Travel review: La Dolce Vita in Venice

An external shot of Ca'Sagredo hotel which is based on the canal in Venice. Picture: Randy Jay Bran

An external shot of Ca'Sagredo hotel which is based on the canal in Venice. Picture: Randy Jay Bran - Credit: Archant

I’ve always considered Venice a place to go with a lover, or a friend, but never alone.

The beautiful stained glass windows at Ca'Sagredo hotel

The beautiful stained glass windows at Ca'Sagredo hotel - Credit: Archant

After a friend bailed on our trip, I was in the personally unimaginable position of going to this beautiful Italian city on my own – and was left wondering whether it was possible to go to one of the most romantic places in the world alone and still have a good time.

I discovered it was. Yes, you come across hundreds of smooching, smug couples as you wander around the city’s canal ways, but you also get the chance to escape from the humdrum of normality. Venice is a city which delights all of the senses and reminds you of bygone eras.

My trip got off to a good start as I flew out of Southend to Venice Marco-Polo. The small airport in Essex enabled me to bypass the crowds at bigger ones and have a relaxed and stress-free check-in experience.

One of the highlights of a trip to Venice are the views from the plane shortly before landing. Given that the UNESCO World Heritage site is spread across 118 islands in a lagoon, the vistas are spectacular and make you appreciate the geographical uniqueness of the city.

From the airport, it is possible to take a water-taxi or bus into the centre. Having stopped in the city of Padua for the night, I ended up taking the train which I recommend. The train track runs from the mainland across the lagoon and gives the slightly dreamy perception that you are skimming the water.

The area around the train station is arguably the worst part of Venice with its sheer volume of people, tacky tourist souvenir shops and terrible cafés. But as soon as you cross the Scalzi bridge into the city’s network of arteries, the craziness of the crowds and noise disappear, the city takes on a tranquil disposition and the magic begins to seep into your pores.

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The best approach to exploring it is to get lost – over and over again – which inevitably happens. At first the feeling of being lost is discomforting, but eventually you realise that it is never for very long.

There is a lot to delight in – fabulous ice-cream shops on every corner, the sight of gondola’s navigating the waterways and the unparalleled architecture.

The heart of the city – and one of it’s most touted highlights – is the Piazza San Marco. The ornate Basilica San Marco is a fabulous amalgamation of eastern and western architectures and is worth an hour or two of exploring. The views at the top are incredible.

A visit to the Doge’s Palace is also a must as it gives visitors a chance to see how the glory in which the city’s former rules once lived.

One side of Piazza San Marco is bordered by Molo San Marco. A stroll down there gives lovely views of the aqua waters and also is the site of The Royal Gardens, which date from the 19th century and are a tranquil place to watch the world go by.

Returning to the piazza in the evening is a must as it takes on a completely different atmosphere with orchestras from different restaurants conducting mini concerts. Although sitting down to have a drink can be ridiculously expensive, standing at the bar costs the same as having a drink in London.

Regardless of which restaurant you sit in, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the novelty and beauty of the experience.

If the Piazza San Marco is the heart of the city, then the Rialto Bridge is its lungs. The bridge is the main thoroughfare for people going to the San Marco and Castello areas and day or night there are hordes of people thronging across it.

It’s a great place to people watch, take pictures and soak up the atmosphere. Random choirs regularly pitch up and burst into song – a surprising and uplifting experience.

A walk down the Riva Degli Schiavoni promenade is also a must. Not only is it a great place to sip a latte and wonder at the colours of the lagoon, it leads to Arsenale – the former naval powerhouse of the city where warships were made.

Continuing down, Via Garibaldi is also worth a stroll for it’s architecture, which differs from the rest of the city. It also takes you to the Giardini Pubblici (public gardens), which provides space in an otherwise crowded city.

For me, the largely residential Cannaregio district was the most peaceful place to be and was also the area I stayed in. It is home to the sumptuous five-star Ca’Sagredo Hotel, which was a “gold list” nominee in Conde Nast Traveller magazine in 2013.

Just walking into the reception of this former palace was balm for the soul in this relentlessly busy city.

Featuring a grand staircase, high ceilings, beautiful frescoes, grand lounge and opulent bedrooms, the hotel was a wonderful place to retreat to when the crowds got too much and was the ultimate act of self-indulgence on a solo trip.