Venice Travel Tips from Gionata Smerghetto, Venetian Blogger

Conversations with Locals

Venice may be overrun by tourists, but Venetian blogger Gionata Smerghetto knows just where to go and where to avoid in the City of Canals. Gionata reveals the one authentic Venetian dish to eat, a magical staircase for a view of the city, and why Venetians are campaigning for tourists to leave. 

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Photo: Gionata Smerghetto

What do you feel defines Venetian cuisine?

Venetian cuisine is strongly influenced by the Adriatic Sea. Fresh fish is the highlight of Venetian cuisine – full of delicate flavours, pure and immediate. The Rialto market is indeed the center of Venetian cuisine. Every morning at dawn, fresh fish is sold to the Venetians, who are masters at cooking it. The flavours and tastes are enhanced by the use of spices and oriental scents, originating from the historical trade of the Serenissima Republic with the East.

What is the one local dish you feel travellers can’t leave Venice without trying? 

My favourite Venetian dish that I recommend to any tourist is sarde in soar, which literally translates to sardines in flavour. It is historically a poor man’s dish, which was made using the cheap but very popular fish, stored in a baking pan covered with onions and cooked in vinegar to ensure that the sardines are preserved for as long as possible. The modern version of sarde in saor have also introduced more ingredients, such as pine nuts and raisins. It is certainly a dish not to be missed for the flavour and history of Venice.

What about your favourite restaurants?

My favourite restaurants are found in the areas behind the Rialto Bridge. They are slightly out of the touristy central square, and are not commonly featured in tourist guides. The food is rich in flavour and close to the great Venetian fish market. My favourite places to eat are Al Raspo de Ua, Al Mercà, Antico Calice and Antico Forno. They are so pretty and honest!

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Photo: Gionata Smerghetto

Name one best kept secret of Venice 

One of the great secrets of Venice that I can give to tourists is to not stop in the usual tourist spots. The true Venice exists even in the most hidden streets, where you can see the authentic, everyday Venice. Try exploring using Google maps! 

The best way to experience Venice like a local is to explore it with a Venetian. I’d love to visit a city with local eyes, allowing you to see and appreciate the hidden corners of the city that never would have been identified. 

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Photo: Gionata Smerghetto

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Photo: Gionata Smerghetto

Name some tourist traps travellers should avoid in Venice

I think the traps to avoid for tourists are shops who are not managed by locals. Often, there are restaurants, bars and taverns opened by foreigners. In addition to the poor quality of food, you definitely pay too much for the service! And there’s no fresh Venetian fish!

Where can we go to see your favourite view of Venice?

My favourite view is of course at La Scala Contarini del Bovolo. It is a magical staircase in the heart of Venice; you will definitely feel immersed in the heart of the city and you have a 360 degree view of the Venetian landscape. It is less known to tourists, so I recommend it. 

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Photo: Gionata Smerghetto

Recently, there have been news reports of locals in Venice campaigning for tourists to leave the city.

Venice unfortunately turns out to be a very expensive city, not only for tourists but also for residents to live in. Due to the difficulty in building new buildings, it is hard for anyone to develop and upgrade the city. This has caused young people and even tourists to live on the mainland, travelling into Venice everyday by public transport. 

It’s a problem difficult to solve, partly because Venice is one of the most fascinating cities in the world, and at least once in their lives, tourists from all corners of the world want to see it. It is as if it there is always a carnival along the Venetian streets, which can sometimes put a strain on those living there.

WHERE TO EAT IN VENICE


Al Raspo de Ua
Where: Via San Martino Destro, 560, 30012 Burano, Venezia VE, Italy
For: Italian food

Al Mercà
Where: Campo Bella Vienna, 213, 30125 Venezia, Italy
For: Cichetti 

Antico Calice
Where: Calle dei Stagneri, 5228, 30124 San Marco, Venezia VE, Italy
For: Seafood

Antico Forno
Where: Calle dei Stagneri, 5228, 30124 San Marco, Venezia VE, Italy
For: Pizza

WHERE TO GO IN VENICE


Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Where: Via Montacuto, 121 60129 Ancona (AN)
For: A view of Venice

The 24 Hour Guide to Eating in Venice, Italy

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It’s mid day in Venice, and the Venetians are congregating in bàcaris, where alcohol is often paired with small plates of crostinis, deep fried seafood balls and mini sandwiches. Forget the overpriced restaurants along the Grand Canal. The heart of Venetian cuisine is in this street food – cicchetti. These bite sized pieces of food are the perfect combination of Italian ingredients served on a toothpick, each ranging from one to three euros. We round up the three places you need to know if you have 24 hours in Venice. 

Look forward to: Cicchetti

Al Merca

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Where: Campo Bella Vienna, 213, 30125 Venezia, Italy
What: Panini
For: Cicchetti

Equipped with just a storefront, Al Merca is a haven for the mid afternoon wine and miniature panino. No seating areas? No problem, just blend in with the locals standing in front of the store, with food and drink in hand. The counter is stuffed with panino, some with gorgonzola cheese and others with parma ham. Amongst these, other cicchetti such as deep fried seafood can be found. Take your pick from any of these, but the Italian cheese and prosciutto panino always wins. 

Osteria Alla Ciurma

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Where: Calle Galeazza, 406A, 30125 San Polo, Venezia VE, Italy
What: Crostinis
For: Cicchetti

The orders never stop at Osteria Alla Ciurma, and neither does the drinking. A glass of wine starts at €1.50, and ranges from friulano to prosecco. Seating areas are few, but you wouldn’t need that if you’re going for the drinks and finger food. The top item to try? The different types of crostinis. Owner Marco Paola is a whiz at experimenting with crostini toppings, such as stuffed eggplant, baccalà mantecato (creamed codfish) and anchovies. 

Pontini

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Where: Fondamenta Cannaregio, 1268, 30121 Venezia, Italy
What: Seafood pastas
For: A sit down restaurant

Of course, it’s not all cicchetti in Venice. Fresh seafood in the Venetian markets always find their way inside this trattoria along Cannaregio. To avoid the queue at Pontini, dinner at 6 pm is essential. Pastas with any kind of seafood are exceptional, as the pastas are doused in a thick seafood stock, the result of a hearty combination  of shellfish and tomatoes. Every bite is filled with the flavours of the sea. 

London Travel Tips from Valeria Necchio, Italian Food Writer at Life Love Food

Conversations with Locals

Valeria Necchio is the author of the Italian food blog Life Love Food, where she shares her cooking and travel adventures. Raised in the countryside of Venice, she is now based in the city of London. We talk to Valeria about her favourite places in Italy for food, her love for English green asparagus, and her go-to places for gelato in London. 

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Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

What do you feel defines Italian cuisine?

Quality raw ingredients, seasonality, simple flavours and regional differences.

What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about Italian food? 

That it’s always the same stuff – pizza, lasagne, spaghetti – from North to South. I will never stress this enough: every region has some amazing dishes and specialities that are unique to that area and are worth trying. Be adventurous and ask the locals!

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Sfogliatelle, a type of pastry filled with ricotta cream and sweet citrus, that can be found in Naples. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

In your opinion, which parts of Italy has the best food? 

It would be really hard to pick one, because there are so very many regional differences, and every region has such great food! I am of course fond of the food of my origins – Venice and the surrounding countryside – with its abundance of seafood and its focus on great seasonal produce.

Yet, if I had to pick one, Sicily would be my second region of choice – their granite, fresh ricotta and range of great seafood is truly hard to beat.

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Pane cunzato, a Sicilian sandwich made from a loaf of bread. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

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Freshly caught seafood in Sicily. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

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Panini in Sicily. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

What are some Venetian dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Venice without trying?

Squid ink risotto is a great classic, but also baccalà mantecato (a sort of cream made with stockfish), and sarde in saor are great examples of Venetian cuisine. The latter is a dish made of fried sardines topped with cooked slices of sweet and sour white onion, often punctuated with pine nuts and raisins. It is served as a cold starter or bite-size snack in many traditional restaurants or osterie in the city – it’s my absolute favourite.

As a Venetian, what do you feel most travellers miss out on when they are visiting Venice? 

The city offers hidden gems to whoever dares to venture beyond the beaten path, without the fear of getting lost. The real charm of Venice is in its decadent beauty made of crumbling walls and empty small squares. Sure enough, the big attractions are worth seeing, but there is so much more to the city than St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.

Now that you are based in London, can you share with us your thoughts on the difference between British food and Italian food?

Italy, perhaps because of its location and its favourable climate, has a broader variety of raw ingredients available throughout the seasons. This leads to a cuisine that is varied and deeply seasonal, changing from one month to the other. Britain seems to have less of this variety – at least from a consumer perspective. It also has less regional differences. In this sense, a typical dish usually plays around the theme of ‘meat and two veg’.

That said, there is a great generation of British chefs who are changing the way people eat, and exploring new routes while making local ingredients shine.

Could you share with us some of the English food you fell in love with while you are living in London?

English green asparagus are just on a league of their own – the best asparagus I have ever tasted. There are also some truly outstanding cheese makers producing some fantastic artisan cheese, most of which can be found at Neal’s Yard Dairy.

Where are your favourite restaurants or cafés in London for Italian food?

I love Artusi in Peckham – straightforward, well-thought seasonal Italian food with great wines to pair. The River Cafe is, of course, an institution in the city, and the best place to treat yourself to a quintessential, simple-yet-sophisticated Italian meal.

Where are your favourite spots in London for a good gelato?

Gelupo serves some delicious gelato – my favourite being the seasonal and ever-changing fruit flavours. For ice cream, La Grotta Ices in Bermondsey is plain delicious.

Where are your favourite food markets in London?

Spa Terminus in Bermondsey on a Saturday morning – the best food artisans in the area open their warehouses and sell their goods to a crown of food lovers. You can find cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables, beer, gin, honey, etc. It feels a bit like a treasure hunt.

 

WHERE TO EAT IN LONDON


Artusi
Where: 161 Bellenden Road, Peckham, London SE15 4DH
For: Seasonal Italian food

River Cafe
Where: Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd, London W6 9HA
For: Simple and sophisticated Italian food

Gelupo
Where: No 1 Cambridge Circus London, WC2H 8AP
For: Gelato

La Grotta Ices
Where: Arch 5, Voyager South, London SE16 4RP
For: Ice cream

Neal’s Yard Dairy
Where: Unit 6 Dockley, Dockley Road, London, SE16 3SF (and more)
For: Cheese

 

WHERE TO GO IN LONDON


Spa Terminus
Where: Dockley Road Industrial Estate, Dockley Rd, London SE16 3SF
For: A food market