Beyond Venice

Only a few hundred people live on Mazzorbo, which to this day preserves an authentic way of life that you won’t find in Venice proper or on the private hotel islands. Like Burano, the village is made up of brightly colored houses that recall the Caribbean, but with full-on Venetian characteristics: narrow alleyways, leaning campaniles and, of course, wet sidewalks.

Few tourists make it to Mazzorbo, but those who do inevitably take to the streets to photograph the colorful houses and the laundry hanging from the windows. But just before the sun sets, they head back to Venice on the Vaporetto, the public water-transport line. At the same time, the local fishermen come home to eat with their mammas. Lace curtains are drawn over the small windows of old houses, and the smells and sounds of the kitchen trickle into its twisting streets and canals. This is when Mazzorbo reveals its true self.

Mazzorbo Island – Italy

The handsome, spritely Matteo Bisol, youngest son of the famed Italian Bisol wine family, owns Mazzorbo’s only hotel, Venissa. The tidy six-room inn has a Michelin-starred restaurant overlooking the Mazzorbo canal and is home to its own farm and vineyard — a Venetian version of agritourism. Over the course of my threenight stay, Bisol, the unofficial mayor of Mazzorbo, plays the consummate host. He introduces me to Venissa’s chefs and to the owners of a new yoga retreat on the neighboring island of Santa Cristina. I also get a tour of the nine gondolier inspired guesthouses that he’s set to open this spring on Burano.

One morning, Bisol takes me on his boat to the island of Torcello, less than a mile away. It’s the oldest continuously occupied part of Venice, and Bisol tells me about how his family got involved in growing grapes there. “This is the vineyard my father discovered on his visit to Venice,” he says as we approach the 7th-century Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, one of the tallest and oldest churches in Veneto. “When he saw those grapes, he wondered if they were the rare, endangered Dorona grapes. When he found out they were, he ofered to buy the vineyard on the spot.”

Bisol’s wiry frame sprints up the stairs of the basilica’s bell tower while I lag behind, weighed down with the pasta and wine from last night. Atop the tower is a breathtaking view of the Venetian Lagoon and its islands in the distance. “This is the birthplace of Venice,” he says, gesturing to the ancient islands and their watery world below. It’s a landscape marked by sky-scraping campaniles, flat vermillion fields and, of course, water in every direction. If you dropped someone atop the tower, they’d immediately know where they were. Few places in the world can claim such distinction.

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