If you’re planning a river cruise in Italy, chances are you’ll begin and/or end in one of the most famous cities in the world: Venice. The opportunity to explore this exquisite city, which comprises more than 100 small islands set within a lagoon, is a wonderful way to start your journey through some of the country’s picturesque waterways. |
Highlights of the Grand Canal
Criss-crossed by a network of canals that facilitate the movement of goods and people (there are no cars allowed), if Venice had a main street it would be the Grand Canal. This wide, busy waterway cuts its way through the city and serves as the main thoroughfare for water traffic. It is lined with magnificent architecture and utilised by every kind of vessel imaginable, from vaporetto and water taxis, to barges and the iconic gondolas. To traverse this snake of water is to see Venice at her very best, so here’s what to make sure you see before setting off on the rest of your river cruise in Italy.
One of the most significant buildings in the city, Ca’ Foscari was built in the fifteenth century, under orders from Doge Francesco Foscari. At the time it was extremely innovative due to its height of four floors. After Doge Foscari was overthrown the palace was used as a royal residence for the French King, Henry III. Designed in the Late Gothic style, the building remains superbly intact.
Considered one of the most precious jewels in Venice’s architectural crown, the ‘House of Gold’ has long since lost the rich gilding for which it got its name, but it is no less beautiful for it. The marble filigree exteriors are just an introduction for the opulent interiors, which are adorned with intricate mosaic floors, remnants of frescos and a priceless collection of art, including works by Titian and Van Dyck. Built in the style of Venetian Gothic, seeing Ca’ d’Oro from the water offers a definitive image of this floating city.
Santa Maria di Nazareth
While it doesn’t have the proportions and grandeur of the previously mentioned buildings, the lesser-visited church of Santa Maria di Nazareth exudes a very different kind of charm. Built in the 1600s, its modest Baroque façade opens a portal to its magnificent marble lined interiors, decorated by several important frescos by Tiepolo. Foot access is via the Ponte degli Scalzi, which is the smallest of all the bridges that cross the Grand Canal.
Speaking of bridges, one can barely talk of Venice without making mention of its most famous: the Ponte di Rialto. What we see today isn’t the original structure that spanned this part of the canal; there was a wooden one, built around 1180, and an ill-fated drawbridge, which collapsed spectacularly in 1444. But the familiar graceful curve of the one the world has come to know and love was designed by Antonio de Ponte, in 1588. While it’s built out of stone, it is supported by 6,000 submerged timber piles.
Explore the Sights of Venice on a River Cruise in Italy
While there is plenty to see on a well-organised river cruise in Italy that explores the waterways around Mantua, the River Po and the Bianco Canal, the experience of discovering the magnificence of Venice from the Grand Canal offers the ideal introduction.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive luxury barge holidays. If you're looking for a fantastic river cruise in Italy, or cruises to other great destinations, they are the go-to experts. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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