Gondolas, glass, opulence and the Orient Express await Kate Gilliland from Oasis Travel Holywood as she travels with Kirker Holidays to Venice
It is a city unlike any other. Built on more than 100 small islands in a lagoon set in the sparkling Adriatic Sea, Venice has no roads, just canals – and that includes its main thoroughfare; the Grand Canal, lined with fabulously ornate Renaissance and Gothic palaces.
Its unique setting, together with its heritage of art and opulence, have made Venice a must-see for generations of visitors and its vast central square, the Piazza San Marco, is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable tourist sights.
I was thrilled to be invited to explore the city, especially with Kirker, a company renowned for the quality of both its ready-made and bespoke tours, but I have to confess to being a tad concerned that Venice wouldn’t quite live up to my dreams. I needn’t have worried, for the reality far exceeded anything I might have hoped for.
Arriving at Venice Marco Polo Airport our group transferred by private water taxi (yes honestly!) to the Londra Palace, on the Riva Schiavoni and we started our visit with a luxury lunch in this stunning, centrally located hotel. The hotel dates from 1860 and has more than 100 windows facing the lagoon, so its views are as memorable as its chic ambiance.
After lunch we strolled out for a 90 minute walking tour of the city, visiting the fabulous Doge’s Palace, and generally imbibing the great atmosphere of a city where almost everything seems impossibly lavish. Even the classic ‘souvenir’ of the region, Murano Glass, is elegant.
The American author Truman Capote once famously said, “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” That encapsulates my feelings exactly, for this is a city that is rich and gorgeous … and best enjoyed in slow time. I was certainly ready to kick back and take it all in at relaxed, appreciative pace.
I next visited the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, just a 15-minute stroll from Piazza San Marco. This lavish, landmark hotel is also 13 minutes by foot from St. Mark's Basilica, making it a perfect base for easy exploration. It is very much a Venetian landmark with great lounges, some amazing views and even its own private water taxi. I can personally recommend enjoying an aperitivo by its Olympic-sized swimming pool and do try to find time for dinner in ‘Cip’s’, Cipriani’s own superb restaurant, located on a platform jutting over the water to capture views that will live in your memory for years to come.
Dining is wonderful in Venice with incredible choices, although advance booking is generally required – don’t just assume you’ll be able to walk in off the street and secure a good table. I’d reccommend the Osteria Oliva Nera for dinner, an authentic and quaint little restaurant in the family tradition, serving wonderful food with the emphasis on Venetian cuisine. Prepare to dine with famous faces, for (despite being on the slightly high side of affordable) this is a place to be seen in: apparently it is a firm favourite of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
For me the best was yet to come, as we boarded the Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Venice for the return journey.
ThIs legendary train was everything and more than expected and hoped for. The ornate cabins are perfectly finished with beautifully polished inlaid wood, designed to make the most of space, creating clever storage and elegant comfort. The mosaic tiled bathrooms are a delight and very much in fitting with the overall style of that era. It’s impossible to step on board without feeling like you are a star of ‘Murder On The Orient Express’! It was fine dining all the way, from breakfast served in your cabin to brunch at 11:30, with charming cabin stewards on call 24 hours a day.
The journey took us to Calais where we transferred to coaches to Coquelles for the transfer across the Eurotunnel to Folkestone and then on the British Pullman to London Victoria.
I’d love to share my enthusiasm with others so, if you’ve ever dreamed of a Venetian venture, just give me a call.