Venice has always been fascinating to me. I traveled to the mysterious lagoon city from an early age on. This is also because my aunt lives near Venice. Now I visitesd Venice in winter for the first time. Chris and me took a look at the more remote part of the Dorsoduro area and experienced the famos carnival. The weekend has inspired me so much that even being still in Venice I felt a strong urge to write about it. I selected a few of the most beautiful impressions that have excited me emotionally.
Wintry Dorsoduro: quiet old town of Venice
On Saturday, first and foremost we wanted to buy a real handmade Venetian carnival mask. We had planned to bring this as a gift to someone. The Dorsoduro district in the old town is famous for its museums like the Galleria dell’Academia. Of course, you are not alone there, but at least at this time of the year, it was comparatively quiet. To the east part of it you can stroll through empty streets, past abandoned channels. In between you will find nice bars and creative restaurants. If you travel to such places with me, you have to bring a lot of time: if I see a nice Italian coffee machine from the outside of a cafe, I just have to go in … We found Dorsoduro and its calm and artistic flair very attractive. Well, we could imagine to stay in this neighborhood for a few days once.
In the mask shop
Masks are available to buy in every corner of Venice at Carnival time, but they come in very different quality. Many masks are cheap imported goods from China. If you are after original handmade goods from Venice, you have to search. You will find authentic ware in the beautiful shop Mistero Buffo, San Basegio, in Dorsoduro. The friendly and humorous owner, Leonardo Faggian, told us that he has been practicing the traditional profession of mask building for 25 years with great passion. We could see this when we watched him painting the masks with full devotion. The masks are traditionally made of papier-mâché and plaster. They are hand-decorated and painted. He also explained to us the different types of masks he offers: masks of the theater according to the tradition of the Commedia dell’arte and carnival masks. What is the difference between a mask covering half the face and one that covers the whole face? The first is “better for drinking, eating and kissing”. That’s how you imagine Italy.
After the shop visit, we continued our stroll through the pleasantly quiet neighborhood, which its many canals. And after that we went to the mask market “Mercato delle maschere e dei costumi veneziani” (Venetian costume and mask market) on the Campo Santo Stefano square in San Marco. Here you can buy the heavy capes for the Carnival costumes. I have a thing for colorful markets. Although the masks were not as nice as at Mistero Buffo, I found the stroll through the market with its huge amount of masks and robes inspiring.
Winter in Venice: get cozy in restaurants and cafes
I like the small restaurants, bars and cafes in Venice and I find them especially nice when the weather is bad. The restaurants are often simply furnished, with red and white tablecloths. They remind me of the romantic dinner scene in “Lady and the Tramp”. I remember myself as a child happily eating spaghetti with tomato sauce in one of those restaurants with my parents, while the rain poured down heavily. But naturally Venice offers also the upscale type gastronomy. Caffè Florian is considered controversial because of its high prices and the visitors, who are mostly non-locals. I personally love the cafe. The oldest coffeehouse in Italy has been run since 1720. It used to be frequented by artists and intellectuals, among them probably the most famous German traveler in Italy, the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Unusually in Italy, visitors drink their coffee sitting on plush furniture in front of golden decor of the 19th century. This feels more like the Austrian coffee house culture. However, it was at Caffe Florian, where the Italian patriots used to meet, who rebelled against the Austrian Habsburg occupiers. The latter gathered in another cafe just round the corner. Whenever I stay in Venice, I cannot resist drinking a coffee at the beautiful Caffe Florian to recover from the hustle and bustle of San Marco. There are more coffee houses placed on St Mark’s Square which are at least a little cheaper. However. I found Caffe Florian so appealing that I did not try the others – once again. The great history, the visual stimuli, the fun to photograph here – all this is worth the mercilessly expensive coffee.
Soaking up winter sun in Venice
If you are lucky like we were, you can enjoy a bright blue sky in wintry Venice. When the weather is good, the water of the lagoon looks much more attractive and shines in a deep blue. We experienced this on Sunday and enjoyed our Vaporetto (water bus) trip across the Grand Canal with its magnificent palazzi (palaces) all the more. A little tea in the thermos warmed me up while I was standing on the boat admiring creatively costumed people. They were gliding elegantly across the Grand Canal in their gondolas. But I also found other interesting photo motifs such as Art Deco facades or a gondolier in front of an interesting banner with the words “No Mafia, L’Italia è sacra” on it. Venice stands up against the mafia and says: No mafia, Venice is holy. The good weather made it easy for me to take photos. But even at night, the Grand Canal and its grandeur of palaces offers fantastic motifs. St. Mark’s Square is always picturesque, yet I was happy about the sunshine. The winter has the advantage that the sunlight is less hard.
Splenid Finale: Venice Carnival
If you want to experience the Venice Carnival – and I strongly recommend it – it is advisable not to go there directly on the carnival weekend, because it gets so crowded that you can hardly move. On Sunday, one week before the actual carnival, you can already see many people in the old town and above all at St. Mark’s Square with interesting and extremely diverse masks and costumes. The masked people in Venice Carnival can usually be photographed. Who knows, maybe they are even looking to be photographed. From the outside, people seem aloof, sometimes narcissistic, with their rigid masks and elaborate robes. But all were open minded and showed a lot of humor when Chris asked for a picture with our world-traveling soft toy, the Lovely Dog. Having such a special hobby like photographing stuffed animals all over the world brings you definetly in quick contact with people. They were curious to know where guys with such ideas come from.
My conclusion: The winter in Venice is perfect. Although I have been to this beautiful city many times before, our carnival weekend has given me a bunch of new experiences. There is nothing better here than to lose yourself, to drift through lonely lanes, along quiet canals and to be enchanted, when by chance a figure with a mask whized past in the dusk …
Transparency: I did not receive any financial support for the creation of the article. The trip was self-financed. The mention of commercial offers and links is based on my voluntary decision.
If you liked my blog post, you might also be interested in my article on picturesque Burano Island in the lagoon of Venice.
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4 thoughts on “Carnival and lonely canals: Venice in winter”
I had always thought about going to Venice in the winter! I had imagined it would be nice as it’s a lot quieter than summer when packed with tourists. This looked like an amazing trip and I’m jealous you got to see the carnival!
Many thanks for commenting, Ainsley! Believe me Venice is magic in wintertime and especially the Carnival is a must-see. Cheers, Ricarda
You just got to love those masks!! Great way to spend some time in Venice while it is not that busy, great idea!
Oh yes, these masks are stunning and each one was unique in the shop we visited…Venice is really pleasant in winter and there is so much to do.