The family-friendly Venetian resort of Lido offers the perfect chance to combine relaxation and sightseeing, writes Lucy Oates.
This year we dropped a bit of a clanger when it came to arranging a family break during the school holidays. We began our search only in July and discovered that prices had spiralled to around three times the amount we’d paid during term-time before our young daughter started school. As a B-plan, we began exploring city break options and realised that it was still possible to bag a good deal because prices don’t seem to soar the way they do for beach holidays.
Keen to visit Venice, we looked for somewhere with a pool or beaches to ensure that there were opportunities for relaxation, as well as sightseeing. Thankfully, we stumbled upon Lido, a seven-mile long sandy spit in the Venetian Lagoon that was once a favourite haunt of Shelley, Byron and other literary greats. In its heyday at the turn of the last century, Lido was one of most glamorous seaside resorts in Europe, attracting royalty and movie stars. It was immortalised in Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella Death in Venice. Although, the Venice Film Festival still takes place there every September, Lido is no longer the exclusive resort it once was. In fact, as we discovered, it offers the perfect blend of city and coast.
Our first tantalising glimpses of Lido and Venice were from the Alilaguna ferry that transports tourists to and from Marco Polo Airport. Unfamiliar with the geography of the area, it was a revelation to spot so many tiny islands in what is essentially a vast, marshy, lagoon separating the wider Venetian plain on mainland Italy from the Adriatic Sea. A steady stream of water buses and taxis follow routes marked by huge timber poles driven into the silt beneath. There’s clearly plenty of opportunity for a longer, island-hopping break, but our stay centred upon Lido and Venice, apart from a brief visit to Murano, home to Italy’s famous glass-making industry.
Later, when we caught one of the vaporettos (water buses) that travel from Lido to stops along Venice’s Grand Canal, we finally saw the city in all its glory. Lined with lavish, marble palaces dating from the 12th to 17th centuries, a ride along the city’s most famous waterway is a visual feast of Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
Hopping off at Rialto, we stopped to take the obligatory holiday snaps beside the Ponte di Rialto, arguably the most famous bridge in the world. Both Ponte di Rialto and Piazza San Marco are thronged with tourists during the summer months, but it’s still well worth battling the crowds to see them. Thankfully, you don’t have to wander far from these areas to find much quieter spots, where you can lose yourself in the maze of shady alleyways that provide welcome respite from the searing heat.
The city is divided into six sestieri (ancient administrative districts), each of which has its own unique character. We enjoyed a stroll through Rialto market in the San Polo and Santa Croce area, where I snapped up a beautiful leather handbag for just 35 euros. From there, we meandered slowly back to San Marco to take in the magnificent Basilica and immense Doge’s Palace, which sits by the Grand Canal like a giant wedding cake.
A gondola ride may be a cliché, but you’d be crazy not to do it as it offers an entirely different perspective on the city. Expect to pay 80 euros for half an hour, but each gondola carries up to six so it’s well worth offering to share with another party if there are only a couple of you.
Having heard horror stories about tourists being charged exorbitant amounts for food and drink, we noticed that prices in the windows of eateries increased dramatically with proximity to the main attractions. It’s entirely possible to eat well in Venice without blowing the budget; you can get amazing takeaway pasta and pizza slices for five euros or less from pretty much every street in the city, not to mention ice cream in just about every flavour imaginable from the wonderful gelateries. When eating in restaurants and cafes, the rule of thumb is, if your table boasts a spectacular view of one of the city’s landmarks, expect to pay more.
In the evenings, it was lovely to return to Lido, where we enjoyed a cooling dip in the pool at our hotel in the quiet village of Malamocco before heading out to one of the many family-friendly restaurants on Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, which is the island’s main street. Freshly-caught seafood is a local speciality and, as the Veneto is one of Italy’s main rice-growing regions, risotto appears on most menus. Culinary highlights included calamari served with grilled polenta and a dipping sauce, and spaghetti with clams. As the Aperol spritz was invented in Venice, they’re very reasonably priced – our hotel served them for just 2.80 euros.
There’s a regular bus service from Malamocco to Lido’s shops, restaurants, beaches and the jetty where you can board boats to Venice and the other islands. Lido is one of the few islands in the lagoon with roads, as well as canals, but many visitors opt to hire bicycles to get around as there are some scenic coastal paths to explore. Many of the beaches are private, so those that are open to the public get busy.
The island is part-suburb of Venice, part-seaside resort, which makes for a very relaxed and family-friendly vibe.
We stayed at Ca’ del Moro (www.cadelmorovenice.com). The rooms are clean and comfortable, albeit pretty basic, but the swimming pool and lush gardens are a major plus.
We flew from Manchester Airport to Marco Polo Airport with Jet2 (www.jet2.com), returning on an EasyJet flight (www.easyjet.com).
Buy tickets for the Alilaguna ferries in Marco Polo Airport’s arrivals hall.
Our favourite restaurants on Lido were Ristorante Gran Viale (www.ristorantegranviale.it), which serves wonderful food, and Parco delle Rose (www.facebook.com/Parco-Delle-Rose), a pizzeria with a garden setting.