Venice: it’s impossible not to fall in love with this city. No matter how many times I have been there, every new visit brings a sense of awe for a city that is so unique and magical. And a sense of gratitude for being able to experience it again.
In October I was invited to Venice by Starwood to stay at their luxury hotel Westin Europa & Regina. Together with three UK bloggers, I spent three nights at the hotel near St Mark’s Square and explored Venice’s food scene with the Westin team and experienced local guides.
Located in the most exclusive shopping district of Venice overlooking the majestic Grand Canal, The Westin Europa & Regina is just a short walk away from Piazza San Marco and Palazzo del Doge.
The hotel is composed of five buildings from the 17th and 18th century interconnected by corridors and lifts. The halls and rooms are decorated in a grand style with lots of marbles, chandeliers, mirrors and golden details. It is gorgeous, the epitome of elegance and luxury.
There are two main entrances to the hotel: the main one is from Corte Barozzi, but if you are lucky enough to arrive by water-taxi you will be taken directly to the docking station outside the Westin.
We had aperitivo on the terrace one evening which was quite nice.
Breakfast in the sunny terrace on my first day was also a highlight of my stay at the Westin Europa & Regina.
The following two days the rain was relentless, so I chose to order breakfast with the room service instead, and eat in the comforts of my deluxe bedroom.
The deluxe rooms are decorated with Murano-glass fixtures and cream coloured wall paper and upholstery. My room also had a 32″ flat-screen TV, a blue velvet armchair, a large desk, and juliet balcony overlooking the canal.
Having stayed at Westin hotels before (read my review of Rome Excelsior and Berlin Grand Hotel), I have come to love their Heavenly Bed Mattress on which you will have the most comfortable sleep ever (yes, really!).
On more than one occasion I returned to my room at the Westin completely soaked from the rain, and I was really grateful to be able to relax in the marble bath.
But as I mentioned earlier, the reason why I was invited to stay at the Westin was not to relax in a bath-tub full of bubbles while eating Italian pastries…In fact I was there on a very serious mission to review the newly-launched Personal Food Shopper. Basically, they wanted me to eat! ;)
The programme invites Westin guests to eat well while travelling in Italy (in the cities of Rome, Florence , Milan and Venice). But the food is always good in Italy, I hear you say! Well no, actually there is a lot of bad food in Italy and especially in very touristic cities like Venice. I arrived in Venice one day ahead of the other bloggers and I found myself eating pizza for dinner in one of those touristy restaurants behind St Mark’s Square, because it is hard to find the best places without a local person to guide you (or book ahead for you). That’s the aim of Westin’s Personal Food Shopper service: to help travellers discover Italy’s finest and most authentic food products.
With the help of a local, English-speaking food expert we experienced some of the best gastronomic spots in Venice. The tour started from the Westin and took us to Rialto Market, the oldest food market in Venice and about 10-15′ walk from the hotel. Open six days a week from 7,30 to 13,30, Rialto market is a popular destination for tourists as well as Venetians.
During the tour we stopped for cicchetti at Osteria Bancogiro. I enjoyed the cicchetti, especially black polenta with baccalà mantecato and the glass of Prosecco. The restaurant serves modern Venetian dishes and there is a canal-front terrace overlooking my personal favourite spot of Venice.
The next day, while on another tour of Venice secret gardens, we stopped for cicchetti at Cantinone Gia’ Schiavi. I was overwhelmed by the quality of the cicchetti, which are all displayed on the counter, so you pick and choose your favourites. As the name suggests (cantina means cellar in Italian), this is a place to drink wine as they have a wide selection available.
While I’m on the subject of cicchetti, I can’t fail to mention Trattoria Ca’ d’oro Alla Vedova, which was top of my list after I found it closed a few years ago. I ordered their famous meatballs, a portion of octopus and potato salad, a glass of wine and paid 7 euros! Amazing, considering this is one of the most famous Venetian bacari.
For a proper sit-down meal of good Italian and Venetian dishes, I recommend Ristorante Antico Pignolo just a few minutes’ walk from Piazza San Marco. If you’re visiting on a warm day, sit at a table in the courtyard at the back of the restaurant, which is quiet and offers respite from the hustle and bustle of Venice. You can’t go wrong with a traditional dish of Spaghetti alla Busara.
In the afternoons we had free time to explore Venice so Jo, Ed and I – like any other tourist – visited Caffè Florian for a hot chocolate (which at €5.50 was cheaper here than in London ). Florian is the oldest café in the world, dating back to 1720!
This review of the best places to eat and drink in Venice would not be complete without Enoiteca Mascareta, where we had dinner one night. Mascareta is an authentic Venetian bacaro, jam-packed with natural wines and simple Venetian food: cicchetti, cured meats and cheeses, seasonal hot dishes.
More than just the food, this osteria (wine bar) is unique because of its owner, Mauro Lorenzon, a true icon of Venice. He wears colourful bow ties (his collection of them hangs from the ceiling) and the walls are covered by illustrations of his mustachioed face. He joined us for dinner, bought us red roses (but ended up eating one…), sliced open a bottle of wine using a sword and made us dance around the table. Needless to say, it was one of those experiences that I will never forget!
Finally, pay a visit to the new department store Fondaco dei Tedeschi, housed in a former post office building right by the Rialto Bridge. Take the lift to the top floor to access the rooftop terrace (entry is free, but limited to about 50 people at the same time and after 10 minutes you will be asked to leave to make space for the next group). The view is spectacular!
There is nothing about Venice that I can easily forget…this city is truly a charm! And experiencing it with Westin Europa & Regina allowed me to discover amazing places to eat in Venice and see the city through the eyes of the locals.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Westin Europa & Regina Hotel. All opinions are my own.