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Last November, I went to Venice after not having been there, I regret to say, in 25 years. Why it took me so long is a rather involved story and one that’s perhaps a little too personal, a touch too intime, shall we say, for this space. But the visit convinced me that even though there are people who return year after year, who know, or think they know, this city inside and out, it’s never enough. There’s never, ever too much of a good thing. Frankly, I didn’t find a guidebook that even came close to what I thought departures, in one of its special destination issues, could do. Admittedly, this is not a city of new trendy restaurants, of designer hotels—that said, I adored Philippe Starck’s Palazzina Grassi, which opened the week I was there. But to be able to drill deep down into the life of one city for an entire issue of the magazine was terribly appealing. After all, in years past we covered the continent of South America, the Subcontinent of India, superpowers Russia and China and, just last year, the entire country of France. This time around, it would be one city—the exquisite Queen of the Adriatic.
To be perfectly honest, this issue isn’t only about Venice proper but about the world of and…beyond Venice. And that’s terribly important. As Francesca Bortolotto Possati, the most elegant Venetian owner of the Bauer Hotel on the Grand Canal, told me one evening over dinner at her favorite restaurant, Antiche Carampane, “Too many people come, breathlessly shopping and eating, take the water taxi back to the train station or catch the nonstop Delta flight home and that’s it. They say, ‘Now I’ve done Venice.’ That’s a shame, because there’s so much more to Venice than just, well, Venice.”
Francesca, in fact, ended up being a critical voice in this issue. She was our unofficial (and unpaid, I might add; sorry, Francesca) consultant, directing me and everyone we later sent to Venice to all sorts of discoveries there—and beyond. Take, for example, “The Lost Islands of Venice,” in which best-selling novelist Andrea di Robilant visits a series of abandoned islands far out in the lagoon, where most of us would never even venture—or know we could. Only an hour north of the city is the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region, best known for Prosecco—and no, as Jason Wilson explains, Prosecco is not just another word for Champagne. And contributing editor Lee Marshall shows how the Veneto area, of which Venice is the capital, has everything— outdoor opera, great food, cooking courses, Alpine skiing and some of Italy’s most sophisticated small hotels.
Midway through my own weeklong visit, Possati invited my wife and me to lunch at her palazzo—not the one she rented to Angelina and Brad during the making of The Tourist, but another beautiful pile on the canal. It was raining, the waters were rising, Possati’s son and daughter were at the table where an enormous platter of risotto with mushrooms was being devoured and downed with…Prosecco. “I’m so sorry I can’t be with you the rest of the week, but I have business in Florence, and I have to meet up with Massimo Ferragamo in a couple of hours,” she said by way of excusing herself before dessert. “A couple of hours?” I asked her. “But how are you going to make it by five o’clock?” “Oh, that’s no problem,” she replied. “I like to think of Italy as one big neighborhood. Nothing’s that far away.” Welcome to Venice—and beyond.
Your Own Private Carnevale
Gather a group of friends who like dressing up, and book a flight as early as possible. From February 26 through March 8, 2011, Venice’s population will more than double, as it does every year, to 150,000, with the greatest swell occurring on the final Sunday in the 11-day festival.
Rent a palace on the Grand Canal for the week, something like Palazzino Alvisi, as illustrated by Maira Kalman. Cedric Reversade (cedricreversade.com) handles this property and provides concierge assistance for clients.
Call Antonia Sautter, the doyenne of Venice costumers, to book your outfit, with full historical regalia being the order of the day. Prices run from $195 to $1,950 a night, with the most outrageous outfits selling out first.
Book tickets for the costume ball of your choice. Sautter hosts Il Ballo del Doge (ilballodeldoge.com). Cavalchina, held at La Fenice, is the alternative; many attendees (including a healthy number of Venetians) donate money to the city’s restoration projects (carnevale.venezia.it).
Upon arrival in the city, set some time aside for costume fitting (it’s mayhem) and buying accessories (also available from Sautter). Expect to pay $13 for a simple Venetian eye mask to $1,300 for a wig done in an 18th-century style. Only with these extravagant flourishes will you get a table at Florian—the place for your pre-ball spritz.