Sure, Fort Lauderdale might be affectionately known as “The Venice of America” due to the canal surplus, but that doesn’t mean a visit to Italy’s floating city doesn’t remain essential. There’s lots that the mesmerizing capital of the Veneto region offers that you won’t find in the States. No, not even in Little Italy.
And primarily, it’s the famous food and drink on offer that manages to rival even its well-documented beauty for top billing on the “reasons to go there now” list. Delicious food and drink, in Venice, is everywhere. You don’t really need to go looking. You’ll find it. But it has to be said: You could gather up the greatest scientists in the world and put them all in one room and still they’d get nowhere nearer to solving the mystery of why Italians are so slender and chic when all of their food is so carb-heavy that mere mortals (AKA non-Italians) can gain a pound simply by smelling it. So although you may need to pay extra on the return flight for excess baggage – mainly in the stomach area – it’s really worth it.
Madonna famously declared in the ‘80s, “Italians Do It Better.” On reflection, she was surely talking about dining. And speaking of Madonna, one splendid restaurant shares the pop queen’s name – although it’s likely named after a different Madonna, perhaps one who was around a little before the “Like a Virgin” star. Down a narrow street along the Rialto market street, almost hidden – although three quarters of the streets in Venice could be described as “hidden,” even the post workers struggle to find addresses, as legend has it – you’ll find Trattoria Alla Madonna. This place is as authentically Italian as Michelangelo. You walk in and everything inside is so fizzing with life, it even matches their prosecco. Known for their crab served in shells, it’s clear how beloved this seafood restaurant is when you look around and see an elderly Italian man dining alone, who’s clearly been going here for decades, and has his own table that the staff – who treat him like family – escort him to immediately. Families dine together, and there are few tourists (except ones like yours truly, who slipped through the net in the name of investigative journalism). The staff are like characters in a play, full of warmth and charisma, as they take care of you. And think you know lasagne? They’ll show you, in the politest way possible, that you – in fact – do not. The real challenge is not burning your tongue on the godfather of pastas, as waiting for something so creamy and delicious to cool proves an alarming challenge. Of course, you’d also have to order the tiramisu – by law – otherwise why bother at all? Again, Trattoria Alla Madonna takes something that traditionally isn’t for everybody – coffee and dessert aren’t always a match made in heaven for all – but convinces even the most cynical of cynics that the way they do it makes it, indeed, irresistible.
If you’re feeling flush – and no that isn’t a pun related to all the canals, that would be lazy – then The Hotel Gritti Palace offers an upscale Venetian dining in with a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal. It is expensive, but you’re also paying for an opulent view, which you should drink in every bit as thirstily as the soave and Valpolicella. Whether it’s spaghetti and seafood, or just elevating a beef burger (they even do American food better than Americans), their attentive staff will ensure you leave with a big smile on your face.
There are a few delights that if you weren’t to indulge in on your Venetian trip it would be akin to a crime. (And the last thing you want to do is commit crimes on the patch of the mafia…) Venice’s signature drink is their Aperol Spritz, created in 1902 using their traditional spirit, Select, with a splash of prosecco; in the last century the distinctive and moreish cocktail has enjoyed a steady but undeniable quest for world domination. To see the bright orange beverage clinking in wine glasses under the sun by the water, it feels like the city is toasting itself, and with good reason. Gelato, equally, feels like such an Italian chef’s kiss – to take something as universally adored as ice cream and then quietly and confidently improve it, making it better than any ice cream you’ve had, while still remaining completely familiar. (The big secret? More milk. Sometimes the simplest tweaks have the biggest impact.)
And you’ll be, ahem, bitter indeed, if you don’t end all of your lunches and dinners with a shot of limoncello. The citrus liqueur is normally complimentary and always a welcome treat.
If you want to proudly embrace your tourist status, it doesn’t get a lot more picture-worthy than St. Mark’s Square. A great spot to enjoy the famous architecture surrounding you would be Caffe Florian. This 1700s café offers coffee and cocktails and is known for its chocolate. Inside, you feel like you’re stepping into the past in a way that’s quite special. Also, if you can handle your alcohol, sample a negroni. The popular cocktail only tastes more delicious in its homeland.
The only thing Venice isn’t offering is nightlife. There are bars, but pretty much every single restaurant and hospitality venue is firmly closed by 10pm, even during the globally renowned Biennale art festival. The only places staying open later are the casinos. But cheeky fun can be had, still, at the delightful Bra bar where – yes – you guessed it, the ceiling is adorned with many, many bras because… well, do they need a reason? They certainly deserve a lot of support…
But, after days of eating pasta, garlic bread, pizza and cheese, will you really be wanting to go out dancing anyway? It’s more likely you – like the beautiful and stylish people of Venice – will want a good night’s sleep. That beauty sleep has served them well after all. Undoubtedly the most romantic city in the world (sorry Paris), but still, unfortunately, it’s true that Venice is sinking at the rate of 1–2 millimeters a year.
So, while at that quite glacial rate, there may admittedly be no need to panic rush…also don’t put it off too long. That lasagne will definitely not taste quite as incredible underwater.