Cruising the lagoon of Venice evokes the dramatic events of 2019 when a cruise ship crashed against another ship docked at the Marittima port, or when a few weeks later one more of these sea giants drifted during a strong storm. Not to mention the parade of many ships passing by St Mark’s square, clearly oversized and polluting.
However, there are different ways of cruising in the lagoon of Venice and this is what this post is about, and not just.
I get often asked what my vacations are like. Where can a Venetian local tour guide go when on holiday? I usually pick up places that strike me poetically. I had seen a wonderful photography exhibition by Alfred Ehrhardt in Berlin depicting the Curonian spit in Lithuania. And that’s where I wanted to go.
But, at these times hit by COVID-19, I changed my plans and travelled for four days in the lagoon of Venice, cruising on our wooden traditional boat, a “sanpierota” called Còcola. In other words, I travelled in an area within twenty kilometres away from my Venetian flat.
Cruising the Venetian lagoon in a different way
The Northern lagoon of Venice is an extremely rich environment. Several visitors come to pay a visit to the best-known islands, such as Murano or Burano. Some, with a stronger history interest, stop in Torcello, enjoy lunch at one of its restaurants, pay a visit to the admirable cathedral and then head back. Is that all?
Of course not. There are islands such as San Francesco del Deserto with its Franciscan friars. Or the island of Sant’Erasmo or the island of Vignole with their strong agricultural vocation. But the point is, what about the lagoon, its mudflats and wetland?
So, off to a different perspective.
Cruising at slow pace
It couldn’t be but with a slow pace. So, no James Bond effect, but rowing, slowly, understanding the current of the tides or where they mix and where it becomes harder to row, or easier. Checking the weather, smelling the wind and observing nature. Only with a slow pace and the consequent silence, the joy of observing the lagoon and its calm surface can seize you.
Off the Lazzaretto Nuovo northwards
On our first day, starting at the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo we rowed all the way along Sant’Erasmo island. The sights off the island where once quarantine was spent, are really beautiful. The water surrounding the canal is particularly shallow and white egrets and herons mix with ducks and swans. We could also see a couple of ibis flying above our heads. The weather was cloudy and the color of the lagoon silver.
After crossing the island of San Francesco del Deserto, still rowing, we reached the canal leading to Santa Cristina island. Two beautiful swans were moving close by.
The canal moves sinuously and surrounded by very shallow water during low tides it takes you to this magical island, now a luxury resort. Taking advantage of high tide, it was possible to move to the Salina island and finally get to some deserved lunch and some grilled eel, which I adore, with some cool prosecco. The little trattoria was surrounded by blooming limonium. Limonium looks like heather and its pink flowers are a special treat in the Venetian lagoon during the summer.
The weather changed for the better. Needless to say, in the days ahead, it had been so hot and humid one could not breathe. The day the trip started instead, it was drizzling, threatening a storm. Great. Are you familiar with that feeling you may need to change plans as nature decides for you? As when you are get ready for days to climbing a mountain peak and the weather tells you, sorry, don’t dare…
Flamingoes in Venice
Instead, after lunch, the sun shone. And I felt blessed when, docking at some point, and climbing the high bank of some wetland, I finally discovered a flock of flamingoes moving slowly and getting their food in the mud.
At sunset we could finally reach the island where we would sleep, Falconera. A true paradise.
A farm run by Anna and Martina that explained to us how their grandfather had bought the island in the mid 1970s. An unconventional choice, that of these two young girls and their partners that decided to take care of this island and its natural treasures working hard and respecting the environment and traditional history of the place. Surrounded by farm animals, like horses, chickens and hens or ducks.
With a small orchard to grow vegetables, including artichokes.
A beehive for fresh lagoon honey. If it weren’t for the high tide last November, on the island there would be a fish farm, too. Instead the two-year long work to arrange the fish was all lost in the acqua alta that broke the embankment and let all the fish swim back to the lagoon.
I kept a diary. Written by hand, no iPad. Relating that day and the next ones, the fun, the entertaining and the difficult moments, too. A little wooden boat and two people rowing, slowly.
Rowing towards Cason Montiron
The day after the weather looked good again. The weather forecast was not good, but often they get it wrong in the Venetian lagoon because of the presence of the Adriatic Sea interfering. So off we went, this time heading to Cason Montiron.
Now, it is hard to describe what it feels like to be rowing in the middle of the lagoon, completely alone and in silence.
Every now and then a little fisherman boat and while the sky got grey, the lagoon surface got silver grey, too, a mirror of the sky that made the horizon disappear. We had prepared our picnic and ate surrounded by this incredible landscape. We needed to find the energy to row back but especially the mental status to spot in the middle of this silver mirror the small signs telling us where the canal was. Fishermen had warned us, it was all “secche”, which means shallow water, be careful otherwise you get stuck.
In the evening a storm came. Incredibly fast, the calm waters of the lagoon were suddenly swiped by a strong wind and heavy rain came. I remember when as a child bathing at Lido these little tornados came and the sand was all in my eyes, till my grandma came to wrap me in her beach towel and bring me to a safe place.
Cruising around Mazzorbo island
The next two days were spent near the islands of Torcello and Mazzorbo. We decided to treat ourselves at Venissa with a memorable dinner and wine tasting and a lovely room overlooking their vineyard. Peaceful and elegant. Oh well, when we arrived, we had just been caught by another summer storm while picnicking at the Canale dei Moecanti (where the soft shell crabs grow).
We were as wet as newly born chicks: “wet chicks in a chic place”. The lady at the concierge desk told us how much she loved rowing, too. We felt at the right place! So much, that the day after, who couldn’t we meet but the mythical rowing champion and teacher, Bepi Suste? You can imagine how I felt, rowing together with him around Burano and Mazzorbo islands.
What an incredible adventure. Just a few kilometres away from my home in Venice. Exploring at slow pace the nature and the history of the lagoon. Cruising respectfully.
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy