In her peripatetic role as director of high-end Italy specialist Bellini Travel (44-207/602-7602; bellinitravel.com), London-based Emily FitzRoy visits Venice often, spending six weeks there just this spring. “San Polo is the oldest and smallest of the six sestieri, and it’s why I first fell in love with Venice,” says FitzRoy, who’s intimately familiar with the secrets of its labyrinthine streets. The area’s main walking route slices it in two, from the Rialto Bridge, down the Grand Canal’s left bank, through Campo San Polo, then toward the colossal Gothic Church of the Frari, on the margins of Dorsoduro. “It is fantastically touristy around the Rialto,” she says, “but it firmly maintains its local feel, with the schools and the stall-holders eating cicchetti at the fish market.” That market, open since 1097, remains the heart of the neighborhood.
Almost unchanged since its 1742 debut, this standing-room-only café has some of Venice’s best pastries and cakes, sugared delights made on the premises each morning. Breakfast here should be a cappuccino and the almond cakes called lingua di suocera—literally “mother-in-law’s tongue.” At 1415 San Polo; 39-41/522-3835.
Church of San Polo
A viewing of Giandomenico Tiepolo’s extraordinary Stations of the Cross, reached through the oratory door beneath the organ, is essential. Painted when Tiepolo was only 20 years old, this 18th-century jewel is massively underrated compared with his father Giambattista’s work. At Campo San Polo.
Amadi has run his tiny glass atelier for close to 40 years. His long-beaked lagoon birds and charming vegetables, including porcinis and peas bursting out of their pods (both from $80), are favorites. At 2747 San Polo, Calle dei Saoneri; 39-41/523-8089.
Scriba Campo dei Frari
This print shop has a fabulous collection of original works from the 17th century to the present. Beyond classic images of the city are engravings by Livio Ceschin, a young local artist whose atmospheric depictions of the lagoon (from $325) sell internationally. Owner Marina Bertoldini will pull them out upon request. At 3030 San Polo, Salizada San Rocco; scribanet.com.
Palazzetto Bru Zane
Purchased by French philanthropist Nicole Bru and opened last year as the Center of French Romantic Music, the 17th-century palazzetto, accessed through a small garden, is one of Venice’s most enchanting. It can only be visited with a ticket (from $35) to one of the center’s concerts, which begin in October and run through May. At 2368 San Polo; bru-zane.com.
Many people don’t know it, but this renowned restaurant’s owner and chef, Mara Martin, occasionally arranges day- to weeklong cooking classes in her stunning apartment overlooking the Grand Canal at the top of nearby Palazzo Pisani Moretta. Her hands-on lessons teach the secrets of Venetian dishes like risotto with cuttlefish ink and spider crab. At 2002 San Polo, Calle del Scaleter; 39-041/721-308; dafiore.net.
Hanna and Jaroslaw Przyborowski’s newly opened contemporary art collection sits in dramatic contrast to Palazzo Donà, the 14th-century residence that houses it. A changing roster of exhibits and films are displayed throughout the home, even in the kitchen. Open Wednesday and Saturday afternoons only, the collection can also be viewed by appointment. At 2177 Campo San Polo, Palazzo Donà; signum.art.pl.
San Giovanni Elemosinario
Tucked among unassuming office buildings, this rarely visited 11th-century church, one of the city’s oldest, contains the tombs of merchants who once worked in the nearby Rialto market. It also has an absolutely excellent Titian painting of St. John the Almsgiver. At Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni, Rialto.
Pronto The three-year-old offshoot of the wildly successful Castello restaurant Alle Testiere, this spot was conceived as a sort of delicatessen for San Polo locals. It has a few tables for a quick lunch, and the risotto al pesce, made on Saturdays, is outstanding. A dinner menu was recently added for Wednesdays through Fridays. Lunch, $15; dinner, $25. At 319 San Polo, Calle della Beccaria; 39-41/822-0298.
Rialto Fish Market
It’s best to arrive early (vendors open at 7 a.m.) and by traghetto, the public gondola that crosses the Grand Canal from Santa Sofia. The observant will notice not only the variety of Venice-specific sea creatures but also the capitals atop the columns that depict many of those very same beasts. At Campo della Pescaria.