A selection of our favorite restaurants in Venice
Discover the primary story told in the 12th century mosaics that decorate Venice’s St Mark’s Basilica. Approach Guides founder, David Raezer, walks through the most important images from the church’s mosaic domes, pointing out key features, figures and symbols.
In this episode of our Insights series, Jennifer Raezer, Approach Guides founder, explores the eastern influences that shaped the art and architecture of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, highlighting the church’s domes, floorplan, and mosaics, which were influenced by Venice’s interaction with the Byzantine (Constantinople/Istanbul) and Fatimid (Cairo) empires.
The qanat (pronounced ka-naht) is an Arab-designed underground canal/irrigation system that directs water from a high-elevation aquifer water source to a town or agricultural area along a perfectly-calculated and very slight downward grade (see illustration). Invented by the Persians in 1000 BCE and functioning as a “below-ground aqueduct,” it is ideally suited to warm, dry climates, such as Sicily.
Visiting a qanat in Palermo
A vestige of Sicily’s Islamic period, Palermo’s qanats make for a fascinating visit. SottoSopra is a local nonprofit that guides small groups into a still-functioning qanat. You can contact them online or by telephone (+39 091/580433). If you don’t speak Italian, it might be best to have your hotel call and set up the appointment for you and to get explicit directions. It’s important to be aware that the water is cool and you get into it up to your chest, so come prepared with clothing that you can get wet (they will provide boots).
Where to eat in Palermo
Here are some of our favorite places to enjoy a bite to eat after a day spent touring the city:
- Osteria Paradiso. Via Serradifalco, 23 (close to the Zisa). Only open for lunch, this is a very good place for super-fresh seafood and pastas. The owner speaks only Italian (and there are no written menus) but you can just ask them to bring out any of the pastas mentioned and you will be very happy. Closed Sundays.
- Antica Gelateria Lucchese. Located on the south side of Piazza S. Domenico, 11, this is one of our favorite gelaterie in Palermo. Go with a granita here — the mandorla (almond) is the most traditional and delicious. Locals order their gelato in a brioche.
- Mi Manda Picone. Via Paternostro 69 at Piazza San Francesco d’Assisi. Excellent wine bar that has a very extensive list of Sicilian wines by the glass. The bar also has a restaurant attached, so you can get food, if you wish.
An unrivaled way to eat local in Italy.
18th century Neapolitan Rococo architecture is best illustrated in the work of Ferdinando Sanfelice (1675-1748), who is known for his striking staircases.
We especially love the Palazzo della Spagnuolo. Via dei Virgini, 19. Sanfelice’s stairway in this building is distinctive for its height, the large size of its openings onto the courtyard, and the movement of the design. This is a great example of how architecture of the Baroque keeps your eye in movement: notice in this picture how Sanfelice skillfully draws your gaze upward — the lines are sharply vertical and the flanking arches are not regular but follow the line of the staircase — giving the structure a lightness that would otherwise not exist.
After spending the day touring Venice and exploring its St. Mark’s beautiful architecture and mosaics, relax with the locals at a Venetian wine bar and enjoy an aperitivo of cichetti and ombre.
What to order in an Italian Wine bar
Cichetti (chi-KEHT-tee) are the bite-sized “Italian” brethren of tapas (basically, small snacks). Some of the most popular cichetti include salumi (especially soppressata and prosciutto di San Daniele); crostini topped with baccala (salted cod) and alici (anchovies); and cheeses such as piave, a local cow’s milk cheese similar to parmigiano-reggiano.
Ombre (OHM-bray) are small glasses of wine (ombre translates as “shadow”, apparently where the Venetians traditionally drank the wine). We suggest sticking to the local wines while in Venice, such as a sparkling white prosecco from the Valdobiadenne DOC or a smooth, medium-bodied red from the Valpolicella DOC.
Best wine bars in Venice
Wine bars in Venice are also known as cichetteria. These are some of our favorites:
- Al Marca (Campo Cesare Battisti, near the fish market, just off the Rialto bridge in San Polo). Perhaps our favorite in the city. Good for wine, aperitifs (try the local favorite: spritz con Aperol or Campari), and mini sandwiches with wine in the evening and coffee in the morning. Stand outside in the campo with the rest of the crowd — this bar is just a hole in the wall place.
- La Cantina, 3689 Strada Nuova, Cannaregio; (39-041) 522 8258. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday. Very good place, with good wines and probably the best tasty small plates of meats and seafood.
- I Rusteghi. Campiello del Tentor San Marco; 041/523 2205. Just off the Rialto bridge and right around the corner from Alle Botte in the corner of a small campo, it’s a little more upscale than Alle Botte and its less busy atmosphere allows for interactions with the family behind the bar. Drinks and small sandwiches. The frizzante rose is worth a try.
- Banco Giro, 122 Campo San Giacometto, San Polo; (39-041) 523 2061. In summer, open 10:30 a.m. to midnight. Closed Sunday night and all day Monday. Good place, very laid-back and usually not too busy. You can find this bar behind the markets on the right side immediately after you descend from the Rialto Bridge. Banco Giro also serves sit-down dinners in the quaint upstairs.
Explore Venice’s Distinctive Culture
Perhaps no other single monument better embodies the city in which it stands. As the source of the Venetian Republic’s legitimacy, St. Mark’s Basilica increasingly became the symbol of its accrued economic, political, and military strength.
Each region of Italy has local specialties and distinct culinary traditions, and Venice and the surrounding Veneto region offer some of the best. Some of our favorite regional dishes listed in this Guide to the Regional Foods of Italy, include baccala (salted cod), polenta (boiled cornmeal), salumi (especially soppressata and prosciutto di San Daniele), and risi e bisi (rice with peas).