Buying Murano Glass

Courtesy Venini

The “Island of Glass” is a cornerstone of the classic Venetian itinerary. But locals are skeptical. What’s a glass lover to do?

A worldly American jeweler walks into a Murano glass factory. Three glassblowing demonstrations—and one $200 unicorn for his young daughter—later, he leaves, lighter in pocket and disillusioned in spirit: “The glassblower handed my daughter this trinket like it was a gift. And now I hear they’re all made in China anyway.” And so the tales of Murano turn. This island, a ten-minute vaporetto stop from Piazza San Marco, was established as the center of Venice’s glassblowing industry in 1291, largely due to concerns that the furnaces would cause fires on the mainland. But a rising reputation as the worst tourist trap in a city that is rife with them has seen the Murano magic fade. And yet for a first-time visitor— or anyone travelingwith children—it’s an essential stop on the itinerary. How, then, to take in this “Island of Glass” without getting duped? Some say to skip it altogether; others encourage sophisticated travelers to play tourist for the day; then there are those who say it’s a must-see only for its two beautiful churches. (But everyone seems to agree that any visit should start with lunch at Lele’s—see “Lunch Break,” below.)

An unguided tour is entirely possible—the island is only about a mile long. Glass designer Marie Brandolini suggests starting at the Museo del Vetro glass museum (39-041/739-586; “Then visit the Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato for its mosaic floor and icon of the Madonna as well as the relics of San Donato and the legendary dragon he killed in the Second Crusade,” she says, “and the less-frequented Church San Pietro Martire for the glass chandeliers and Bellini’s Madonna with Doge Agostino Babarigo.” She suggests walking the island and “witnessing the life there, watching the Muranese on their way to work.” But she also recommends stops at Venini (50 Fondamenta Vetrai; 39-041/273-7211;, to see its collaborations with artists like Ettore Sotsass and Gae Aulenti; S.A.L.I.R. (78 Fondamenta Daniele Manin; 39-041/739-033;, for its hall of mirrors; and Carlo Moretti (3 Fondamenta Manin; 39-041/736-588;, to view the works of a contemporary master. For others a bit more serious about their immersion, Murano’s Abate Zanetti glass school offers a half-day program that includes historical background as well as glassblowing demonstrations (from $515; 8/B Calle Briati; 39-041/273-7711; There are full-day classes and long-term programs as well. Brandolini admits that the best workshops, including her own, are closed to the public. Enter Pamela Berry and Donata Grimani of Venice Etc, who customize exclusive Murano itineraries for each client (from $385;—glass unicorns not included. —Stellene Volandes

Lunch Beak

Busa Alla Torre (known as Lele’s, after its owner) has commendable food, especially its crisply deep-fried moeche, silver dollar–sized soft-shell crabs unique to the lagoon, excellent fried calamari and pastas like spaghetti with clams, all best eaten under the terrace’s sunny yellow awning, overlooking a busy square. Lunch only, $40. At 3 Campo Santo Stefano; 39-041/739-662. —Florence Fabricant