Apartment swap; Venice addresses

Copyright Millie Brown

I was packing for Venice!

An email had just arrived from my dear friend Helen who lives most happily between Venice and Australia, 6 months in Venice from spring to Autumn and back to Australia for its warmer months.

She had the wonderful idea of swapping homes for a week, I would fly to Venice and stay with her for a night and the next day after we had enjoyed a good catch up she would take my apartment keys and a plane to Paris.

For the one afternoon and evening that we had together in Venice Helen ran me around like the local that she is and I was immediately under the spell of La Serenissima once again. At that time it had been two years since I had spent any time  in Italy and probably 20 years since I had visited Venice.

I have since been lucky enough to have been able to return to Venice a number of times, even taking the train from Florence for a day trip just to experience and see Venice in all its Carnival glory. A huge photo opportunity if ever there is one.

Helen's recommendations

St Marks square at night (Piazza San Marco)

Helen led me to  St Marks square  at night, it was only around 8 o’clock but there was hardly a soul on the streets, (it was the last week in September) and I had  absolutely no idea what we were heading for. That was until we turned the corner and my re-introduction to this beautiful space quite literally took my breath away.  The sheer beauty of the Cathedral with its magnificent mosaic  facade, and the grandeur of the square itself is amplified tenfold by the soft lights and the still of night.

If you have the opportunity to experience St Marks square at night after the crowds have disappeared, do it, it is such a very different experience than the one you will have sharing it with thousands of others during the day.

Entry to St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)

Helen had left me with a very ‘handy’ piece of knowledge that saved me quite literally at least an hours wait in a queue.

There is no church that will refuse a person the opportunity for prayer and so there is usually an entrance to accommodate these people, and it is usually located to the side and away from the mile long queue that is common in many of the busy and large Cathedrals.  If you do not speak the language the sign for prayer is universal and always understood.  If you feel that you would like to take the time for prayer look for this door and you will be allowed entry without queuing. More information here.


When crossing certain canals in Venice stand up with the locals in a traghetto (much more fun than a vaporetto).   My first traghetto experience was crossing the grand canal on the San Sofia Traghetto to get to the fabulous and vibrant Rialto food and fish market.

Coffee Standing at the bar in the gorgeous Cafe Florian – St Marks Square

I didn’t stand, my feet need resting occasionally, so I sat snuggled into a corner of one of the intimate and gorgeously decorated  rooms where I soaked up the warmth of the coffee, the pastries and the atmosphere. Simply divine and I didn’t care what it cost! 

Scuola grande di San Rocco

Visit the Scuola di San Rocco, it was a confraternity or lay brotherhood and was formed in the 15th Century to help those affected by the plague and give comfort to the poor.  It is lavishly decorated with canvases by one of Venice’s greatest Renaissance artists Tintoretto.  He completed an extraordinary series of religious works throughout the many rooms of the Scuola between 1564 and 1588.

Campo San Rocco, San Polo

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Is one of Venice’s most important Basilicas because of  the wealth of art that is found here, including Titan’s Altarpiece of the Assumption ( a masterpiece of the high Renaissance), a wooden statue of St John the Baptist by Donatello and paintings by Bellini (one of Venice’s most famous painters). It is also the burial place for Francesco Foscari (one of the most powerful and important Doges of Venice, 1423 – 1457) as well as Titan himself who died of the plague in 1576.

Campo dei Frari

Nico’s gelato

Head for the Fondamenta Zattere on the Giudecca canal in the Dorsoduro area to stop and choose one of Nico’s wonderful gelati.  Enjoy it while making your way to the Punta della Dogana Center of Contemporary Art (which houses modern artworks from the Francois Pinault Foundation). This space was formerly the old customs building and was renovated by the Japanese Architect Tadao Ando. Apparently the restoration was done in 18 months.

Best Coffee and Croissants (Cornetti) Caffè del Doge

Helen took me here on my first morning and I returned every day after that! Only in Italy can they make a coffee as good as this and the cornetti alla crema are sensational. The café is located very close to the Rialto bridge, tucked away in a tiny little alleyway called Calle dei Cinque in San Palo, if you cross over the bridge from the San Marco side turn left and it is the 3rd alleyway on your right and down 50 metres or so on the right. Ask one of the waiters from the restaurants if you can’t find it.

Cantina Do Mori for Italian tapas (cicchetti) and a glass of wine

Wonderful atmospheric wine bar,  again very close to the Rialto bridge. It’s a great place to stop for a minute or an hour. When I was there it seemed to be full of locals, they can down their wine and cicchetti while standing at the bar nearly as quickly as their morning coffee!   I, however took my time and loved it. Situated in Calle do Mori or Calle Galiazza in San Palo (two entrances). In the area just behind the Rialto market.

An Angel on the facade of the Doge’s Palace

Take the ‘Secret’ tour of the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)

You will need to book in advance for this one (as I found out) , you can book online or if you are in a hotel they may be able to get you tickets.

Unlike the regular tour the secret tour takes you to many of the hidden passages and rooms of this palazzo from where the Doges ruled the Republic of Venice for hundreds of years.  It will also give you an insight into some of the darker secrets of Medieval and Renaissance Venice. More Information and tickets here.

I could go on and on, however I simply have to end somewhere!

Thank you Helen and Marco for having loaned me your wonderful home and for having given me the gift of one glorious week in Venice.

Millie xx

Recommended Reading 

A History of Venice - John Julius Norwich

Journey from Venice – Ruth Cracknell

Venice – Jan Morris

Paris Map

Street map Venice Italy