Green spaces in this city of water and stone? It's easy to overlook gardens and lush islands hidden among Venice's dense alleyways and canals.
Between the 1600's and 1800's the city of Venice was dotted with hundreds of little gardens. These oases are often hard to find and sometimes inaccessible - to be discovered only by those with a passion for horticulture and a spirit of adventure. Stay away from crowded places; experience the Piazza San Marco at dawn or by moonlight, and spend the other hours exploring less familiar but fascinating byways in the city.
Some of the garden treasures:
Close to the Palazzo of Cà Rezzonico, which houses the "Museum of 18th Century Venice", you can find a splendid reconstruction of a traditional palace garden, featuring typical, geometric flowerbeds, a pergola and a Venetian well can be seen.
Another green space which gives the modern-day visitor to Venice an idea of how the city's 18th century gardens might have looked is Cà Tron, now home to Venice's University Institute of Architecture.
Still relatively unknown public parks : the Savorgnan Garden near to the Guglie Bridge, the Groggia Garden in Cannaregio and the Royal Gardens next to St Mark's Square are all worth a visit.
A number of Venice's most beautiful gardens are now owned by the city's luxury hotels. One of these is the Rizzo Patarol garden, which is the property of the Grand Hotel dei Dogi, in the Cannaregio district. Designed as botanic garden at the start of the 18th century, Rizzo Patarol was later modified according to the romantic fashion. In 2002, the garden was carefully restored and further enhanced by the addition of numerous species of rose, clematis and hydrangea.
Across the canal from the Dorsodurso to the Giudecca, a green island with vineyards growing around Palladio’s church, Il Redentore, and a lovely flower garden at the Hotel Cipriani (their swimming pool is also a summer pleasure). Plants and flowers alternate with vegetable gardens, orchards, and vineyards, the latter apparently much loved by Casanova.
Tudy Sammartini's secret garden tours
Venice by Tudy Sammartini: The city like you’ve never seen it before.
Gardener and author Tudy has spent decades restoring Venice's gardens, oases of green that thrive amid the dense alleyways and canals of the city. Discover some of her personal favourites, often tucked away in private residences and noticeable only for the wisteria flowing over the balustrades. Your tour could include nymphs, powder-pink roses and manicured hedgerows at the childhood home of Casanova, or a family garden shaded by a Canadian maple, with beds of lavender and Virginia creeper climbing up next door's loggia. Tours last half a day, taking in up to five gardens, with plenty of personal insight from Tudy - in English, French and Italien. Her latest book is
Half-day tour €350 per group of maximum 20 people. firstname.lastname@example.org,
Ca' Zenobio's garden
A breath of fresh air in Venice ... escape the heat at Ca' Zenobio's garden. A restored garden lies behind the simple facade of Ca' Zenobio, an 18th-century palazzo in the Dorsoduro district. Courtyard gates open on to a patchwork of neatly trimmed lawns and pathways leading towards a neo-classical library. Arches of delicate pink roses complement flowerbeds, citrus and cypress trees, palms, ferns and statuary. Art exhibitions are held regularly in the palazzo. Part of the building is used as a guesthouse, offering 22 spartan rooms (most overlooking the gardens), with original tiled floors and vintage furniture. Breakfast is served outside during summer.
Palazzo and garden visit, €3.
Double rooms from €56. Dorsoduro 2596
Peggy Guggenheim's garden
Peggy Guggenheim lived in New York, Paris and London before settling in Venice, at Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal. She first opened her art collection to the public in 1949, with a display of sculptures in her garden. Today, after seeing paintings by Miró, Kandinsky and her former husband Max Ernst inside, visit the Nasher Sculpture Garden. A sort of art-nature trail, it includes such renowned artists as Alberto Giacometti, Marino Marini and Henry Moore.
Adults €12, students under 26, €7.
Querini Stampalia garden
A short walk east of St Mark's Square you will find inimalist plantings and a neatly trimmed lawn. The ground floor of the palazzo was redesigned by architect Carlo Scarpa in the 1960s, and includes an eclectic garden that fuses elements such as Byzantine-style mosaics and a Japanese pebble stream. Lilies resting on the water remind you of Venice's delicate balance of land and sea. The palazzo's houses contemporary art exhibitions, an extensive public library and elegant 18th-century rooms.
Palazzo and garden €10. Santa Maria Formosa, Castello 5252
Gardens on islands of Venice:
Once you have visited the lace shops of Burano, it's well worth wandering over the 60m footbridge that connects it to the small, lush island of Mazzorbo. In the shadow of its ancient campanile, the new upmarket Venissa hotel, restaurant and walled vineyard have been reviving the island's fortunes in recent years. Six cosy rooms in a restored manor house overlook the lagoon and grounds, but if you are just here for the day, orchards, fish farm and rows of vines are free for the public to roam around.
Line 12 from Fondamente Nuove to Mazzorbo, 34 minutes.
Double rooms from €150 B&B.
Island of San Giorgio Maggiore
Palladio's imposing Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is a familiar sight in the St Mark's basin, yet he also designed the adjoining monastery. Regular guided tours of the complex include the library, the elegant Cypress Cloister and the newly restored refectory. You can also lose yourself in the monastery's Borges labyrinth, a green maze created in the grounds to honour Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), who loved Venice. On special occasions, the foundation also runs tours of the monastery's sprawling private parkland, featuring rows of white Vicenza stone separated by box hedges. Classical concerts are held there in summer. Open Saturdays and Sundays, €10. Groups during weekdays upon reservation.
Line 2 from San Zaccharia, two minutes,
Island of Torcello
Torcello is a tiny island of tranquility and dreams of past glory. A canal path winds from the landing stage, past small holdings and tiny boats used by the island's handful of inhabitants. Climb the bell tower for views over island and lagoon and lunch in the garden at the exclusive Locanda Cipriani or try Villa '600, a restaurant with a homely interior, terrace and lawn.
Line 12 from Fondamente Nuove to Burano, then Line 9 from Burano to Torcello (42mins and 5mins),
Locanda Cipriani, 29 Piazza Santa Fosca
Villa '600, 12 Fdm. Borgognoni
Island of Sant'Erasmo
For centuries Sant'Erasmo has supplied the city with fresh fruit and vegetables, and today its 750 inhabitants are mostly farmers who sell produce directly to Venice's restaurants and markets. A holiday resort until the late 18th century, Sant'Erasmo still feels like you've escaped to the country. Venetian families moor their boats and picnic on the sandy beach, where you can rent kayaks for exploring the lagoon and the monastery on the nearby island of San Francesco del Deserto. Bicycles can be rented from Il Lato Azzurro, a small hotel near the beach that offers the only accommodation on the island. It has newly refurbished bright, comfortable rooms, and a restaurant, serving local produce. Cycle the coastal path that runs along the south of the island and you can spot the wading birds that frequent the marshy shoreline.
Line 13 from Fondamente Nuove to Sant' Erasmo Capannone (28 minutes)
Kayak rental, reservation +39 041 528 5329.
Hotel Il Lato Azzurro, double rooms from €70
If you go: Avoid the summer months, especially July and August. Best time to see Venice is in May, June and October. Enjoy your trip!
Sources and further reading:
Book: Verdant Venice: Gardens in the City of Water by Tudy Sammartini at Terra-Ferma.it €39