It is strangely quiet. The water discreetly laps the side of the canal; a church bell rings; a blackbird warbles from a secret rooftop garden. Then I realise what – besides the marvellous architecture and the canals – is so special about Venice. There is no wheeled traffic; no roar from the street, not even a distant highway hum.
I’m nursing my feet. I ’m sure I’ve lost an entire layer of skin from my soles while compulsively wandering this magical city and I’ve had to retreat to my room to recover. But, to my great delight, I haven’t had to leave Venice. I’m not trapped inside an anonymous hotel but sitting next to a window, gazing past the geraniums in the window box, at the comings and goings on the narrow pavements below and on the quiet canal which divides them.
Venetians walk past, coming home from work. Occasionally a small motor boat putters by. Now and then some tourists stray off the beaten track and find this oasis which I am rapidly beginning to call my own.
We nearly didn’t come to Venice. We debated the pros and cons, weighing up the legendary beauty of the city with the drawbacks of mass tourism and the notoriously high costs. In the end we decided it was now or never – but then began the search for a reasonably priced place to stay; with a 21-year-old son in tow we needed two rooms. We heard stories of dank rooms, bed bugs, mosquitoes and hard beds at the lower end of the market and vacillated. Then, realising that time was running out, I panicked and hastily emailed a selection of hotels, deciding to go with the first that got back with a vacancy.
Antica Locanda Montin, in the district of Dorsoduro, was a lucky find. Although it is just across the Grand Canal from St Marks, this area is a comparative backwater, its squares and crisscrossing canals and alleyways frequented by locals. The tourist mayhem is a world away.
The manager shrugs when I ask how long Antica Locanda Montin has been a hotel, “Two hundred years? Perhaps more. Our family has owned it since the second World War.”
In that time it has attracted the attention of a list of celebrities from Peggy Guggenheim in 1955 (a photo of the American art patron embarking on to her private gondola at the front door features on the hotel’s brochure) to President Carter (1980), Alexander Dubcek (1992), Yoko Ono, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Mick Jagger ….
Most of these visitors have come to eat at the Albergo restaurant, tucked out in the garden at the back of the hotel, its white-clothed tables lined up in two green tunnels below the vine-laden barrel-vaulted pergola. We find the restaurant’s good reputation is well-deserved; my husband claims the steak is one of the best he has ever had.
There are just 12 rooms in the hotel including one single with a tiny balcony, and others which can accommodate three or four. Those at the front have canal views while those at the rear overlook the garden and the vine-entwined restaurant pergola. Most are remarkably spacious, with parquet or traditional Venetian terrazzo floors; the furniture is quirky and slightly antique and the walls crammed with a strange variety of framed paintings.
It’s late and I’m back at my window, loathe to relinquish my last day in Venice. The water laps in the canal and laughter drifts up as the last patrons leave the restaurant. A lone figure walks past on the opposite side of the canal – I can hear his footfalls echoing in the balmy night air and his key as he turns it in the lock of his front door. The church bell rings out the midnight hour and I head for bed. Sadly, tomorrow we will be back in the traffic.
Antica Locanda Montin and Albergo Ristorante, Venezia - S. Trovaso, Fondamenta Eremite 1147. Phone: +39 41 522 7151; www.locandamontin.com
Tariff: Doubles from €85 ($140) to €150 ($250) (low/high season; without/with bathroom). Single, triples and quadruples at different rates. Check the website for details.
Getting there: Take the vaporetto (water bus) to Accademia. The hotel is a five-minute walk – make sure you have a map. Look out for the hotel’s signs or call from your mobile for directions.
Checking in: Tourists seeking the quieter side of Venice, families, repeat visitors – it is the sort of place you’ll want to go back to.
Bedtime reading: Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Stepping out: Both St Marks and the Rialto bridge are just a 15-20-minute walk away, across the Ponte dell’Accademia, but if you are looking for a quieter Venice, just wander the Dorsoduro area around the hotel. Gallerie dell’Accademia is at the Accademia vaporetto stop. Try the rabbit stew at S. Barnaba, Dorsoduro, 2736 Calle Lunga S. Barnaba.
Brickbats: Finding the hotel can be difficult and carrying bags over bridges not easy (no taxis!). Only half the rooms have en suite toilets which means scampering across the hallway and sometimes having to wait your turn.
Bouquets: The breakfast, with cereals, including muesli, yogurts and orange juice on offer, is a lot more substantial than the usual coffee and bread roll and is included in the room price.
© S.B. Martin. All rights reserved