francesco del Deserto. This tour of natural, ethnographic and cultural interest will take us to the brim of the Venetian Lagoon, in search of the many (sometimes contradictory) traces of its past and the overwhelming beauty of its Nature. An amazing experience, to enjoy at leisure for a whole day, slowly discovering one of the most extraordinary environments in the world, listed as UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987!
Like Venice, Murano too is a city built on tiny islands connected by a network of bridges and canals. Initially home only to fishermen, salt farmers and ferrymen, it began its ascent around the year 1291, as it was chosen to exclusively house the glass kilns of the venetian Lagoon. Ever since nicknamed “the island of fire”, Murano is still home to around 70 active furnaces, where the traditional glass blowing activity resists the advance of the mechanized world. Up to this day, the glass masters here keep blowing or hand-making beautiful vases, glasses, statues and chandeliers in classic/rococo style, or in rigorous contemporary forms by great furniture designers.
Upon disembarking on the island, we will stroll along Fondamenta dei Vetrai (home to the oldest furnaces of the island), avoiding the more commercial ones to cross the gates of a kiln usually closed to the public. Moving carefully so as not to interfere with its artisans’ work, we will see little masterpieces take shape in front of our eyes, shining with bright colors whose formulas have often been kept secret for generations!
We will then continue our visit to the old Murano city center (Campo San Stefano) with its characteristic clock tower and the Renaissance church of San Pietro Martire: a treasure chest of paintings by Veronese and Bellini. Crossing the bridge over Murano’s Grand Canal, we could then reach another jewel of the island: the Basilica of Santa Maria and Donato, famous for its splendid 11th Century floor mosaics. Animated by figures of animals, birds, mythological beasts and symbols whose meaning often remains unclear, these mosaics are just one of the many curiosities of the Basilica, considered the best example of Romanesque architecture in the Lagoon!
A miniature-sized Venice, much quieter popular, with tiny houses painted in bright colors and a dramatically leaning bell tower. A lively island prospering thanks to fishing and tourism, Burano still preserves its rhythms, traditions and (above all) its magical atmosphere, absolutely worth seeing!
Let us then venture along Burano’s tranquil streets and squares, surrounded by the colors of the fishermen’s houses (whose meaning we will discover little by little). Let us enjoy a delicious lunch in one of the many local restaurant, possibly treating ourselves with off-the-menu delicacies fished that very morning! Alternatively, let us relax with a lovely coffee break accompanied by a delicious ice cream or (even better!) the typical biscuits of the island, the “bussolà” and the “esse”. With a little luck, we will be able to meet an old lady who, sitting in front of her house door, still weaves a typical lace… Yes, the famous Burano lace. It is said that this craft was born from the genius of Burano’s women, trying to increase the meager income of their families. While men were out fishing (or during unlucky hunting seasons), they would support the local economy with their needle-work. In 16th Century, thanks to the support of the Doge’s wife and queens, lace went from being a simple domestic activity to real Art, flourishing for decades until the end of the Serenissima, when it got to the brink of extinction. Burano lace was saved in extremis by salvaging the knowledge of the only lace-maker left on the island … how? Well, find out during this tour!
The encounter with the one-time commercial capital of the Lagoon will surprise you. The rustic, at times almost desolated aspect of Torcello, makes it hard to believe that centuries ago this was a busy port city buzzing with thousands of inhabitants (of which nowadays only a handful remain)!
Isolated houses, bushes, a vegetable garden here and there … these are the only clues left of Torcello’s glorious past. This was probably one of the main islands where refugees from the mainland escaped the barbaric invasions, at the fall of the Roman Empire. Protected by the lagoon swamps, the exiles of Altino in particular found here a new haven. Starting as a poor community of fishermen, ferrymen and merchants, they slowly took advantage of the island’s strategic position (halfway between the Byzantine East and the ‘Roman-Barbarian West) to turn it into a flourishing commercial center … the most important of the ancient Lagoon actually!
Torcello will amaze us with its silence and surreal atmosphere. Walking through quiet streets still paved in bricks or gravel, we will discover the reasons why the island was gradually abandoned in favor of Venice, or the fate of its many churches, convents or buildings now replaced by the wilderness. We will meet the mysterious “Devil’s Bridge” and walk through the ruins of the city center, irresistibly attracted by the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, the oldest church in the Lagoon! We will admire the splendid shapes of the nearby Santa Fosca church, of Palazzo del Podestà and Palazzo dell’Archivio, perhaps also sitting on the famous “Attila’s throne”. Finally, we will discover why this small strip of land became the favorite refuge of the famous writer Ernest Hemingway. An incredible experience, a journey between the past and the present that only the less touristic islands can offer!
San Francesco del Deserto
As an alternative to Torcello, from Burano we can also easily reach the island of San Francesco del Deserto. Already aboard our boat we will recognize the rows of ancient cypress and pine trees of this island where, according to tradition, Saint Francis himself stopped on his way back from the Holy Land. At his death, the island (formerly known as “Due Vigne” – Two Vineyards) changed its name, becoming the site of a Franciscan convent still active to this today and whose history we will discover as we land on this small spiritual oasis. After having walked the long tree-lined avenue leading to the Convent entrance, we will be welcomed by one of the friars who live on the island to be guided though San Francesco’s church, bell tower, fascinating cloisters and more.
We will discover a truly enchanting place, subsequently returning to Venice filled with that same sense of peace e breathed on this little-known, but fascinating island.
DURATION: Full day (6-8 h).
PRICE 1-4 PEOPLE: 360€ total + boat transportation fee (for more information please contact me).
EVERY EXTRA PERSON: +20€ per person.
PICK UP: Hotel/Port/Airport/Train Station or at the meeting point of your choice.
PLEASE NOTE: Price does not include transportation fee, lunch, entrance ticket to Santa Maria Assunta’s complex (5€ per person c.a.) and the free donation to access San Francesco del Deserto island.