That is exactly what happened to me last month. For five days, during the second week in September, 8 friends from 4 different countries in Europe, gathered in Venice to discover the secret gardens of the Serenissima with ToursbyMarie
Although you may think of Venice as a city of water, renowned for its architecture, marble and art, its narrow streets and countless bridges, there are in fact more than five hundred gardens in Venice. These encompass private gardens, public gardens, monastery gardens, vegetable gardens, ornamental gardens, modern gardens, as well as historic gardens.
Our itinerary included a varied sampling of each.
We visited the gardens of several private Palazzi, each a reflection of the owner`s style. In all cases the intention is clear: provide a green haven for softness and colour among the stones, marble, and water.
An unforgettable visit was the “Little House of the Spirits”, the convent garden overlooking the lagoon, right across from the island of San Michele, with its large expanse of inviting lawn, its meditative walks and tall trees. On the arbor grow the most delicious concord grapes.
Another hightlight for me was the modernist garden designed by Carlo Scarpa at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, where we had lunch in the café overlooking the garden. Though some of us do not like the mixture of old and new, it is an interesting example of a modern garden and its symbolism well worth a visit.
Finally well off the beaten path and a revelation was our visit to a working organic farm on the island of Sant Erasmo, in the lagoon. Sant´Erasmo has traditionally been the vegetable garden of Venice, renowned for its artichokes. We visited "I Sapori di Sant´Erasmo" , the cooperative of the Finotello family. They supply individuals and restaurants with locally grown vegetables. Their business has profited from the pandemic as people cooked more and resorted to local suppliers as their ability to shop further afield was restrained by the quarantine measures.
We visited at tomato season and were treated to a tasty sampling of the current production, including delicious lettuce and peppers.
Being surrounded by art and architecture and having no time to wander could have been frustrating. But I made sure our itinerary included enough free time to explore museums on our own. Some went to the Accademia to see Giorgione, Tintoretto and Veronese; others to Ca`Rezzonico to admire the Tiepolos and still others to the Palazzo Grimani. Together we visited the Scuola Dalmatica degli Schiavoni and its Carpaccio cycle.
Moving around Venice in the time of Covid19 was regimented by the strict hygiene rules the Italian government has put in place. . On public transport everyone wears a mask. In museums, the staff checks each visitor`s temperature and makes sure the maximum numbers allowed in each room are respected. All visitors must wear a mask. Taxi drivers all wear masks, as do waiters. Hand sanitizer is available at the entrance to most public buildings as well as on the table at most restaurants. Temperature checks were part of the check-in process at the hotel. We wore masks in all public areas of the hotel, as did the staff.
I had deliberately picked a hotel with a garden as I thought that fitting to the theme of our trip. Upon arrival, the Venice connoisseurs on the trip pronounced it “a bit out of the way”. By the end, however, they were charmed. Each day, we had breakfast in the garden right on the Canal Grande and so got to watch the vaporettos, barges, delivery boats and general water traffic from up close. What better way to feel like you are in Venice?
There is a Vaporetto stop 30 yards from the hotel. But I chose to have us travel by private taxi or on foot. It is hard if not impossible to social distance on a vaporetto and while it is an efficient and economical way to get around, my priority was our safety. The additional expense of a private taxi boat was well worth it and there is nothing quite like riding through the canals at dusk or at night, in fact at any time of day.
It is true that the weather gods were in our favour and we were able to have all our meals outside, even in the evening.
The happy memories of this trip will keep me going for many months yet and motivate me to make other such trips happen. That our group of nine from five different countries was able to come together on time without a hitch is a miracle already. That the sun shone the whole time, with the slightest hint of a heat wave, is icing on the cake. That we are all COVID free three weeks later is the cherry on top.
We were careful, wore our masks, washed our hands and social distanced whenever possible. Nevertheless, I thank my lucky stars and above all my client, that this trip was possible. Her unwavering optimism and faith throughout the ups and downs, the uncertainties and the general COVID madness of this past spring made the miracle happen.
Could it be that if you believe in something hard enough it comes to pass?
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