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Venice Rising: Why to Revisit Now

Much is written about the over-tourism of Venice, and it is a fact that the more than 4.5 million annual tourists, many of them day- and cruise-trippers who add little value to the city, remain a sizeable problem. But these days a more exciting, hopeful story is unfolding behind the scene. La Serenissima, often described as a place where hardly anything ever changes, is in midst of a cultural Renaissance, with a small but refined group of artists, artisans, chefs, curators and tastemakers putting their mark on what Venetian innovation looks like now.

Take The Venice Venice, for instance, a labor of love project from husband-and-wife team Alessandro Gallo and Francesca Rinaldo (founders of fashion brand Golden Goose). It’s an uber-cool hotel located in the Grand Canal’s oldest palazzo, painstakingly restored, but also a thrillingly contemporary meeting place and exhibition space for the city’s art illuminati. “Maybe it’s because there’s not a huge spotlight on Venice but creative projects take shape here in ways that are really inspiring,” says the photographer Renato d’Agostin whose large-format work is prominently featured throughout the hotel. “It’s a close-knit community, and I think everyone is aware that this is a real moment.”

In part what makes this real moment so potent is the fact that it seems to grab fistfuls of future while also holding in one palm the very thing that made historical Venice so rich in the first place. “This was the world’s most glorious melting pot, a place of constant meeting and exchange between cultures,” says Annabella Cariello, the hyper-stylish general manager of the brand-new Violino d’Oro hotel. To describe what’s happening now — what’s happening again — she has coined the expression da lontano ma Veneziano (“from afar but Venetian”). There’s Bacán, the much-buzzed-about restaurant helmed by two young chefs who met while studying in San Sebastián and after stints in some of the world’s top kitchens, including Noma, are now creating inspired Latin American cuisine in a groovy spot in San Polo. There’s Koenji, Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine served in a sliver of a restaurant that has been pretty much booked solid since it opened. And then there’s the Violino d’Oro itself, the little sister of Florence’s Grand Hotel Minerva, envisioned by powerhouse sisters Sara and Elena Maestrelli as the ultimate Venetian dream home.

Read First Look: Violino d’Oro, a boutique hotel with style and heart

One evening during my recent trip, Annabella took me to meet Yasra Pouyeshman at Kooch, a San Polo boutique that showcases the works of some 60 Iranian artisans, from ceramicists and textile makers to glassblowers and painters. “Iran and Venice used to have this lively trade,” explained Yasra, who is serious and thoughtful, and who can speak passionately about every piece in the store and the craftsperson who made it. “Between our destinations, there was always a through-line of creativity.” For example, she says, Murano mirrors were exported to Iran in the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the time they arrived, many were often broken. Seeing as they were precious commodities, the Iranian craftspeople came up with a beautiful way to reuse them. As any traveler who has visited the country’s rich palaces and marveled at their mosaic-studded mirror rooms can attest: sometimes what appears broken is just waiting to be reborn as something else.

Venice itself is famously a city of mirrors — a city of longing, a city more reverie than real. But there is also a grit beneath her languid ways, the cool determination of one who knows that she – beloved muse of centuries – will outlast all grim prophesies (and certainly the uglier sorts of tourists). If you go now, revisit the classics, of course, because an ombra on Campo Santa Margherita or a fog-encrusted morning in Piazza San Marco or a silent communion with Tintoretto in Madonna dell’Orto in Cannaregio will never lose its thrill.

But do make time to discover all that the city is giving us now. Take in a Florentine family’s vision of Venice’s art-filled homes at the Violino d’Oro. Taste a Japanese chef’s reinterpreted cicchetti. Or, if you’re me, go to have a drink on the terrace of The Venice Venice, then head up to the piano nobile to spend some time in front of one of Renato d’Agostin’s oversized black-and-white photographs in which all preconceived notions of Venice dissolve. Look closer and notice how the city reappears: beautiful and haunted, a little heartbroken but stoic, and reflecting back at us the many shades of gray in which we all wander.

Venice itself is famously a city of mirrors: a city of longing, a city more reverie than real. But there is a grit beneath her languid ways, the cool determination of one who knows that she – beloved muse of centuries – will outlast all grim prophesies.

Published onJanuary 22, 2024

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