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March 5, 2024

Insider Venice: History, Art, Interiors, Wine & the Lagoon

One of the world’s most uniquely beautiful cities, Venice, Italy, has been enchanting visitors for centuries with its legendary beauty, culture and history. While the founding date is lost to time (scholars estimate the fifth century), Venice rose out of the water to become a dominant maritime power and one of the wealthiest cities in medieval and Renaissance Europe. 

Artisans of Leisure arranges private insider tours of Venice that feature the highlights of its romantic canals, ornate architecture, iconic landmarks and lesser-known gems such as palaces with sumptuous interiors, traditional craft workshops and tranquil islands in the Venetian Lagoon.

Our favorite insider highlights of Venice that we can include in any of our private Italy tours include:

Iconic Landmarks 

Our expert local guides take our travelers to explore the iconic landmarks of Venice, notably Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), a vast colonnaded square at the heart of the city known for the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, the campanile (bell tower) and many historic cafes and upscale boutiques. 

The Doge’s Palace, the pink-and-white crenelated palace-museum, was the former home of the Doges of Venice (the leading political official) and the political and ceremonial heart of the Venetian Republic from the 14th to the 18th centuries. The architecture is an incredible blend of Byzantine, Moorish and Italian Renaissance influences. 

Expert local guides take our travelers through the opulent interiors of the Doge’s former apartments, ballrooms, former government offices, meetings halls filled with works of art… 

…and across the iconic Bridge of Sighs that connects the palace to the former prisons.

Adjacent to the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica is a stunning example of Byzantine architecture adorned with shimmering mosaics. Upon request, Artisans of Leisure can arrange an after-hours tour of the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica.   

The iconic Rialto Bridge is a 16th-century landmark known for its design, the oldest of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal.

Nearby is the Rialto Market, Venice’s main produce market since the Middle Ages. 

Highlights of Venice

Still frequented by locals and restaurant chefs, the Rialto Market is a colorful place to catch a glimpse of local life. 

The renowned opera house, Teatro La Fenice, a world-class destination for opera and classical music since the 18th century, is a must for travelers interested in music. Upon request, Artisans of Leisure can arrange VIP tickets to performances.

Also not be missed is a gondola ride through the canals. An iconic symbol of Venice, the elegant, asymmetrical boats are thought to have been used to navigate the canals since the 11th century.

We also arrange private luxury boat charters around Venice and the Venetian Lagoon.

We take our travelers past the iconic landmarks to explore daily life in the backstreets of Venice, where laundry dries on clotheslines, children play soccer in quiet campi (squares) and deliveries arrive by boat.

Traditional Crafts: Glass, Silk, Paper & More 

One of the highlights of Venice is privately touring crafts studios and browsing historic specialty shops. Venice has a rich tradition of exquisite craftsmanship, including glass, mosaics, gold, paper and textiles, that reflects the Venetian Republic’s history as a Mediterranean maritime power that controlled trade routes between Europe and Central Asia.

Imported luxury goods like silks, glass, inlaid metalwork, and illuminated manuscripts were incorporated into local crafts traditions, resulting in a unique, enduring Venetian aesthetic. 

We take travelers to meet master artisans who still use centuries-old traditional methods, such as weavers, glassblowers, goldbeaters, woodcarvers, and gondola builders. Going behind the scenes at a traditional goldbeater’s workshop, watching textile artisans use 18th-century looms, or visiting a squero (Venetian boatyard) to learn about how the iconic gondolas are crafted make for an incredible first-hand experience of the city’s crafts heritage. 

For interested travelers, we can also arrange hands-on private lessons in traditional crafts, such as glassmaking or creating a custom Venetian carnival mask.

We also take travelers to our favorite luxury shops and traditional ateliers to purchase upscale Venetian items, such as furlane (stylish gondolier slippers) handmade by the same company since the 1950s…

…handcrafted mirrors, prints and luxury silks and velvets from heritage textile brands like Fortuny, Rubelli and Bevilacqua.

The Venetian Lagoon

A private day excursion to the enchanting islands of the Venetian Lagoon is one of the top highlights of Venice. Rich in history and traditional craftsmanship, the islands offer travelers an incredible overview of Venetian culture. We arrange for private transfers by luxury boat to Murano and Burano, and the lesser-known islands of Torcello and Mazzorbo. 

Murano has been famous for glass since 1291, when glass production moved to the island to protect trade secrets (and as a fire precaution). We take our travelers to a renowned glass factory for a private glassblowing demonstration, including a hands-on experience…

…and exclusive shopping in showrooms that are not open to the general public. We can also arrange private appointments at a renowned glass company founded in 1295 that still operates in a palace on Murano.  

The nearby island of Burano is as renowned for its brightly colored houses as for its long-established tradition of lacemaking. 

We arrange for travelers to watch artisans creating high-quality Burano lace, visit the lace museum (Museo del Merletto) and browse upscale shops. 

One of our favorite experiences in the Venetian Lagoon is an exclusive wine tasting, vineyard tour and gourmet lunch on the quiet island of Mazzorbo. Experiencing the acclaimed Dorona wine grown exclusively around Venice is ideal for wine enthusiasts and any travelers interested in history, artisan crafts and culinary touring.

The Murano glass bottles with gold labels handcrafted by a renowned Venetian goldbeater are collector’s items.

Settled in the fifth century, the small island of Torcello in the northern lagoon was a thriving town and powerful trading center in the early Middle Ages. The population started declining in the 14th century as people relocated to Venice; today, less than 100 people live on the island and most of the land is a nature reserve.

Aside from its tranquil, atmospheric charm, Torcello is known for the spectacular Byzantine mosaics in the seventh-century Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell’Assunta, the oldest surviving building in the lagoon.

We always enjoy having lunch on Torcello at Locanda Cipriani, the rustic inn where Ernest Hemingway wrote Across the River and Into the Trees, or another favorite restaurant hidden away in a quiet garden.

Art, Architecture & Interiors

The colorful, ornate Venetian Gothic architecture that characterizes the cityscape aesthetic is a spectacular combination of Italian Renaissance, Byzantine and Islamic influences. 

We take travelers to see our favorite examples of Venetian architecture and splendid interiors that capture a sense of aristocratic life in the Venetian Republic.

The city’s renowned art museums and churches with notable works by Venetian masters such as Bellini, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Titian reflect the city’s rich artistic legacy. With contemporary art venues and the Venice Biennale, one of the world’s oldest and largest contemporary art exhibitions, Venice is also a leading destination for world-class modern and contemporary art.

Highlights of private art touring in Venice include the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the former home of the collector and socialite filled with outstanding examples of 20th-century art.

Nearby is the Gallerie dell’Accademia, which exhibits a vast collection of Venetian masterpieces spanning the 13th to 17th centuries. 

Other highlights include the Pinault Collection (split between two venues, the Palazzo Grassi and Punta Della Dogana, a former customs house), Fondazione Prada, Ca’ Rezzonico, the Fortuny Museum and the Correr Museum.

Artisans of Leisure arranges tickets to the Venice Biennale, private transfers to venues such as the Arsenale di Venezia and the Giardini della Biennale and private touring with specialist guides.

Venetian Cuisine & Legendary Cafes

Venetian cuisine centers around the lagoon’s bounty and often incorporates rice produced on the mainland. Artisans of Leisure arranges private culinary touring in Venice, including street food tours, including our favorite local bacari (typical bars) for a glass of Veneto wine and savory cicchetti (Venetian tapas), market tours and private cooking classes to learn how to make Venetian specialties. 

We always love stopping iconic cafes like Caffe Florian, a historic coffeehouse in Piazza San Marco with stunning interiors. Founded in 1720, it’s the oldest coffee shop in continuous operation in Italy. Former patrons include Charles Dickens, Lord Byron and Marcel Proust.

We also enjoy stopping for an aperitivo in classic bars like the opulent Bar Longhi in the Gritti Palace…

…and Harry’s Bar near Piazza San Marco. An institution since the 1930s, it’s known for creating the Bellini cocktail and has a storied clientele that includes luminaries such as Hemingway, Peggy Guggenheim, Truman Capote and Jimmy Stewart. 

For travelers on our private Venice tours, we make reservations at the city’s best restaurants, including celebrated Michelin-starred fine dining establishments…

…gourmet restaurants with incredible views and insider local spots.

Luxury Hotels

Our favorite luxury hotels in Venice, which we include in our private Venice tours, capture a sense of the city’s iconic style, rich heritage, and superb service.

One of our top favorite hotels in Venice is Hotel Cipriani, a Belmond Hotel. Located across the lagoon from Piazza San Marco on the island of Giudecca, the Cipriani is a glamorous resort with tranquil gardens (including its own vineyard), an Olympic-sized pool, Michelin-starred dining and sweeping views of Venice.

The surrounding neighborhood on Giudecca offers travelers a sense of a timeless, untouched Venice away from the crowds.

Other favorite luxury hotels in Venice include the Gritti Palace, a 15th-century palazzo and former home of the doge Andrea Gritti…

…and the Aman Venice, located in a spectacular 16th-century palazzo near the Rialto Bridge.

Interiors balance contemporary furnishings with Murano chandeliers, gilt mirrors and Rubelli wall coverings. 

Contact Artisans of Leisure to begin planning a private Italy tour featuring the cultural highlights of Venice.

Destinations:  Europe, Italy

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