Whether you’ve already been fortunate to vacation in extraordinary Venice or still yearn to first visit its canals, cozy corners and charming caffès, Magical Venice: The Hedonist’s Guide can raptly take you on a joyful armchair traveler’s journey. Engagingly written by Lucie Tournebize with gorgeous photography by Guillaume Dutreix, the 256-page hardcover (published this month by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins) is a stylish travelogue in a league of its own.
“For some, the soul of Venice is found by wandering its narrow pathways, passing the bricks of its salt-soaked facades; others find it through the eyes of a Carnival mask, or perhaps within one of the city’s small squares,” begins Tournebize in the book’s introduction. “Each of us has in mind a particular image of Venice, made up of snippets we glean from movies, art or literature. And when we travel there to experience our mythical Venice in person, stepping on its cobblestone streets and touching its marbled walls, we are motivated even more to discover what makes up this rather strange city unlike any other.”
Strange, yes, because instead of streets, there is water. Instead of cars, there are boats. Instead of continuous land, the jigsaw puzzle whole of Venice is built on 118 little islands linked in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. A lovely labyrinth. Magical, certainly. “Its waters are like a mirror,” says Tournebize, “reflecting the nuanced colors of the sky. From the pale pink of dawn to the deep orange of sunset, the lagoon is the single constant in Venice. As you travel its waters from island to island, rich history slowly unfolds.”
Elegantly organized, Magical Venice is woven with golden highlights and surprises: fascinating facts, horizon-expanding insights, fun diversions and detailed maps of the lagoon system and notable neighborhoods. Reading it can encourage you to slow down and dream up. Leisurely turn the pages — with perhaps a glass of Prosecco or cup of cappuccino at your side. Tournebize zeroes in on travelers’ how-to essentials, as well as indulge-worthy stores, workshops, museums, restaurants, bars, parks and hideaway jewels. Dutreix’s exceptional photographs give Tournebize’s words visual life.
“From morning to evening, the surface of the lagoon is covered with boats of all kinds: lacquered wooden taxis connecting the city to the airport, vaporetti leaving for Burano, long transport boats, boats carrying firefighters, garbage collectors, and deliverymen, and small, quiet boats propelled by long rowers,” continues Tournebize. “It is in the midst of these shallow waters…where Venice exists. The lagoon is the city’s raison d’être. To protect themselves from invading barbarians, the first inhabitants of the lagoon fled here during the fifth century. The lagoon has always been Venice’s primary space: its first condition that must be faced before entering the city. To explore and study the lagoon is to understand the Venetian ecosystem, with its smells of the sea, its typical products and its history. The lagoon is studded with treasures.”
Treasures, indeed — immense and miniature, sparkling in colors galore. The most well-known area is San Marco, the heart of Venice, where Saint Mark’s Basilica dazzles, in front of which the Grand Canal unites one palace to another and another. How best to stroll along that main waterway that snakes through the city like a backward S? Tournebize leads you through an amazing maze past art museums, luxury hotels, the Rialto Market — on an itinerary that serves up diverse sites. It is one of many day trips within Venice that Tournebize deftly advises.
Her stories, recommendations and lists please aplenty. The wonder of more than four hundred pedestrian bridges that attach the archipelago. The awesome craftsmanship of Venetians: fabric-makers of velvets, damasks, brocades and silks; the heady allure of its artisanal mask-makers; the boat-builders, as well as the navigational expertise of the gondoliers. Tournebize profiles leaders in Venice’s cultural and aesthetic scenes, such as design architect Carlo Scarpa, architect Philippe Starck and art collector Peggy Guggenheim. She urges you to look behind church doors, as well as within verdant gardens and vineyards.
Oh, the exquisite glasswork! It is, perhaps, Venice’s finest consumer-accessible fine art. Most glassmakers’ ovens are located on the island of Murano, a memorable excursion. Also, go to the Orsoni fornace (photo of its glass library, below) in the district Cannaregio, where it produces prized mosaics that are exported globally. A tour of its workshop is revelatory.
Tournebize delves into Venice’s culinary gems and libations. She offers a lesson in Venetian coffee-ology. “Italians love coffee,” she says. “The drink spread throughout Europe starting in the sixteenth century thanks to Venetian merchants.”
The Spritz, a drink invented in Venice, is symbolic of Venetian’s pre-dinner hour — an aperitivo which commences as soon as the workday ends.
“It is said that the first fork,” Tournebize notes, “called a piron, was invented in Venice in the fourteenth century.”
Most celebrated of all, the Bellini cocktail (photo below) was conceived in Venice via “a chance encounter of an American tourist, a Veronese bartender and [the inspiration of] a Renaissance painter,” explains Tournebize.
“Harry Pickering, the American, was staying in Venice in 1929 with his aunt, who left him there. His funds quickly dwindled. The bartender, Giuseppe Cipriani, who worked at the Hotel Europa, where Harry was staying, lent him the sum of ten-thousand lira to help get him home. Two years later, Harry was back in Venice and reimbursed Cipriani four times the amount he gave him. Cipriani now had the money to realize his dream of opening his own bar. Inside an old rope-making factory…he opened [in 1931] what would eventually become the haunt of Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles and Peggy Guggenheim.” In 1948, Cipriani’s Bellini was born, made with “Prosecco from the neighboring hills and the pulp of white peaches from Sant’Erasmo,” continues Tournebize. “Its pink-orange hue conjured up the palette of artist Giovanni Bellini, a Venetian painter whose frescoes adorn the Frari and San Zaccaria churches — thus the name for the cocktail was found.” The decor of Harry’s Bar today has not been altered much since then — six leather-covered stools at the counter and approximately a dozen wooden tables in the dining room. Yet its international fame has grown exponentially. Cipriani and his family successfully broadened their talent for hospitality, establishing star-studded bars, restaurants and hotels in Venice and then across the United States.
Venice, the city of remarkable imagination and realized dreams. Venice Magic, a travel book that captures its spirit.