There is a little island way out in the Venetian Lagoon – even past Burano. It is peaceful, beautiful, not crowded and boasts a restaurant that has played host to nearly every member of the British Royal Family and countless celebrities. It is part of a locanda (little inn) that has just 6 rooms. Ernest Hemingway even lived there for several months while he wrote one of his books. It is owned by the famous Cipriani Family – who have a very expensive and fancy hotel on Guidecca near Venice (where George Clooney and group stayed for his wedding). They also own Harry’s Bar. But they have a little known (to most people) outpost on this tiny island. We thought lunch at Locanda Cipriani would be a perfect end to our wedding week.
But first, a bit of history . . .
The Rest of the Story
A few years ago, I had never heard of Torcello. My parents and I (pre-Frank) were excitedly making our way down the River Sile toward the Venetian Lagoon aboard a self-drive houseboat we had rented for the week. We would spend a week navigating the various islands of Venice. On that afternoon, we finally cleared the final lock before entering the Lagoon and – oh my goodness. All we could see was marsh, water, and posts of wood standing up in the air – for miles and miles. The boat base had given only one instruction – the briccola (the posts of wood) have a white square on one side. Whatever you do, make sure you can always see that square. On the other side may be just one inch of water. Our houseboat putted along at maximum 5 miles per hour. We were steering from the top deck, which was fitted out with plastic deck furniture (even the Captain’s chair). We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies come to Venice by boat.
But we were excited and drove straight toward what we had been assured was a safe mooring on Burano. But – it was completely full. OK – we’ll try the second place they suggested. But it was under construction. By then the sun was going down. We were desperate to find a place to stay the night. We had passed Torcello (the farthest island in the Lagoon) on the way in and remembered it had a water taxi stop. So we putt-putted up to the water taxi stop and tied up our lines. The vaparetto driver jumped off his boat and animatedly gestured in Italian, but my mother and I pleaded our case that it was getting dark and we had nowhere to go. So he finally said ok. Daddy jumped off to scout out where we were and returned with a glowing report of a half dozen nice restaurants full of people. It looked like a great stop and we wondered why we were the only ones here. We decided to celebrate with a glass of wine before heading down the path to a nice dinner.
We kept noticing water taxi after water taxi leave full of people. Good – let the crowds head back to Venice. We’re locals here. As we walked down the path to dinner, it got darker and darker. We saw NO people at all, only cats. There were no lights. We passed one restaurant completely dark and closed up. Then a second just the same. Daddy assured us that only an hour before, they had been full of festive diners. It was very eerie. As we passed a third place, someone peeked out a window and quickly closed the shutters. Where were we? Finally, we spied the Locanda Cipriani with a light in the window. Whew. We knocked on the door and they looked completely shocked to see us and asked, “Where did you come from?” We said we were on a boat tied up to the water taxi stop. Alas, they were having a private party (which looked to be high security – probably why they were so shocked to see us), so no room.
By this time, a swarm of mosquitoes rose up and drove us back to the boat. We had to turn off all the lights and sit on top while we hoped the mosquitoes flew out. With a flashlight, I read from the guidebook that Torcello only has a population of about 20 – literally, all those people Daddy saw had left! What’s more – the population had swelled at one time to 20,000, but they had fled due to the malaria outbreak brought by mosquitoes. We went down below, locked all the doors, and didn’t see a soul until morning. However, it was a beautiful spot and turned out to be one of favorite stories of the trip.
I am happy to report that the Locanda Cipriani was lovely. When you walk in, it almost feels like a log cabin with a wonderful smoky smell. The walls are lined with pictures of the famous people who have been there – even a thank you note from the Queen Mother. The entrance room opens up into a beautiful sunny dining room overlooking a garden that also has tables. The food was outstanding – my favorite was green pasta taglioni with a béchamel sauce baked au gratin, one of their specialities. And for dessert, they flamed crepes Suzette tableside (one of my all-time favorites).
Torcello also has the oldest church in Venice, dating to the 6th century. It has magnificent mosaics and feels more spiritual than some of the other, more crowded churches. We also climbed their belltower, which gave us an incredible view of the Lagoon. Lastly, we explored the churchyard, which, believe it or not, has the throne of Atilla the Hun – right there on the lawn.
It was a very special place to spend the end of our wedding week.
If you are in Venice and head out to Burano, we highly recommend taking the “T” vaparetto a little farther out to Torcello. You will be happy you did.