Lido di Venezia: Summer Guide to Exploring Beaches, Gardens and Local Food

When I opened this week’s newsletter from Detourism Venezia, I was drawn to the sentence: ” It will be very hot in Venice next week. We suggest going for walks early in the morning and in the evening. This is also your opportunity to explore the Lido island …”. So true, the Lido offers so much more than the Mostra del Cinema, the International Film Festival, taking place every year during the first week of September:

The Lido is a garden island, just the right place if you love exploring the flora of the Lagoon for hours on end. Above all, it has splendid pine woods, secret gardens and sandy beaches! It has an unknown history which is reflected by its streets being named after Greek islands and cities in the Levant, like Via Nicosia or Via Candia (worth at least one more blog post, or even, a book).

Populated since 200 BC, the Lido represented a natural prolongation of the Equilium peninsula, separated by a narrow bocca (canal) from the lidi sottili (narrow sandy islands, separating the Lagoon from the open sea). Both terms, Equilium and Cavallino imply that in this area, wild horses were living until around 900 AD (Equilium derives from equus = horse in Latin, and cavallino means pony).

Since times immemorial, the Lido was used for vegetable farming, and the Republic of Venice built the Fortezza di San Nicolò, a fortress guarding the northern entrance of the Lagoon, in the 10th century. Near the fortress, the church of San Nicolò was built, which played a role in a legend we are telling in this blog post.

Today, the Lido has a privilege in the Lagoon, as cars are allowed here, transported on the Ferryboat whose stop is also located at San Nicolò. From here, it’s a nice walk along a promenade from where you can enjoy a fine view of Venice, back towards Piazzale Santa Maria Elisabetta, where the boats from Venice arrive. You can also reach the Lido directly from the airport, in about one hour and 20 minutes, on the Alilaguna Line.

Towards the open sea, sandy beaches line the Lido. In the late 1990s, there were also wild stretches of beach, sometimes looking rather unkempt, and little copses of tamarisk growing directly out of the sand, one of my favorite haunts in summer. Today, most of these shrubberies have given way to private beach facilities.

At the northern end of the Lido, le dune di San Nicolò, impressive sand dunes, were breathtakingly beautiful until 10 years ago, when Mose was installed. Yet, there’s a colorful addition to the Lagoon, as my uncle tells me: Pink flamingoes settle on the Mose embankments.

The Lido is 12 km long, consisting of beaches, pinewoods and lots of gardens. In the midst, there’s a large swampy area, where birds are nesting around a small settlement, Terre Perse, whose gardens are adorned with the tallest rosemary plants I have ever seen.

South of Terre Perse, the murazzi stone barriers are located, built by the Republic of Venice in 1716 when it became clear that the Lagoon was on its way to becoming an arm of the sea. The purpose of these stone embankments was to reinforce the sandy island and protect the Lagoon from floods. This barrier built by the famous engineers of the Republic saved Venice during the acqua granda (great flood) on 4 November 1966.

Private beach facilities (stabilimenti balneari) line the beach for most of its part. Campeggio San Niccolò (the only camping site on the Lido) is first, followed by Venezia Spiagge and more private beach facilities. Some of these look rather luxurious, as they offer beach huts (le capanne) where Venetian families love to spend summer. I recall how neighbors rented a capanna together, and then it was open to all family members during summer. South of the capanne facilities, the private beach zones belonging to the Grandi Alberghi (luxury hotels) commences. This is also the area where the Film Festival takes place.

If you love gardens, perhaps the best time to visit the Lido is early summer, it’s the smell of the pittosporum blossoms that I connect with this island. Soooo relaxing to go for a walk along the beach promenade, protected by pines, magnolia and laurel trees, and lined with pittosporum and oleander, blossoming pink, red and white in the summer.

The Lido is widest in the south and reaches 4 km in the Alberoni area, while it is less than 1 km wide north of Alberoni and Malamocco, where the murazzi fill in the gap. At Alberoni, there’s a large pineta (pine wood), a golf court and outdoor piscina (swimming pool). And, there’s this private beach, Bagni Alberoni, surrounded by pinewoods and sand dunes.

Here’s my suggestion for your itinerary to get to know the Lido. After arriving at Piazzale Santa Maria Elisabetta on your vaporetto from Venice, hop on a bus leaving south for Malamocco. Go for a walk to see more of this village, facing the Lagoon. From here, you also get a nice glimpse of the islands Lazzaretto Vecchio and Poveglia, just 1 km off the Lido. There are several fine bars and trattorie in Malamocco, and if you come here at breakfast time, do enjoy a hearty Lagoon breakfast, with home-made delights like cakes and jam, in the courtyard of Relais Alberti, opened two years ago.

By the way, there’s a farmer’s market once a week taking place on the Lido, which Marjorie of OG Venice Travel Guide describes on her website. She also offers Market Shopping Strolls, click here to find out more.

Return to Piazza SM Elisabetta by bus, then walk down the Gran Viale towards the public beach and the Des Bains – Excelsior area. Pass by Hotel Excelsior, and return to Gran Viale walking along an internal canal, which really gives you an insight into private life on the Lido. You will walk past carefully tended gardens, overgrown with wisteria, forgotten Liberty-style villas and wild gardens. Back on Piazzale SM Elisabetta, you could get a coffee or tea in the gardens of Villa Laguna, which is also a four-star hotel, enjoying splendid view of the Lagoon and the island San Lazzaro degli Armeni, and of course, San Marco in the distance.

If you choose to stay at the Lido, you could choose Villa Mabàpa, located in the San Nicolò area, or Villa Laguna on Piazzale SM Elisabetta. Another fine hotel is Relais Alberti, which we mentioned above. Hotel Hungaria is being turned into a five-star facility, reopening sometime in 2019.

As you can see in these images, the Lido is a green breathing environment, where you can go for long walks along  grassy canals, overgrown with silk trees (!), wisteria, hydrangea and reeds, and in summer, you can even spot the odd water-lily. Also, you might notice there’s an unusual air about the island, retrò, subdued, sometimes melancholic, like a place waiting for its stories to be told.

There are a lot of stories to share, and the magazine Lido di oggi e di allora, published annually since 1987, has been doing exactly that. Stories told by the residents themselves, of those times when the Lido became famous after the end of the Republic, which had used it for military purposes mostly and to house pilgrims waiting to board their ships for the Holy Land. In the 19th century, English and American travelers visited Italy and Venice on their Grand Tour, and the Lido was “revalued” by building luxurious villas and hotels for the new guests.

Did you know that there were even floating baths installed in the Bacino di San Marco, off the Lido and some near Piazza San Marco during those times? That’s another forgotten story of Venice, which we will tell in autumn. In the meantime, if you are interested in seeing some historical photos of the Lido, do take a look at the Facebook Page Lido di oggi e di allora here.

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