A warm welcome, a cosy atmosphere and good Italian cuisine, such as Venetian stew or homemade lasagne, is on offer at Enoteca dei Tadi – plus an excellent wine list (mains from £7; closed Mon).
Osteria Dal Capo is a tiny trattoria often packed with locals tucking into traditional Veneto dishes like liver and onions with grilled polenta. Deservedly popular, be sure to book ahead (mains from £24; closed Sun; Via degli Obizzi 2; 00 39 049 66 31 05).
At the flash but friendly boutique hotel Belludi37, most of the generously sized and neatly furnished rooms afford great views of the Basilica of St Anthony of Padua (from £90).
The newly refurbished Albergo Verdi has a great location, a short walk from the University – rooms are smartly turned out in reds and yellows, some with balconies (from £85).
‘What news on the Rialto?’ - The Merchant of Venice
There is much debate about whether Shakespeare ever visited Italy. Some of his Italian plays display a lot of local knowledge, which it would be hard to come by without going there. In Julius Caesar he describes an African-style summer thunderstorm in Rome – the type of storm which comes and goes very quickly and is just not found in England. And he seems to capture the Italian habit of talking a lot – as we say, ‘talking like a river’!
Some argue that he could have found out about life in Italy by talking to merchants who arrived at the River Thames. There were no political relations between Venice and England during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, so that’s doubtful. And interestingly, between 1585 and 1592 nobody knows where Shakespeare was. I think there is every chance that he came to Italy.
He set The Merchant of Venice and Othello in the city, and mentions the Rialto Market area several times in The Merchant of Venice. He even talks about gondolas and ‘the tranect’ – which could refer to the ‘traghetto’ ferry, which transported people from Venice to the mainland. It still exists at several points along the Grand Canal.
If he did visit, Shakespeare would have spent his time wandering the streets, eavesdropping on people’s conversations and observing the goings-on in shops and the market. A walk to the Rialto is certainly evocative of that time (Campo San Giacomo, 00 39 041 296 0658). The Palazzo Ducale (Sestiere San Marco, 00 39 041 4273 0892), with its magnificent Gothic façades and huge council hall, is probably what he had in mind as the setting for the final courtroom scene in The Merchant of Venice, while the two bronze figures on top of the Torre dell’Orologio clock tower in St Mark’s Square are known as ‘i mori’, or ‘the Moors’, which is a key reference in Othello (Piazzo San Marco, 00 39 049 932 49 76).
In Shakespeare’s time, the ‘Venetian Ghetto’ was one of the only places in Europe where Jews were allowed to live and trade. The word ‘ghetto’ actually comes from an Italian word, ‘gheto’, which means ‘slag’ – as in the waste product from melting iron, which was the main industry of that area in those days. Nowadays, ghettos have negative connotations, but back then this was a place of salvation. It was the first ghetto in the world, and was the reason why Shakespeare had his character Shylock live in Venice. A Jewish community remains – there are five synagogues and it is a fascinating place to explore, with a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere that still feels a little removed from the rest of Venice.
This essential Venetian museum offers an exhaustive look at the city’s influence on the art world. Highlights of the Gallerie dell’Accademia include Tintoretto’s Creation of the Animals and one of Titian’s final works (£9).
It might not be as romantic as a gondola ride, but a traghetto is the true local’s way to get around. These commuter gondolas are often standing room only, so get your sea legs ready (fares £1; 9am-6pm; several crossing locations).