Almost in the very middle of this little sea, enclosed between the water and the sky, lies Venice, a fairy vision, risen as if by miracle out of the water that surrounds it and like green shining ribbons, cuts through its beautiful body.
So wrote Giulio Lorenzetti, in his famous 1926 guidebook, Venice and its Lagoon: A Historical and Artistic Guide (updated in 1994 and still the most authoritative guide). Yet there it is, the ancient “Serenissima,” a glittering city decorated with gold, arising out of the lagoon, firm and fixed. We can barely grasp how architects could have imagined its plan and how century after century, its stones were put into place.
Venice was born in the lagoon, though to outsiders, it seems somehow completely separate from it. To really experience la Serenissima, the ancient city of waterways and light, you must ply its inland sea and visit its tiny islands (there are 30 of them, and 150 canals in the archipelago). You need to go beyond the tourist route to find the bustling life of true Venetians that is hidden from the view of foreigners and to enter a quiet world of history, art, and nature surrounding the spectacle of Venice. What better way to explore the real Venice than alongside a native son with deep roots in the natural world of the lagoon, and with an award-winning American food writer, journalist, storyteller, and one-time sailor who has intimately explored Venice and its cuisine?
Come with me and Mauro Stoppa, a local hero and legendary skipper-chef on a unique three-day journey and see the Venice behind the stage set for an experience of a lifetime.
Sail its secret estuaries on board the Eolo, a flat-bottomed sailing bragozzo constructed to navigate the shallow waters of the lagoon. Built in the nearby port of Choggia in 1946, Mauro has lovingly restored the historic boat and appointed it for the comfort of an intimate group of guests. Be transported for three days on the archipelago’s waterways to the grace and rhythm of another time, far from the tempo of today’s battering pace and the throngs of tourists. Immerse yourself in the natural life of this magical and mysterious place, see its unique flora and fauna, savor its seafood, wild game, and the fresh harvest of the lagoon islands in autumn. Drink the delicious “salty” wine that is made from local grapes kissed by the sea air.
Discover nearby islands like Torcello, where Hemingway wrote parts of his Across the River and Into the Trees and hunted; refuge of royalty and international superstars seeking seclusion at Locanda Cipriani, the legendary inn still run by the Cipriani family. Visit Lazzaretto Nuovo with its Bronze Age ruins, where digs over the last 20 years have turned on its head the previously held notion that Venice was settled some 1,500 years ago by mainland tribes fleeing the Longobards. You might stop at Sant’Erasmo, a floating island of vegetable fields and orchards; or untouristed Chioggia, whose ancient mercato puts the famous Rialto fish market to shame. Afterward, feast on sublime meals from the galley, dreamed up by Mauro using the fresh local bounty of the day. Dine in the best restaurants and stay overnight in the finest hotels in Venice. You’ll never get any closer to the real and enchanting essence of Venice.
VENICE BY LAGOON, SEPTEMBER 19-22, 2014
Read about cruises on board the Eolo and view previous excursions for a sample of our upcoming “Venice by Lagoon” culinary-historical tour, on Mauro Stoppa’s new website here.
“September,” Mauro says, “is the best time of year to come to Venice, not too hot and not too cold or rainy. It’s when the island farmers harvest pumpkins, the first radicchio of the season, local cabbages, eggplants, peppers, and the sweetest tomatoes of the year….We have local breeds of figs and plums and an old, sweet white grape variety, ‘Dorona.’ The skin is too delicate to export so it’s only eaten here. We get sea bream with the first storm and different kinds of fish migrate to the open sea that join the main canals between the lagoon and the Adriatic….Also the cuttlefish are ready….It’s open season for wild duck—they have a different taste in autumn, unique.”
Can you resist?
“…it’s hard to blame people for getting excited when they eat risotto with sea asparagus—the Venetian “salicornia”—or grouper cooked in peaches with a Byzantine basilica as a backdrop.” —Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times
- We will meet you upon your arrival at Venice Airport and take you by water taxi to the Eolo, the only bragozzo of its size still navigating.
- Cruise the lagoon to uncover the origins of the most fascinating city in the world. Reach the Venissa, a manor house-hotel and wine estate on its own bucolic island, Mazzorbo, top-rated by The New York Times, Michelin, and Travel + Leisure. The tiny, peaceful island, once an important trading center, is known today for its colorful houses, vineyards, and orchards. Refresh here, eat a light lunch.
- Visit Torcello in the afternoon, the original site of Venice, a tiny island made famous by Ernest Hemingway, today sparsely inhabited by twenty people and a Byzantine cathedral.
- Drop anchor in the serene northern lagoon, where Mauro will cook a superb dinner from the pick of the fishermen’s catch and the local foods and wine. Back to locanda Venissa where we will stay overnight.
- Sail to the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, where the Venetian government once quarantined people and boats for 40 days during the plagues, thought to have entered Venice on vessels from the Far East. This is where the Venetian mask originated, elaborate cloth cover-ups soaked with vinegar to ward off disease. Today, the island is a beautiful and and peaceful respite. Drop anchor and have lunch on board.
- Visit the remarkable excavations in progress on the island, revealing human settlements in the archipelago that predate the Roman period.
- Cooking lesson with Mauro and me on the Eolo using local produce and fish from the lagoon. Formerly an agronomist and vegetable expert, he is a first-rate chef with a profound knowledge of the local history, natural habitat, and cuisine. Lunch follows.
- After lunch, visit an organic wine producer who revived ancient vines a few years ago in this semi-sandy soil. Sample grapes and vintages that are reminiscent of the tastes and aromas of the lagoon all around us.
- Back on board, pass the “Murazzi,” a thin strip of land that divides the sea from the lagoon and was built up and reinforced by the Venetians with stones from Istria, brought by thousands of boatloads from Croatia, at that time under Venetian rule. Reach Malamocco towards evening for dinner and the night at Ca’ del Borgo, a beautiful 16th century palazzo.
- This morning, after the fishermen of the village have dropped off their catch from the night, we cruise in the direction of Venice.
- Cooking class with Mauro and Julia using splendid ingredients the lagoon offers us. As we finish our enchanted lunch, la Serenissima begins to appear in the distance.
- Dock on the island of San Giorgio just across from San Marco with plenty of time to stroll the streets of the city. Dine and stay overnight at the magnificent Palazzetto Pisani Ferri, a private 15th century palace on the Grand Canal, once a residence of wealthy merchants.
- Our cruise is over, but if you’d like to stay on in Venice we can suggest what to see, where to eat, and where to stay.
VENICE BY LAGOON SEPTEMBER 19-22, 2014
RATES AND PARTICULARS
- Euro 2,300 per person (US$ 3.175/rate 1.38, at this posting).
- 10% deposit upon reservation, refunded if the minimum of 6 guests is not reached.
- 40% upon confirmation, the balance 30 days before departure.
- Minimum 6 guests. Maximum, 12 guests.
- Possible extension of a stay at Palazzetto Pisani Ferri, Euro 300 per couple per night.
- Accommodation as detailed, breakfast, lunches, dinners daily; private stops as per itinerary, local guides, the services of your two tour leaders.
- Two cooking classes on board the Eolo.
- Flights, travel insurance, items of personal expenditure (e.g. telephone calls, laundry, etc.), discretionary gratuities to boatmen and guides, government levies or taxes introduced after publication of this program (March 25, 2014).
- Please note that if circumstances beyond our control necessitates some alteration to the itinerary shown, you will be notified of any such changes as soon as possible.
- For information and reservations: Mauro Stoppa, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Everyone knows Venice, but the Venetian cuisine has been somewhat of a hidden treasure. Rich in the use of unique spices left from its Serenissa years, the cuisine sparkles with surprise. Julia della Croce [in her book, Veneto]…has captured wonderfully [its] nuances and sparkle of this regional cuisine.” —Lidia Bastianich
Julia della Croce has been immersed since birth in the tastes and aromas of the Italian cooking she loves. After becoming disenchanted with a political career, she began cooking in the galley of a 50-foot sailing ketch for paying passengers. She is a journalist, and James Beard award-winning cook book author and cooking teacher. Among her thirteen titles, is Veneto: Authentic Recipes from Venice and the Italian Northeast (Chronicle Books), winner of the 2004 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. She writes about the culture of food and drink for Zester Daily and in this blog, and is a noted authority on the food of Italy.
Mauro Stoppa was born and raised on his family’s farm in a small village near Padua on the southern edge of the Venetian archipelago. He is an agronomist by education but his first love was always the world of the lagoon. In 1998, he pulled up his land roots and bought and restored the Eolo, a vintage bragozzo named after the Greek god of the wind, a flat-bottomed 52-foot fishing barge that is one of the last of its kind. There and then, he decided to fulfill his lifetime dream of living on the sea and to devote himself to the restoration of the Venetian waterways. Stoppa takes small groups on cruises to sail, eat his sublime food, and experience the magic of Venice and the lagoon he loves, a venture featured in the New York Times.