The recipe for a magical weekend in Venice
For the past several months I’ve been living in Germany. The culture, language, and surroundings are all new, and I found myself wanting to go someplace more familiar for a short break.
After some looking I decided on Venice. Having studied abroad in Italy and traveled there multiple times, the country feels much more familiar than Germany. Since I’ve been there before I could also take a more laid-back approach to the weekend without feeling like I was missing out on things.
Now to choose a hotel.
Venice is full of beautiful hotels, so the choices are extensive. I thought about one of the classics, like the Gritti Palace, and considered the St. Regis Venice since I’ve stayed there before and enjoyed it. In the end I chose the Hilton Molino Stucky Venice for a couple of reasons.
First, the location is different. It’s on Giudecca Island, out of the main tourist areas.
Second, I really wanted to check out one of their higher level rooms. I have a lot of Hilton points, so I decided to cash out the majority of them for three nights in one of their unique Molino Tower Suites. The rooms are beautiful and have amazing views over the Giudecca Canal and the city.
I’m not a huge fan of flying, and I’m always tempted to take a really long train trip instead of a short flight. But since we only had a weekend we decided to fly.
It’s the first time I’ve said “thank you for saying we should fly!”.
Since the flight from Frankfurt to Venice is short, and the Veneto region is just beyond the Alps, you fly very low over the mountains. It was a clear day and the views were spectacular! I’ve never seen anything like it.
I was like a little kid, with my nose pressed against the window and my camera out through much of the flight.
Once we arrived in Venice we had two choices for getting to the hotel. We could take the water bus line that stops outside the hotel, or we could take a water taxi.
We decided on a water taxi since the water bus can take 2-3 hours from the airport. Even from the train station, which isn’t that far from the hotel, it can take an hour since you need to change water bus lines.
Taking a water taxi was quick, only about 30 minutes, and it’s a fun ride across the lagoon. It’s faster, but it’s also the more expensive option, about €130 one way, and you want to make sure you have cash to cover it.
Many water taxis do take credit cards now, but the processing relies on the cellular network. If the connection isn’t good they can’t process the card, so regardless of if you’re planning to use a card you’ll also want to have enough cash on hand.
Once you’re at the hotel it’s easy to get to and from San Marco and the heart of Venice. The hotel runs a shuttle boat every 30 minutes, taking you to San Marco in about 15-20 minutes.
We got checked in and went up to see the room that would be ours for the next three nights.
It wasn’t a disappointment at all!
The Tower Suites have windows on two sides, so the views over Venice and up the Giudecca canal are some of the best you can get without climbing one of the bell towers.
The Tower Suites are also some of the hotel’s largest rooms. With a king bedroom, a full bathroom, a guest bath, and a sitting/dining area there was more than enough room for two people!
The windows all open, so since it was cool out we opened them and let the lovely breeze blow in. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a Venetian tower, watching the curtains blow, feeling the breeze, and hearing the boats and people passing below.
I loved the exposed beams and iron girders and columns. And the view. I can’t get over the view. It’s worth booking the room just for that!
After we got settled (and took some pictures!) we went out to explore the island.
Giudecca is much quieter than the central parts of Venice. You’ll see locals going about their lives, and we even found a small park with benches to sit and look over the lagoon. If you’ve been to Venice you know parks are something you don’t find in most areas.
I found the island to be a slice of “authentic” Venice that I hadn’t experienced before. There were lots of locals in the stores doing their daily shopping. There were no tourist traps selling masks and beads made in China.
You’ll walk by working boats instead of strings of gondolas. There are fenced gardens everywhere, some growing a plot of fruits or vegetables and others with lovely flowers that dance in the breeze.
Along the road next to a church I found an open-air herb garden, where they’d planted edible plants and herbs all along the wall and the scent of herbs in the sun filled the air.
In the early afternoon you see children getting off the vaporetti and meeting their parents, or walking home after a day at school. The canal-side bars and restaurants are full of locals, still speaking the traditional Venetian dialect, enjoying an Italian aperitivo before dinner.
We enjoyed lunch at Harry’s Dolce, sitting along the canal and watching the boats go by. The waiter was really good, and we ordered dessert when we normally wouldn’t. He said their specialty is the vanilla cake, but we also thought the lemon looked good.
So he said “How about half a piece of each?”. Well there’s a good solution!
The half piece was huge! And he was right. The lemon was good, but the vanilla was delicious.
For dinner Friday evening I had made reservations at Locanda Cipriani, a small hotel and restaurant located on the island of Torcello and owned by the Cipriani family. Since it’s far off the beaten path we decided to take a water taxi out there.
It’s known for its beautiful garden, and the entire island is a different world than the rest of Venice. It’s very rural, with birds singing and hardly anyone around. I was actually a bit afraid I’d made a mistake and the restaurant was closed, but once we went in we found a warm welcome and a wonderful menu.
The highlight of the meal was dessert. We shared the crepes, which are soaked in Cointreau and flambeed table side. It was quite a show, and tasted as good as it looked!
Saturday morning we headed into Venice for the day, starting out with a good cappuccino at a bar.
I’ve discovered I really enjoy food or drink tours, so we decided to take a cicchetti tour. Cicchetti are a traditional Venetian food, basically a variety of toppings or fillings served on or in bread. You can find them everywhere, but we didn’t want just any cicchetti. We wanted great cicchetti, and we found them. More details and where to go to find them will be coming in a future post!
We also took a traghetto across the Grand Canal, which is an experience in itself. It’s a gondola, but instead of one gondolier and comfortable seats there are two gondoliers and you perch along the sides of the boat.
It’s how Venetian’s have traditionally crossed the canal since there are only three bridges that cross it.
I definitely recommend trying a traghetto at least once. It’s only about €1 per person to cross. Just make sure to keep the balance of the boat in mind as you get on and off. Gondolas are very narrow, so two people sitting on the same side is enough to make you feel like you’re going to end up swimming in the canal!
After our tour we spent some time walking around and browsing the shops, then headed back to the hotel for dinner. We decided to try Bacaromi, their Venetian restaurant. We started with a plate of cicchetti to share, and enjoyed a pasta dish and a risotto with wines to go with them
After dinner we went upstairs for a final evening glass of wine at the Skyline Rooftop Bar.
There’s a reason Lonely Planet has called it the best view in Venice! The views are amazing, on a clear day you can see all the way to the foothills of the Alps. Plus all of Venice and the lagoon spread out in front of you.
The bar has a very different vibe compared to the rest of the hotel. While the rest of the hotel is very classic, the bar normally has either live music or a DJ, neon lights, and their bartenders are happy to shake up one of their 21 signature cocktails with names like Stardust, Rubì and Tintarella. It’s worth checking out even if you aren’t staying there.
Sunday morning we decided we wanted to find someplace for brunch. We ended up at Caffe Florian, which has been on the Piazza San Marco since 1730. We decided to sit outside and people watch on the Piazza. It was a hard choice, because the inside is classic Venetian elegance.
We planned to spend the afternoon wandering around since we already had a sunset boat tour booked, but on a whim we decided to take a gondola ride.
Yes, it’s touristy. And yes, you should do it at least once.
Despite having been to Venice multiple times, a traghetto was the only gondola I’d been on. There are different length gondola tours available, and we decided to take the full tour which is about an hour and fifteen minutes. Prices are set, so don't bother looking for a deal. If you want to take a gondola ride you can take one from anywhere and they'll be the same price.
Gondoliers have perfected the art of fitting a full conversation into the amount of time it takes for two gondolas to pass each other, and being a gondolier is a career that passes from one generation to the next. At one point, after one of those speedy conversations, our gondolier said with obvious pride “that was my son!”.
After our gondola ride it was time to head to the meeting point for our evening tour, a sunset cruise of the lagoon in a traditional Venetian boat. Of course prosecco was included!
By that point the weather was a bit iffy. It had gotten quite windy, and the lagoon was rough. But our captain told us it would calm down after we got around the first island, and he was right.
We sailed past several islands that most tourists never see before sailing along Lido, the one island that actually has cars. We also discovered that, much like how American teens will drive along with their windows down blasting their music, Venetian teens take the boat out, blast music from their phones and a mobile speaker, and go cruising around the lagoon!
Teenagers are really the same everywhere.
After seeing Lido and some of the other small western islands we headed towards San Marco, arriving just as the sunset was setting for some beautiful views.
I was a bit concerned I wouldn’t be able to get out of the boat once we got back. I’m short, only 5’2”, and getting into the boat off the seawall was more falling in than stepping in. Fortunately the tide had come in a bit, so I was able to get off without making a complete fool of myself!
We headed back to the hotel shuttle and ended the evening with room service. We figured we should use the dining table in our lovely suite at least once! The lasagna and bucatini all'amatriciana were both excellent.
Monday morning we were a bit sad to leave. After breakfast at the hotel we arranged a water taxi back to the airport. Our weekend may have been over, but we’ll be back to Venice soon.
Are you ready to start planning your own trip to Venice? Schedule an intro call today and we can get started!
Prices for the Hilton Molino Stucky start at $140 per night. Prices for the Molino Tower Suite start at $800 per night.
Things to do in Venice
Any reservations booked using the links in this article may generate a small commission. It doesn't affect the price you pay. My experiences were not sponsored.
This is the cicchetti tour I took and I loved it. It includes a tour through the Rialto fish market (an experience in itself!) as well as a traghetto trip across the Grand Canal. There were three stops for cicchetti and tramezzino, both traditional Venetian sandwich-type dishes. Each stop includes a spritz, wine or prosecco. We ended with lunch at a traditional Venetian restaurant. There was more food than we could eat, make sure you start hungry!
The boat seems small when you start, but it's a great way to see the lagoon. There's prosecco and a sunset, what more could you want? It's a 2-hour sunset cruise, plus the skipper gives a bit of commentary and history as you travel. The views of San Marco are some of the best you can get.
This is a tour by one of my favorite tour companies. If you only have a day this is a great way to see the top attractions. It includes a walk across the Rialto Bridge to the fish market, a gondola, St. Mark's Basilica and its rooftop terrace, and the Doge's Palace.
Another tour by one of my favorite companies, this is a chance to see St. Mark's without the crowds. Plus it's in the evening, which means all the lights are on and the gold mosaics really glow. You can upgrade to include crowd-free access to the Doge's Palace and the Bridge of Sighs.