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The Venice Lagoon by Pénichette

The Venice Lagoon by Pénichette

Emmanuelle Jary - 2008-06-16

It’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation. Without the lagoon, Venice would not be Venice but without Venice, the lagoon would not be a lagoon. 550 km² of water – in other words one of the biggest lagoons in the world: a watery setting for this human miracle of a city. Apologies for the cliché, but that is indeed what it is – a human miracle. Venice is beautiful because it reigns supreme in the midst of a liquid mirror, surrounded by small bucolic islands.

Visiting the Venice lagoon by Pénichette® allows you to explore this territory of land and water that is largely inaccessible without a boat.
 
In the north of the lagoon, the island of San Francesco del Deserto, which boasts a magnificent Franciscan monastery surrounded by cypresses, is not served by vaporetto. San Lazzaro degli Armeni, another monastery island, is also worth a visit for its library and Egyptian antiques.
 
Each island has its own destiny. Burano is colourful, inhabited by fishermen and lacemakers; Murano, the island of glass; Torcello, the island of the first inhabitants of Venice, an absolute must-see for the mosaics of its Santa Maria Asunta basilica and its famous restaurant, the Locanda Cipriani; Le Vignole, a garden island with a fantastic outdoor cafe, with music and dancing.
 
These islands, very busy during the day, are deserted by tourists in the late afternoon, which is the best time to explore them and moor your Pénichette® for the night. This is when the locals set foot outside again, with widows chattering, children splashing about, lovers smooching. Everyday scenes of dolce vita in a small Italian town.
 
Travelling by Pénichette® also enables you to make the most of moments that elude visitors who have not chosen to sail on the water.
 
On the way, we met Giovanni Cecconi, the engineer responsible for coordination of the works for the Mose project, mobile dykes that are being built (works scheduled to end in 2012) in the aim of isolating the three openings through which the Adriatic enters the lagoon, in the event of a considerable rise in water level.
 
This engineer, a real lagoon enthusiast, is also a poet. He talked to us about the barene, the salt meadows where flora and fauna typical of the environment flourish. We invited him to take a little trip with us. As we approached a barene, he stamped his feet in the boat and grabbed his camera. “You are going to see a barene in the process of formation…” His eyes grow wide with excitement – ours too. He says: “We’ll be there soon.” Our hearts begin to beat a little faster. Giovanni cries out: “Look, over there, that budding vegetation. Ah! It’s fantastic.” We blink a few times. We can see nothing at all other than a sandbank and a few grass shoots, but we realise that we are expected to go into raptures: “Great. Go on, let’s take a photo then off we go.”
 
We end up being hooked by Giovanni’s enthusiasm. All his stories of birds, grey herons, marsh harriers, bearded tits; of plants, glasswort, asters, sea lavender… All the little fish that we imagine swimming madly in the waters of the lagoon colonise it as they frolic. “The lagoon is a big nursery.” Moreover, the sea bass, bream, moleche (moulting crabs), vongole and cuttlefish that thrive there make up our Venetian meals. Some pull a long face. What about pollution? Giovanni replies: “You would have to eat several tonnes of shellfish per person for there to be the slightest risk.”
 
So the lagoon feeds Venice, but a “lagoon” feast comes as much from the land as from the sea.
 
The island of Sant’Erasmo is the kitchen garden of Venice. All kinds of vegetables are grown here, but above all the famous castraure, the artichokes that are used in risotto or eaten raw to appreciate their slight bitterness and astringency.
 
Michel Thoulouze, the French businessman who reintroduced vines to the lagoon, prepares one for us in his kitchen. It is served with a glass of Orto, his white wine that has just won the prize for best Italian Malvoisia. It is straightforward, structured and slightly mineral, and, above all, the one and only wine of Venice.
 
It should be drunk in situ, watching the sun go down over Lazzaretto Nuovo: an island the size of a pocket handkerchief, for which archaeologist Gerolamo Fazzini has a concession. He has restored the buildings in which goods arriving by boat from the Orient were once stocked. Why? For no other reason than his passion.
 
There are many lagoon devotees: hundreds, most likely thousands of them. We met about ten or so, a bookseller, fisherman, farmer, architect, monk… They talk about it as if it were a rare territory of lights and colours. Of sharing, too.
 
In a casone, a small wooden hut on piles equipped with a large net operated by a system of ropes mounted on a pulley, three men have been fishing and clinking glasses between each catch for several hours. With the net being pulled up every ten minutes, the late afternoon atmosphere is rather good in the casone now. A toast with a little glass of white wine as we go on our way. That is also the charm of the lagoon. Everyone is friends here. It is the conviviality of water through wine.
 
After days of sunshine and wind, after open landscapes and vast perspectives, we moor our boat at the harbour of San Giorgio and take a vaporetto to return to Venice, now deserted by tourists, with its narrow alleys and its canals. Plant fragrances emanate from discreet gardens, like olfactory allusions to the lagoon.
 
We can’t decide between chicken and egg, but we didn’t have to choose. So much the better. Venice and its lagoon should be experienced at the mercy of the water and going against the tide.
 
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
 
Italian State Tourist Board
1, Princes Street
London W1B 2AY
Tel: 020 7408 1254 – Fax: 020 7399 3567
 
Azienda di promozione turistica di Venezia
(+ 39) 041 529 87 11
 
The LocaboatHolidays base in Italy is based in Chioggia. It offers Pénichette hire, with no licence necessary. Remarkably well equipped, they have cabins with double or twin beds, shower rooms, a real fitted kitchen, CD player, bicycles (on request).
Starting from €1,449 per week for 2 people in the low season up to €4,340 per week for 12 people in high season.
Tel: +33 (0)3 86 91 72 72
 
Where to moor
There are numerous possibilities for anchoring on the lagoon, in the wild or in a marina if you need to fill up with water.
 
Certosa
€50 a night. Water, electricity, wifi, bar, restaurant, and above all, free shuttle to Venice all night long.
Tel: 00 39 041 520 85 88
 
San Giorgio, with a magnificent view of Venice
€50 a night. Water, electricity. Direct Vaporetto to Venice. No reservations.
 
Free mooring on the island of Le Vignole and Sant’Erasmo. Peace and quiet after the departure of the last vaporetto – the lagoon is yours.
 
Where to eat
 
Do Farai
Dorsoduro 3278
Tel: (+39) 041 277 03 69
Cuisine from the heart, embodied with relish by the chef, a lagoon lover who will sketch the outline of each fish on your table mat. Carpaccio of sea bass, slipper lobster, artichoke salad, potato risotto, cuttlefish in ink and polenta.
 
Da Toni
On the little island of Vignole
Tel: (+39) 041 52 89 707
An outdoor cafe fantastic for its garden location, its convivial atmosphere, simple but ad hoc cuisine. Antipasti of vegetables, octopus salad, spaghetti with cuttlefish ink or crab. A small glass of white wine and a siesta in the shade of the big trees.
 
Da Celeste
Tel: (+39) 041 96 70 43
Located on one of the lagoon’s most authentic islands, Pellestrina, this restaurant serves delicious fish-based cuisine. You can moor your Pénichette next to the restaurant.
 
Alle Testiere
Tel/Fax: (+39) 041 52 27 220
A delicious osteria whose cuisine is of remarkable finesse and seeming simplicity. Fine wine list from the region.
 
Pronto pesce pronto
The boss of Alle Testiere, Luca, opened a deli place at the Rialto market in 2007. Ideal for dinner on board the Pénichette. Further information at the restaurant.
 
Mistra’
On the island of Giudecca, unobstructed view of the lagoon, Venetian and Ligurian cuisine.
Tel: (+39) 041 52 20 743
 
Top tip
Orto
The one and only wine of Venice, which can be sampled in the restaurants of the lagoon (Locanda Cipriani, Alle Testiere, Metropole Hotel).

It’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation. Without the lagoon, Venice would not be Venice but without Venice, the lagoon would not be a lagoon. 550 km² of water – in other words one of the biggest lagoons in the world: a watery setting for this human miracle of a city. Apologies for the cliché, but that is indeed what it is – a human miracle. Venice is beautiful because it reigns supreme in the midst of a liquid mirror, surrounded by small bucolic islands.

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