This was my third trip to Venice for Travel + Leisure magazine, and this time I came directly from the Paris fashion shows in order to save a trip across the Atlantic. Our crew—model, stylist, photographers—stayed at the Bauer Hotel in the center of town so we could easily reach all the locations our Italy correspondent, Valerie Waterhouse, covered in her April “T+L Guide to Venice.”

The first day of the shoot I was thrilled to see a new hotel in Valerie’s story called the Ca’ Sagredo. The beautifully restored monastery (think walls are covered with Renaissance art and crystal chandeliers dangling from the ceilings) has wonderful view of the Grand Canal and a grand stairway and drawing room, where we shot with the golden afternoon light. As usual, we had to keep a low profile and not disturb guests—which was tricky with all our equipment and clothing, but photo crews just forge quietly ahead.

Like with so many Venice spreads, it was imperative that we shoot in St. Mark’s Square—but the only way to avoid the crowds was to be ready to shoot at 6 a.m. Mary Wiles, the make-up and hair stylist and the model, Fabiane Nunes, were the first to get up and start working at the unfortunate hour of 5 a.m. I put Fabiane in a shirtdress from Hermes’ spring collection that I had just seen on the runway three days before. Off we went to bear the morning cold for as long as we could stand it, and as long as the light was right. After a freezing start in the square which included lots of pigeons—and huddling together for warmth—we stopped for breakfast at the Bauer.

Next we headed to a little square next to Venice’s opera house, Teatro La Fenice, where we did some shots of Fabiane, with the some waiters (from Ristorante al Teatro), sitting in the piazza looking very chic. Later we ate lunch at Vino Vino (cash only). My simple dish of pasta al pomodoro was divine, and the sun was shining down on us: it was a perfect day.

For dinner we wanted to find a place that only locals go. We set out with a map to find the concierge’s recommendation. We walked through foot wide alleyways, cobblestone streets, and little arched bridges that you only find in the fairytale city of Venice. At Taverna Del Campiello Remer, we sat at a long rustic wooden table and managed to order (no one spoke English there) a huge plate of prosciutto and parmigiano, family style. It was totally authentic—and just the experience we were looking for.

On the way back to the hotel we walked through St. Mark’s and heard an orchestra playing Chopin outside one of the restaurants in the square. Only in Venice.