A philanthropist, lawyer, art curator and collector and artist herself, Countess Chiara Modica Donà dalle Rose, who hosts a Foundation and many art events in her palace in Venice, reveals how to become a real insider in Venice, out of the beaten paths. (Photo credits Marc de Tollenaere)
Why do you like Venice?
I was born in Venice and spent the first part of my life there, my roots are in Venice. Like all people affected by insularity there is a time when, in order to grow and deal with life, one must travel, study elsewhere, and then return with greater awareness. The return then becomes saltier and at the same time sweeter. I have travelled so much for study, work and love. I have also betrayed Venice for another island, Ile Saint Louis in Paris, and later for a much larger one, my beloved Sicily. Venice is where I prefer to return after each trip though. Venice is made on a human scale, a place where time regains its full value. The nakedness of the means of transportation, the calibrating of time to one’s potential human pace is the first thing, among many others, I love about Venice, along with the game of reflections that the lagoon and the sky offer every day, in a magical setting. Here it is easier to take the inner path, to investigate oneself, between the silence of the calli and the rumble of one’s steps in the depths of one’s soul.
A place to visit?
The island of San Lazzaro, between the 12th and 16th centuries was a leper colony, called “Lazzaretto”. In the first half of the 1700s it became the Island of the Armenians, as the mother house of the monastic congregation of the Mechitarists, who took refuge in Venice while fleeing Ottoman rule. The place is unique. I go there very often by myself in my little boat. Here I find Friar Axel who leads me into the silence of the museum rooms and the incredible library, where I discover something new every time. I return with a jar of delicious rose jam made by the monks with flowers from the island.
You can’t say you know Venice if you haven’t visited the islands of the Northern Lagoon, from Torcello to Murano with their precious and ancient basilicas, where the real Venice started. Spend a long and beautiful day to visit the furnaces on the island of Murano, where blown glass has been made every day for centuries. Each forge has its own peculiarity, they all deserve to be visited. Visit Burano to discover the ancient art of lace making, and why not, if you have time enroll in the many courses that are offered by Venetian docs.
Best moment of the day?
I personally love sunrise, wherever I am in Venice, Palermo, Siena, Milan, Porto Venere, Cyprus, Paris or Porto Rotondo. The first light of day is my best time for everything, just everything!
A relaxing break?
I recommend a bike ride to Lido di Venezia or the island of Sant’Erasmo. Or just take a train to Abano Terme, where you can savour the pleasure of thermal treatments and spas.
An unforgettable experience?
In addition to the Gondola, I think the experience of rowing Venetian style, learning to stir the branch balanced on the wooden fork in the water, is really worthwhile. An incredible scent of linseed oil is released and stays in your hands for days. Get initiated into rowing in classic Venetian boats such as Pupparino, the Mascheretta and the Sandalo. A baptism to become true Venetians is to participate to the Voga Longa: the second week of July boats from all over the world circumnavigate, without engines, the Northern Lagoon, starting from St. Mark’s basin. Not to mention the Feast of Health that Redeemer, during the third weekend of July, when the whole basin fills with a carpet of boats waiting for the annual fireworks display. I also recommend a tour by gulet and in particular the Lycian Princess, moored in the beautiful Marina di Sant’Elena to leave for a surreal journey, touching the beauty of St. Mark’s Basin and the entire estuary of Venice, sipping good wine, munching on good Veneto cheese.
The essence of Venice?
Close your eyes and let the sound of the Lagoon carry you; the Rialto Bridge market early in the morning; the music of Venetian dialect in the areas of Cannaregio and Castello; play with the reflections of the water on the walls and gazing at the Venetian sky with the spirit and wonder of a child, the same that inspired the great painters of the Venetian Renaissance.
A fun evening?
At the Hotel Aquarius Venice, on Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, in the beating heart of Venice, in an atmosphere that is young and old at the same time, surrounded by striking contemporary artworks. Here they organise very nice Aperijazz. The Ghetto area, along the Rio della Misericordia, is scattered with fun little places where you can eat well and listen to good music.
An unforgettable dish?
At Ristorante Algiubagio in Fondamenta Nove, the dessert dedicated to street artist Banksy is itself a work of art of flavours. It’s like eating your dreams.
The most beautiful view?
Venice seen from the Lagoon, whether north, west, east or south is all to be seen and discovered.
I recommend a dip at the beach of Bacan, in front of the Island of Sant’Erasmo, to be reached by boat or vaporetto. Check the tide, it’s a magic moment, when the sea water, entering from the port bowls, meets the water of the Lagoon. In comparison, the sea water is very clean and crystal clear. If, you are looking for a more elegant location, I suggest you book a hut on the Lido at the Des Bains 1900 or the Excelsior Hotel. The treat of treats is to swim around the island of Pellestrina, at the far southeastern end of the Lagoon, and as the sun goes down, pastry some good wine and typical dishes at the trattoria Da Celeste.
Hotel of the heart?
The Metropole: each room is different and is carefully decorated in an eclectic and artistic way in order to enjoy the view of St. Mark’s Basin and the Riva degli Schiavoni, near the well-known Hotel Danieli. On the Grand Canal, I recommend the striking Hotel Centurion instead. But I also love very much Excess Venice and Giorgione, two hotels somewhat defiladed from the beaten paths. I would also recommend the Grand Hotel Palazzo dei Dogi and both the NH and the Hyatt Centric in Murano. In all of these hotels like in the Hotel Aquarius you can experience an ancient and elegant atmosphere, sensitive to contemporary art.
Buy the original furlane from La Peppa in Salizada San Francesco, in the heart of the old Castello district. They have been selling them for generations at this incredible haberdashery, in large wicker baskets. From typical slippers of the Friulian peasant world, they have now become the most popular shoes in Venice, gondoliers as well as by fashionistas around the world with beautiful new brands that trace their history from Cinderella of shoes to true princesses. At La Peppa you can find the most unexpected items, from paint pigments, buttons, home or body products, stationery.