During the weeks before Christmas, Venetians have got all the time to treat visitors as VIP. You will certainly feel like a special guest in a city no longer besieged by tourists. But then, this year, Christmas starts a little bit earlier. For the first time, the Albaro de Nadal – the Christmas tree on Piazza San Marco, was “inaugurated” by Associazione Piazza San Marco on December 1st. In the last few years, Christmas in Venice really started showing in town around 8 December, when the luminarie (Christmas lights in the Piazza) and Christmas trees would be ready and up.
Join me for a dream day to fully savor Advent time in Venice !! You’ll have noticed that Avvento (Advent) unfolds gradually here, it doesn’t show over night, as you can see in my last article. Around town, the Christmas lights will be switched on gradually, and by 20 December, Venice will finally be decorated and ready for Christmas !! So right now, there’s plenty to see and walk around leisurely. It’s a more subdued and quite Christmas, without the flashy light and colors, using more natural material to decorate.
#1 Luxurious Breakfast.
In the meantime, you have the city to yourself. There’s nothing you can’t do and visit. Even Caffé Florian is empty in the morning … Sit down on one of the low red-upholstered chairs facing the bar and taste a wonderfully frothy cup of cappucino, or perhaps hot chocolate? You can see in this picture that I’m pretty much the only client at 10:00 am.
#2 Christmas at the Market.
I admit that the Rialto Market is my favorite. It’s winter produce is so colorful right now … lush and rich and green. From persimmons to oranges and the first bergamot. Winter greens that look a bit cold like all the fruit and vegetables are doing right now. Venetians love their winter greens and look forward to the first days of December every year because there’s plenty of broccoli, cavolo rosso (red cabbage), cavolo riccio (curly cabbage) from which we make a rich and spicy vegetable soup, flavored with beans (fasioi de Lamón) and sometimes bacon (in case grandmother cooks the soup).
This is the season of citrus fruit, arriving in Venice from southern Italy. Bergamot are sold in December, they are my absolute favorites for home-made Earl Grey tea and to flavor almond pastries. Stay tuned :-)
#3 Enjoy an Ombra, Crostini and Tramezzini, Styled for Winter.
No, that’s not the ombra break with wine but with tea or coffee that Venetians love around 11 am. After marveling at the fresh winter produce, just turn a corner and walk into Ruga de li Spezieri. Opposite the famous Drogheria Mascari, a real Venetian breakfast will be waiting for you. I mean the one consisting of tea and tramezzini, cappuccino and cornetto (croissant). Bar Rialto’s tramezzini are incredibly good, I think you’ll enjoy their bar all decked out in beige wood. Do try one of their tramezzini carciofi e baccala’ (artichokes and creamy stock fish, Venetian style). Or if you’d just like a dose of coffee, enjoy one al banco at Caffé Vergnano. It’s become a favorite in Venice, just like Goppion a few steps farther, in Ruga del Ravano. If you arrive a bit later at the market, you might enjoy a glass of wine, un’ombra and one of the crostini al baccala’ at the Naranzeria next door. I usually go upstairs to sit for half an hour or so.
#4 Alone in the Doge’s Palace and A Special Lunch.
That’s actually the title of this article I published last year on the Blog. It can happen to you too, having the Doge’s Palace to yourselves when you visit on a late December morning. After you’ve had a chance of taking in all the details without the crowds and enjoyed the views (!!), it’s time for lunch. And we’ll stay right here ..
For there’s caffetteria – Caffè Culto on the ground floor exactly where the kitchens and pantry used to be during the times of the Venetian Republic. Just IMAGINE eating lunch in the Doge’s Palace, and you do get that wonderful glimpse of Rio del Palazzo, the canal separating the sestieri (districts) San Marco and Castello.
A glass door leads down to the porta d’acqua (water entrance). In former times, this was a secret back entrance used by suppliers to deliver food. It’s a beautiful discreet place maintaining the original brick walls and floor tiles, the white tables and chairs being the only modern touch.
#5 The Quiet Basilica.
Now that you can FINALLY enjoy Piazza San Marco, why not walk over and enter the Basilica without the crowds and take time to look at the Pala d’Oro … afterwards, you might want to go looking for la Pala d’Argento in town (more soon on the Advent Calendar).
#6 Merceria Shopping Time.
Time to explore the beautifully decorated shops in the Mercerie (shopping mall) next to the Piazza. This means inspiration for gifts or just savoring the magical atmosphere of a December afternoon in Venice. Discover the stores selling beautiful gifts made from carta marmorizzata (marbled paper), or visit the Coin store. As long as it is open, it’s been a Venetian institution since 1947 …
Perhaps you would like to see Fondaco dei Tedeschi? Even though this department store, opened in October 2016 on the grounds of one of the most important foreign trading centers in Venice, sells many other goods beside Venetian ones, but I suggest you go up on the rooftop and enjoy the view .. A fondaco has always been foreign territory in Venice, a sort of commercial chamber.
But before you go, always stop for un caffé e un rotolo al cioccolato at Pasticceria Rosa Salva’s :-)
#7 Don’t Forget Venetian Christmas Cookies.
The short winter day is coming to an end and you can now join Venetians taking one more coffee or spritz before dinner, or continue shopping for Christmas cookies !! Rosa Salva is certainly a good source to find them.. Our personal choice is the cookies offered by Pasticceria Bonifacio in Calle degli Albanesi (next to the San Zaccaria vaporetto stop).
#8 Dinner, Unusual ?
Since 2012, we’ve had a special culinary guest in Venice. Rosso Pomodoro has brought Neapolitan cuisine to Venice, so why not taste a dinner feast on a humid winter night? This restaurant is located in Calle Larga, not far from the Libreria Studium bookstore and Piazza San Marco. My mother due to her southern origins feels very much at home here :-)
A typical winter side dish you get in Naples is friarielli, a broccoli variety tasting a bit like spinach. The leaves are braised in olive oil and seasoned with salt, lemon juice and pepper. This is the only place I know in Venice where you can taste it, with a very warming dish of Neapolitan pasta al ragù.
#9 Enjoy the Christmas Lights.
By that I mean not just the Luminarie (lights) in Piazza San Marco. Sometimes we get mild and less humid nights in December, so inviting to discover all the lights in town. Around 8 pm the streets will be almost empty and you’ll get a chance to walk slowly and really enjoy the Christmas lights. Don’t expect them flashy and bright though – in Venice, they are mostly subdued, consisting of a myriad of tiny light bulbs worked into chains.