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is a strong contender for the most beautiful city in the world. Unfortunately the whole world knows it. During peak season and throughout the winter Carnevale, the narrow, washing-hung streets are so packed with visitors that the city has been dubbed a living museum. That’s why the time to visit Venice is in the shoulder- season, when mist lingers over the canals and you can explore the incredible array of Old Master-packed art galleries, churches and museums in relative peace. Getting there is all part of the fun. A busy international


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train station sits almost in the centre, with trains arriving regularly from far-flung destinations such as Munich and Paris. Catching the Eurostar over to Paris and then bagging a bunk in one of the Thello sleeper trains that leaves the Gare de Lyon daily is one of the most romantic experiences in European slow travel, but if you’re short on time then catching a water taxi across from Marco Polo Airport is an almost equally enticing alternative. Whizzing up the Grand Canal you’ll spot countless grandiose art galleries, waterfront cafes and enticing little boutiques – the only poser is which to visit first.


Checking in Before you give in to the temptation of exploring, find somewhere to leave your cases. Venice is packed with hotels of varying elegance and quality, but it’s surprisingly hard to unearth the real gems. If you’re looking to splash out then the Aman Canal Grande (www.amanresorts.com) is the last word in old-world luxury. Think vast crystal chandeliers, marble floors and an array of grand salons – not to mention a top-class spa and peaceful grounds. To find accommodation that’s just as plush but friendlier on the budget, you’ll need to head to a slightly less central neighbourhood. Palazzo Abadessa in Cannaregio (www.abadessa.com) is an aristocratic mansion packed full of ancient family heirlooms with the vibe of a friendly house party. It’s boutique-sized, with only thirteen rooms, and each one is elegantly kitted out with stunning antique furniture and sumptuous fabrics. Working to an even tighter budget? Stay in


Cannaregio, which is one of Venice’s well-kept local secrets, and head to the Antenori family’s Ca’Dogaressa hotel (www.cadogaressa.com). This famously affable establishment is easy on the wallet, but still classically Venetian, with glittering chandeliers and dark brocade dominating the décor. A real plus point is the roof terrace, which is the perfect place to enjoy a scenic pick-me-up before heading out into the city.


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mélange of Baroque palazzos, faded pastel terraces and elegant squares scattered over 118 islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon, Venice


Ponte di Rialto, Venice


Dodging the crowds There are some sights that every visitor to Venice simply has to see – but it’s hard to avoid sharing the experience with countless others, even in the shoulder season. The best way to get the city’s most famous landmarks virtually to yourself is to be an early bird. Set the alarm for 6.30am and head straight down to the Rialto. Not only is this the location of one of Venice’s oldest and most famous bridges, it’s also the setting for a colourful, 700-year-old street market. Crowds flood the area after breakfast, but at dawn you’ll be able to browse the fresh fish and fruit stalls with nobody but a few eager locals for company. If you’ve worked up an appetite whilst shopping, then finish up by indulging in a coffee-and-croissant breakfast at the delectable Caffe del Doge (caffedeldoge.com) – an ethical treasure with an international following. You should still have time before the city opens for business to hop on the vaporetto (the Venetian water bus) and zoom down to Piazza San Marco. The


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