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Venezia all’Inverno (Venice in winter)

Destination Venice, for a week of painting at Julian Hyzler's art retreat.

The first day of Summer in Melbourne (December 1) started as badly as it meant to go on, with an email letting me know that Italy’s transport workers were to stop work as soon as I landed in Milan. So much for train-ing direct to Venice. Next, in Dubai, some clown, having checked in and waved his luggage off, decided he’d had a better offer, so the plane stayed at the departure gate until his worldly good were dug out of the guts of the A380 (1 hour delay).

Then, on arriving in Milan, the local epauletted flunkies refused to let anyone disembark until the emergency team removed the corpse of some ne’er-do-well who’d vacated his mortal coil en route.

At least my water taxi company had kept in touch and delivered me to Palazzo Vitturi, in pouring rain, 34 hours after having left home. I met with fellow arty guest Margaret (a Pom, but living in Alicante) for a restorative ‘welcome’ prosecco; then headed to Osteria Alle Testiere, just one bridge away.

This tiny restaurant, with only 22 seats, is beloved by heavies of the foodie world. Owners and friends Luca and Bruno head for the Rialto market at 5AM five days a week, then decide on the day’s menu from there. All the seafood is from the lagoon, and the fruit and vegetables sourced from nearby Sant’Erasmo island. I could have scoffed everything on the menu, but settled for grilled razor clams, followed by sole with citrus and herbs - two tiny sole, cooked on the bone, i.e. 8 miniscule fillets - divine. It was obvious that many of the clientele were regulars, and a lovely surprise that not a single phone was sighted at table! Dinner and a good night’s sleep restored my will to live.

Saturday; and a day to stooge around the city on foot. First stop, Rialto market, with a quick stop at the former post office, now a super-luxe department store. It’s a beautiful architectural restoration, with prices to match. The fish market was jumping with stiff fresh lovelies and live mantis shrimp (Canocia in Venice speak). More photo stops through San Polo and on to Accademia, San Marco, along the Riva and around to Taverna Scalinetto for lunch. Fortified after my 6km hike over dozens of bridges, I was 'home' by 3:30 for an afternoon snooze before meeting Julian and the rest of the arty wannabes for cocktails and dinner at Giardinetto around the corner (perfect seafood risotto).

Sunday. It’s work time, via the shortest route over San Marco, and to the deserted market for excellent photos while sheltering from the downpour. On to Sotoportego del Tamossi for canal-side sketching. The sturdy door on the wall behind us opened and three darling nuns popped out, destined for matins at Santa Maria della Salute; but not before checking out our works in progress with ‘bella, bella’ enthusiasm and interrogation of Julian as to where his charges were from, and what we were doing on their canal frontage. Lovely.

Onward to Campo San Polo to choose an architectural victim for more sketching. The weather hadn’t improved so we headed back to Palazzo Vitturi to set up in our studio overlooking Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Back across Rialto for lunch at Muro Venezia; a favourite of the gondalieri. Culture hour followed at Frari with its fabulous works by Titian (e.g. the Assumption; considered to be one of the finest paintings in Italy), then on to San Marco for hot chocolate at Florian’s, and back to the studio for some more watercolour sketching, then pizza, wine & music at 6342 AleTole to finish the day and bed down to a mosquito symphony.

Monday. A couple of hours of studio work, then across to the canal near San Georgia e Paolo to pick up our water taxi, destination Burano. (The high water at our Campo prevented water taxis from being able to cruise under the bridges.) By now the weather was improving, meaning we’d have some good light and shadows for photography and sketching around the village and environs. I popped into Emilia Burano to collect a table runner for Caterina, then back to the water’s edge for some sketching and another fifty plus photos of painterly opportunities.

For lunch, we strolled across a little bridge to another island, home to Venissa vineyard, potager and restaurant for a four course lunch with matching wines. Excellent stuff (mixed seafood platter, herb & fennel risotto, perfect grilled fish, some sort of panettone stuff for them and icecream for me). Pre-dinner, I scooted down to the supermarket; collected a can of mozzie-killer and nuked any wildlife hiding in my suite (a challenge, given it has 14’ ceilings - this was one of the earliest palazzo in Venice).

Tuesday - a morning’s work in the studio, then off to lunch at Osteria Mascareto around the corner for spaghetti Vongole, perfectly done with dozens of teeny clams and a couple of glasses of Gargenega. More studio work until leaving for another brisk 20-minute walk to attempt painting our Venetian masks (black cat with gold bling for me); then dinner at a typical Venetian restaurant in the company of several very noisy families with too many children including a couple of hysterical busty-substanced pre-teenagers. However, the sea bass was excellent, washed down with a bucket of the house wine and plenty of laughs; while Julian continued on his quest to find Venice’s best version of squid ink pasta.

Wednesday: Our last full day of arty action, so we started with some studio-work, then headed for San Marco for fast sketching of gondola; followed by a Traghetto crossing (€2pp) to Santa Maria della Salute. Coffee/cicchetti at a neat bar at midday, then I skipped the Peggy Guggenheim museum (four visits in a lifetime are quite sufficient); and sidled back to catch the Traghetto back across the Grand Canal. Ignoring Harry’s Bar, I zipped onto the terrace at the Monaco Hotel in perfect weather, with its canal-side views of Santa Margarita for an aperitivo Bellini (so much better than Harry’s Bar’s miserly offering, and €4 cheaper to boot). Bill and I had dined here in 2010; and I was hoping for a repeat of their excellent risotto con verdura, but no luck; however my veal with foie gras, artichokes and pennyroyal sauce was lovely.

I stopped off at Rio San Moise to take a photo of the building I’d painted (oil on canvas) as part of my Venetian triptych during the first year of Covid Julian-Zoom lessons; and lucked in on several duelling gondola - excellent rubbernecking. Then a stroll through San Marco, avoiding the pigeons and touristicals and snapped several campanile/arcade reflections in the puddles of water left over from our earlier rainy days. (Although the morning tides reached 1m, acqua alta didn’t materialise.)

After a final studio session, we did a twilight gondola cruise around the sights of Castello (Venice’s 400 gondoliers are each licensed to operate in specific areas); followed by an aperitif at a cool bar near Rialto (white Negroni for me); then dinner at Mario alle Fave (yet another fine restaurant suffering from being plastered with useless Tripadvisor ‘rosettes’, much to Julian’s chagrin).

Thursday; time to leave, after breakfast and a recap of the week (and assessment of our artistic/photography progress), a quick group photo, complete with our masks. After farewells, I splashed out on a water-taxi to the airport with stunning views en route of the snow-covered Alps on a cloudless morning. As they say in the classics “highly recommended”!

December 2022

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