Venice, A Feast for the Eyes
The historic merchant city may be famous for serenading gondoliers meandering through labyrinthian canals, elaborately costumed Carnevale, and seasonal flooding during the acqua alta, but there is so much more that comprises the essence of this floating city. One only needs to look upon the iconic Rialto Bridge crossing the Grand Canal or the Basilica and Doge’s Palace at the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) to find themselves gasping in wonder at the intricate beauty that abounds. A long history of international trade has allowed Venice to become infused with influences from various cultures, which is seen not only in the characteristic architecture, but also the cuisine.
An easy method to traverse the city quickly is to take a vaporetto (water bus) along the Grand Canal, which connects all but one of the sestieri (neighborhoods) of the main island: Santa Croce, Cannaregio, San Polo, San Marco, and Dorsoduro. Castello is the only neighborhood that doesn’t lie on the Grand Canal. Fortunately, nearly the entire island is accessible on foot by walkways and footbridges, thanks to some of the more recent developments within the past few centuries. Walking around the city is a perfect way to explore.
Do make a trip out to the side islands during your stay. Murano is the home of the world-famous Venetian glass, with distinctive colorful mosaic patterns embedded into artful glass-blown structures. Burano is another unique little island with brightly colored edifices lined up next to each other along the small canals, and is also renowned for its handmade lace. In the summertime, Lido can be a great spot for lying out on the beach to soak up the sun’s rays.
Eating in Venice while gluten-free is surprisingly uncomplicated. Several hotels offer gluten-free breakfast options, so be sure to contact your hotel to learn if they have the capacity to accommodate a gluten-free diet. Frequently, a jaunt over to a local grocery store will reveal quite a few senza glutine (gluten-free) goods such as breads, crackers, pasta, and some sweet treats. For a more complete gluten-free shopping experience, head over to MEA Libera Tutti in Cannaregio, which houses a large selection of gluten-free products.
One of the must-sees for any visitor is the famous Mercato di Rialto (Rialto Market). Located in the heart of Venice in San Polo along the Grand Canal, vendors feature all matter of produce and culinary specialties. Sun-dried tomatoes and bouquets of chilies dot the stalls with bursts of bright red, while the well-known radicchio trevisano (Treviso chicory) sits more humbly amongst the other leafy vegetables and greens. Beyond the myriad produce stands lies the fish market, showcasing the city’s intimate link with the surrounding seaside. Here, one finds mussels and scallops, octopus and cuttlefish, and countless types of fish from tiny sardines to hefty sea bass.
Cafés provide an opportunity to relaxwith a leisurely coffee or bite to eat. The macchiato – an espresso shot topped with a dollop of foamed milk – is a personal favorite. A quicker and usually cheaper alternative is to stop at any of the numerous bars, many of which only offer limited standing room. Venice also claims origin to the Bellini, invented by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Dorsoduro. In terms of wine, the region around Venice is known as Veneto. Wines from this area are predominantly blended reds that boast a bold flavor profile, such as the Valpolicella and Amarone.
When dining out, making reservations beforehand is a good idea, especially if visiting during a busy season. It may also be helpful to inquire about a restaurant’s gluten-free capabilities ahead of time, as some restaurants do serve gluten-free pasta and/or bread. While Italy has a reputation for being the pasta capital of the world, several dishes of traditional Venetian cuisine are quite amenable to being gluten-free. Polenta and rice are in fact rather common. Risottos come in all variations, though few are more Venetian than the risotto al nero di seppia (squid ink risotto). Risi e bisi (rice and peas) may be a simple dish, but is a standard in this age-old city and will bring about a new definition of comfort food with its creamy texture and rich flavor.
If you are a fish lover, many varieties of fish and seafood are prepared. Baccalà mantecato (creamed cod) is a delicacy made from salted cod. Bisato su l’ara (roasted eel) is a specialty of the side island of Murano. One can also enjoy game birds such as duck, or a traditional plate of fegato alla Veneziana (liver and onions). For a sweet treat, the gelato shop Grom has a couple locations on the main island. Their flavors are clearly marked on their menu as to which are gluten-free.
Venice is a city rich in cultural history with sights, sounds, and flavors to delight both the eyes and the taste buds. Of all my travels within Europe, Venice is the city that left the greatest impression on me, and the one to which I most long to return.
Written by Jennifer Oliver