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Evening: Ghetto
As Venetians know, even the highest tide must eventually ebb – as is also true with the influx of day-trippers during Venice’s high season. Conventional wisdom among those who like to avoid the crowds is to visit anytime but during the June opening of Venice’s Art Biennale (held in odd-numbered years), during the annual Venice Film Festival (September), and throughout the two-week masked bacchanal that is Venetian Carnevale (February). But in truth, to experience Venice like a Venetian, all you need to do is to stay overnight.

Less than one-third of all visitors to Venice stick around after sunset, missing out on romantic canalside dining and family-run guesthouses tucked away behind the Strada Nova pedestrian thoroughfare in the district of Cannaregio. This picturesque neighbourhood is home to Venice’s loveliest brick Gothic church, the Tintoretto-adorned Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto, as well as Venice’s historic Ghetto.

The world’s original Ghetto housed Venice’s Jewish community from the 16th through 18th Centuries, with refugees from the Inquisition across Europe expanding the neighbourhood beyond its original island boundaries. Publishers in the Ghetto circulated the daring humanist philosophy that sparked Italy’s Renaissance, and the Ghetto’s learned doctors helped Venice develop the concept of quarantine that spared the city the worst ravages of the bubonic plague. The history-changing contributions of the Venetian Jewish community are now captured in the Ghetto inside Italy’s first Jewish Museum, the Museo Ebraico.

Bridges to the Ghetto that were once officially closed at night are open for evening strollers to browse Ghetto bookstores, art galleries and antique shops – at least until cicheti arrive on the countertops of bars lining the Fondamenta degli Ormesini, the canalbank across from the Ghetto. Raise toasts with Venetians between acoustic music sets at Al Timon, but do not be late for reservations at nearby Dalla Marisa: lagoon seafood and local meats are bought fresh daily, and when they are gone, no one else will be seated. With the lively regular crowd of tugboat captains, celebrated architects and champion rowers, raise your glass to la bea vita, Venice’s beautiful life.

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© 2012 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Secret Venice’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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