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Off-Season Venice


The lazy reverse S-curve of the Grand Canal divides Venice roughly in two, with the less-visited Dorsoduro section to the south and west. To reach the Dorsoduro, cross the Grand Canal on the Accademia Bridge. Bypass the long line waiting to get into the Accademia Gallery (go there early Sunday morning, when it's least crowded) and turn right onto Calle Contarini, then cross over Rio di San Trovaso.

Where Rio di San Trovaso meets Rio della Toletta, you can check out one of Venice's best lodging bargains, the Pensione Accademia (Fondamenta Bollani, Dorsoduro 1058; 521-0578 or 523-7846, fax 523-9152; doubles from $106). Housed in the graceful old Villa Maravege and set amid an atmospheric walled garden, the hotel is a favorite of the Room with a View crowd of Brits and scholars; it's often booked months in advance.

Follow the meandering Calle Toletta west and then north until you reach Campo San Barnaba, a large dignified square free from the touristy trash of San Marco. Behind a newspaper stand at the plaza's southwest corner is Enoteca Randon (Dorsoduro 2850/2853; 522-4410), a shop that stocks wine, pasta, truffles, and the best olive oils in Venice, which are as sought-after as rare vintages. Try the Corte Sant'Alda, made from olives of the Veneto region (about $15 a bottle). You might have lunch at the small, unassuming but superb Trattoria La Furatola (Calle lunga San Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2870; 520-8594; lunch for two $88) on the narrow street running west from the enoteca. You'll want to reserve a table, but arrive promptly: the owner is famously impatient, and will give away your table even though Italy is hardly the homeland of punctuality. Try the astonishingly fresh seafood salad appetizer or the perfectly grilled bronzino (sea bass).

Farther west along Calle lunga San Barnaba you'll reach Calle della Pazienza. Turn right, cross the canal, and walk north until you reach the 17th-century Scuola Grande dei Carmini (Campo Carmini; 528-9420). The six great Venetian scuole were not schools but more like civic clubs. Most tourists will be familiar with the Scuola Grande di San Rocco and its famous Tintorettos, but few know the Carmini and its stunning grisaille-painted stairway, its sumptuous Tiepolo ceilings, and some of the most magnificent boiserie in the city.

Directly across from the Carmini, Vini Sfusi (Calle della Chiesa, Dorsoduro 2897; 523-1979) offers cheap but quite decent wine from the cask. It's only about $2 a liter, but you have to bring your own container. Moving into the adjacent Campo Santa Margherita, stop and check out the small stone kiosk in the plaza. This 18th-century gem, now vacant, was once a fish market; the inscription on its side lists the minimum sizes for the kinds of fish that were brought here to be sold.

Backtrack to Calle della Pazienza, turn right at Calle lunga San Barnaba, cross the canal, and walk west along Calle Avogaria to the Church of San Sebastiano (Campo San Sebastiano). Its majestic ceiling, by Veronese, was the artist's first commission in Venice, and he is buried at the church. Across from the entrance is a rare modern masterpiece in this historic city: the façade of an old University of Venice building (Dorsoduro 1687) that was redesigned by Italy's greatest postwar architect, Carlo Scarpa. Using the same Istrian stone found on the Doge's Palace, he gave new life to a proud and ancient building tradition. The façade's powerful simplicity shows why, since his death in 1976, Scarpa has become a cult figure among his fellow architects.

Good dining choices nearby include Trattoria Anzolo Raffael (Campo Angelo Raffaele, Dorsoduro 1722; 523-7456; lunch for two $42), an inexpensive fish restaurant; and Ristorante Riviera (Zattere, Dorsoduro 1473; 522-7621; lunch for two $82), with some of the best pasta in Venice-- unlike many other restaurants, they make their own. If you're too tired to walk back to your hotel, there are two convenient vaporetto stops near Ristorante Riviera.


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