Once upon a time, the Most Serene Republic of Venice was a majestic and innovative maritime power that soared above all others as it ruled the commerce-laden sea lanes between Europe and the Orient for over 1,000 years.
Today, La Serenissima is world renowned for her many bridges and canals — revealing postcard-perfect scenes around every bend and across every expanse — along with her priceless art and stunning architecture. But, most importantly, it is Venice’s ability to simply take your breath away, without warning, regardless of how many times you’ve visited her.
No stranger to the City of Canals, I’m about to see her in a new light — from way above the crowds down to eye-level with their footwear — as I, together with five paying customers, meet up with a Walks of Italy (WOI) local guide, board a luxury motoscafo (motorboat) at the pier near Palazzo Ducale and shove off on WOI‘s intimate tour: Venice by Boat and Tower Climb.
While our pilot steers the sleek, white craft across St. Mark’s Basin, past Canale della Giudecca and towards Isola San Giorgio Maggiore, our guide points out that, “Few visitors take the time to visit this island, and that’s their loss as you’re about to find out.”
One of Venice’s most photographed islands, we alight onto San Giorgio Maggiore for the “climb” portion of this 2-hour tour.
We marvel at the exterior of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, a Benedictine basilica designed by High-Renaissance master builder Andrea Palladio that was constructed between 1566 and 1610.
Inside, we enjoy the quietness of this exquisite house of worship, including the original protectorate angel that stood atop the basilica for centuries until it was struck down by lighting. And, not to be missed are two 16th century capolavori (masterpieces) by Jacopo Tintoretto, the energetic Renaissance painter know as Il Furioso (The Furious): The Last Supper and The Fall of Manna.
The church’s campanile (bell tower) has a ring of nine bells in C♯, and its architectural style mimics that of the tower just across the way in Saint Mark’s Square.
From the belfry, reachable on foot or via an elevator, you’re treated to incredible bird’s-eye views of La Serenissima. Trace the route of the Grand Canal, marvel at the dome of St. Mark’s Basilica and be surprised by the well-manicured labyrinth just down below. Armed with a camera, you can get off some memorable shots of Giacomo Casanova’s hometown.
Built entirely over water, Venezia sits atop an archipelago of 118 small islands in a shallow lagoon that empties into the Adriatic Sea. Connected by more than 400 bridges, Venice is separated by an assortment of canals, like the Grand Canal (called Canalasso in the Venetian dialect), smaller ones called rio, and the narrowest and shortest of the waterways called riello, making her truly the City of Canals.
During our “glide,” we head into the back-waters of La Serenissima and collectively inhale as we negotiate some very narrow riello and duck our heads as we barely clear a few low-arched bridges that you can almost touch as you pass by underneath.
Making our way up the Grand Canal as daytime begins to give way to nighttime, we navigate past luxurious palaces like Cà d’ora, Cà Pesaro and the Casino, glide underneath the iconic Rialto Bridge and slowly make our way back to GO: the pier, just below Palazzo Ducale, with its fab view out to Isola San Giorgio Maggiore.
Editor’s note: The writer’s participation in this tour was supported by Walks of Italy, but his article was written independently.