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Travel & Holiday

Chic and cheap in Venice

Tips to great deals in stays, food and transport that save you a bundle
The Straits Times - October 4, 2011
By: Sandra Davies
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Chic and cheap in Venice Gondola rides are popular with tourists in Venice but they do not come cheap. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

A week in Venice? Did you strike 4-D and not tell us? That was what a colleague of mine asked when I told her of my recent holiday in Venice.

But, as I told her, a holiday in Venice can be quite affordable.

The trick is to assume the life of a regular Venetian. Besides, it is a more authentic way to experience a city that attracts about 16 million visitors a year.

Sleeping

First, accommodation. As with pretty much every tourist destination, the closer you get to the must-see sights in a city, the higher the hotel prices get.

In Venice, that means the further you get from the Piazza San Marco, the better the deals are. Even then, a modest three-star hotel room easily exceeds €150 (S$262) a day.

One sure way to cut costs is to opt for an apartment. There are many for rent just a 15-minute walk from Piazza San Marco. Most of them accommodate at least four, if not six persons if you count the sofa bed in the living room.

The last one I rented in the Dorsoduro district, just a two-minute walk from the Accademia museum, cost €800 a week for a two-bedroom apartment, which had ample room for four people.

But there are many other sites that also advertise apartments for rent from €600 to €800 a week.

I booked mine through The Venetian Club (www.thevenetianclub.co.uk), started by a group of people who promote conservation tourism and who are dedicated to saving the traditional crafts of the city such as bead-making and book-binding.

Do the sums and it works out to a little more than €110 a day, divided among four people. That is about €30 each, more affordable than a room for two in a bed and breakfast that costs €150 a day, or €75 a person.

Eating

Again, do as the Venetians do and eat at wine bars, or 'bacari' as they are called. These bars often offer a selection of simple, tasty finger-food appetisers.

The 'cicheti', literally small plates, range from tasty little sandwiches to scrumptious seafood morsels speared on toothpicks. Some of them such as prosciutto, cheese and artichokes will be immediately familiar to visitors, but don't forget to try local favourites such as grilled or roasted seppie (cuttlefish), sardelle in saor (fried sardines marinated in vinegar and onions), polpettine (Venetian meatballs) and baccala mantecato, a local favourite consisting of codfish beaten into a creamy paste. Typically, they cost between €1 and €3.

They are best downed with an 'ombra' or shadow, the evocative local term for a glass of wine. Prices start at about €1 a glass and go up to €5 for a taste of an Amarone or Barolo.

Also, try the classic Venetian aperitivo, a mixture of white wine, soda water and a liqueur, Aperol or Campari. It's usually served with ice and a slice of orange.

Bacari are sprinkled throughout the city but one of the best is the Cantinone gia Schiavi (992 Ponte San Trovaso, tel: +39-041-523-0034) in Dorsoduro near the church of San Trovaso. On a sunny day, the crowd spills out onto the canalside walk and the adjacent bridge.

If you want a sit-down meal, learn the differences between a pizzeria, a trattoria and a ristorante. A pizzeria will be your most inexpensive choice, while a ristorante will be the most expensive. A trattoria falls somewhere in between.

Another way to save costs: Look for establishments that post a tourist menu outside. You often get a fixed-price three- or four-course meal for much less than if you order from the a la carte menu.

Venice also has many picnic spots and behind its palaces and museums are 21st-century conveniences such as supermarkets. Billa is a popular chain of grocery stores which stock fresh produce, breads and wines. Rustle up a picnic there and then catch a water bus to the Giardini Pubblici (public gardens) past the Arsenale water bus stop.

Seeing

If you are content to merely wander the streets and absorb the city's magical atmosphere, Venice may be one of the cheapest cities to visit.

For most visitors, Piazza San Marco is a must-see and one way to see it is to take an elevator ride for €8 to the top of the 98.5m bell tower (campanile) in the square. The view is superb, taking in the Lido, the whole lagoon and, on a clear day, the Dolomites mountains in the distance.

In the summer months of July to September, it is open till 8pm but only till 4 or 5pm during other months.

Another free tourist attraction is the Basilica at San Marco which boasts beautiful mosaic works. You can bypass the long line to get inside by reserving an entry time online for €1 at www.venetoinside.com.

Of course, the best freebie in Venice just requires that you can walk. Wandering the streets and getting lost in the canal city costs you only time.

Peer into the buildings and you will come to appreciate Venice as an engineering marvel where marble palaces and churches are built on top of ancient posts driven deep into the mud banks.

The city's labyrinth of narrow side streets and footbridges offers an opportunity to leave the crowds behind and discover the real way of life in Venice.

In the narrow calli (alleyways), you will glimpse artisans decorating carnival masks with gold leaf and craftsmen creating colourful marbled paper. And if you are lucky, you may even chance upon a 'squero' or gondola yard, where you will see how the narrow, long boats are made, like the one just a five-minute walk from the Accademia museum in Dorsoduro.

Museum entry fees are usually very affordable, and besides their collections ranging from the Renaissance period to modern works, you also get to marvel at the interiors of the grand palaces and buildings.

At the Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum in the Dorsoduro district (www.guggenheim-venice.it), you can chronicle the modern art movement from Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism, with a subtext of the wealthy American art collector's romantic pursuits - the collection includes key works by her ex-husband Max Ernst and Jackson Pollock, one of her many rumoured lovers.

The Palazzo Grassi (www.palazzograssi.it), which has an outstanding contemporary art collection in a Baroque palace, is also not be missed.

Talking of contemporary art, the biggest and most flashy modern art show, the Venice Biennale, is on now until Nov 27. Tickets are €12 for students, €16 for senior citizens, €20 for adults and €40 for families with two adults and two kids. Go to www.labiennale.org for details.

But for those on a lean budget, many of the country pavilions are set in churches and palaces with free admission, including the Singapore pavilion this year. The video installation piece The Cloud Of Unknowing by Singapore artist Ho Tzu Nyen can be viewed at the historic church, Salone di Ss. Filippo e Giacomo Del Museo Diocesano di Venezia, just a five-minute walk from San Marco Square.

Don't forget to wander over to the Rialto Market and the Rialto Bridge, the main bridge crossing the Grand Canal in the heart of Venice, which is over 400 years old.

The Rialto Market is an interesting and lively food market where you can marvel at a dozen varieties of tomatoes and deep purple artichokes.

Forget the gondola ride if you are on a budget. The base rate for a gondola ride is €80 for 40 minutes.

Instead, take the water bus or vaporetto down the Grand Canal at sunset instead and watch this unique city turn on its magic.

Travelling

The city's main mode of public transport is the vaporetto. Tickets can be purchased from the helloVenezia ticket booths (www.hellovenezia.com) at most landing stations.

The best transportation bargain comes with the so-called Venice Card, a one-, three- or seven-day ticket that lets you float freely around the lagoon, and offers discounts on major exhibits, some bars and restaurants and entrance into several churches.

Prices vary for the card, depending on the services and length of stay. Check them out at www.venicecard.com.

Use the gondolas called traghetti if you need to get across the Grand Canal rather than along it. The shuttle across the Grand Canal at several crossing points costs just half a euro a person.

 

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