A short boat ride from busy Piazza San Marco, these under the radar Venetian Lagoon Islands promise a tourist-free taste of the real Italy.
On the water-taxi ride from Venice’s Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia, a storm is building on the horizon. The boat skids over the canals, blurring past Gothic arched windows and ornamental bridges before emptying out into the vast, open wetlands of the lagoon.
The driver points to the inky sky and shouts over the engine, “Acqua alta!” It means “high water” in Italian, but it’s the Venetian term for the especially high tides that afect the lagoon from September to May. Tellingly, it’s also interchangeable with the local word for storm. Water, as every Venetian knows, is ubiquitous here: It’s under you, around you and, in this case, even over you.
This rainy day is the start of my five-night trip to Venice, capital of the Veneto region. This time, though, I’m not setting foot in the city proper; the tourist-clogged Doge’s Palace, Bridge of Sighs, Saint Mark’s — those I’ve done. Instead, I’m turning my sights to the oft-overlooked islands of the Venetian Lagoon, 118 in total. Some are mere islets covered in grass and of interest only to nesting ducks and their hunters; others are home to crumbling ruins and fishing camps. But several are undergoing a major renaissance — with new luxury hotels, revived vineyards, locavore yoga retreats and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Mazzorbo, Isola delle Rose, Burano, Torcello, Sant’Erasmo and Isola di San Clemente: what these islands ofer is a taste of Venice — with far fewer crowds.