The percentage of Venice the average visitor sees is about 2 per cent, my father used to say (his estimation). What they explore is even less. With exploring we mean walking around Venice attentively, not with map in hand but perhaps losing your way and discover different perspectives.
Visitors see even less of the Lagoon. I noticed that many people consider Venice and the Lagoon as separate entities which prevents them from taking in the whole picture. The Lagoon does play a certain role for Venetians, not just when they want / need to escape the crowds in town.
Spring is a particularly lovely time to explore the hidden places in the Lagoon. Fewer people visit the islands even though boats will be packed almost every day. Once arrived it’s easy to leave those “beaten paths”, discover the islands and focus on special topics.
After enjoying a gorgeous fish lunch at Trattoria Da Primo, a family managed restaurant located in the heart of Burano, I mixed with French and Spanish-speaking tourists and continued to my “real” destination, the quiet island of Torcello. It doesn’t take longer than seven minutes by public boat to go there from Burano.
It was the last week of April, yet it wasn’t the opulent and exuberant spring one might expect. White tamarisk blossoms were just coming into bloom and the purple ones lining the canals were just wilting, giving way to linden-green shots.
If you would like to find out what the Lagoon looked like a thousand years ago, you’d better come here to Torcello and its neighboring islands (Sant’Ariano, Santa Cristina and surroundings).
Museo Andrich could be a first stop. Visit their fattoria didattica, a sort of plant nursery and learn about local edible plants at Casa Andrich.
Mr. Andrich offers a guided tour called Vivo Venetia (yes, written with t, referring to the origins of Venice which are here, on and around Torcello). Find out more on his website here. If you come to Torcello, do keep an eye to the left where a sign announces the grassy path leading to the museum and nursery.
From here, we continue walking further inland along houses painted in rosso veneziano. They are surrounded by the wild gardens I came to love when I was a child. My father knew some of the owners and took me inside to explore. It was like a dream come true, visiting a fairy island.
Torcello is the cradle of Lagoon botany. In its wild gardens, Mediterranean ornamental and edible plants thrive in the humid climate. They are often arranged in a sort of colorful Lagoon “Bauerngarten” style.
Bauerngarten translating as cottage garden refers to a vegetable garden combining edible plants and herbs surrounded by berries and ornamental flowers. On Torcello it means you can see vegetable gardens laid out in the midst of purple lilies, lilac and rosemary protected by pittosporum, wild raspberries and pomegranates.
When I visited in late April, lilies and pomegranate trees were just coming into bloom. Rosemary was blossoming amidst chives and wild arugula.
In April, I love looking for the purple tamarisk bushes blossoming along the main canal. You could call Torcello the tamarisk island as they invade gardens and paths, along with wild oleander.