Thursday, October 10, 2019

Hidden Italy Weekend: cycling on the outer islands of Venice

A weekend cycling in Venice? It doesn’t seem quite right, too many cobbles, bridges and tourists, but there are, in fact, over forty kilometres of marked cycle trials up and down the outer islands of Lido and Pellestrina. These two thin islands stretch from Punta Sabbioni in the north to Chioggia in the south forming the barrier that limits tidal flows from the Adriatic Sea, creating the lagoon. Once out if the busy northern end of Lido, the cycle trails take you through farmlands and past ancient fishing villages, a very long way from the madding crowds of San Marco.

Bikes can be hired from shops near the ferry terminal. The bustling centre of northern Lido quickly gives way to long stretches of seashore. At the end of the island there are regular ferries that take you and your bike across the narrow stretch of water to Pellestrina, an even thinner and less developed island. You go down one the ocean side and come back on the lagoon side, with Venice in the distance. Along the routes you pass through long stretches of farming land, go past hidden agriturismi (farm stays) and visit sleepy fishing villages, one of which, Malamocco, dates from Roman times and was the capital of the lagoon in the Middle Ages.

I loved my weekend staying in an agriturismo on Lido but if you haven’t don’t have that time, a cycling day-trip on the outer islands is a terrific complement to the hustle and intensity of Venice.

How to get there:

Regular traghetti connect Venice with Lido: number 1, 2, 5.1 and 6 starting from Piazzale Roma or from Sant Lucia railway station, a thirty-minute ride down the Grand Canal, past St Marks Square and then out across the lagoon. If you are coming from Chioggia (the fascinating little port on the south side of the lagoon) you take the number 11 ferry, which goes to Lido via Pellestrina.

Where to stay:

The Grand Albergo Ausonia and Hungaria in Lido town is a classic 4-star hotel that captures the charming retro air of Lido’s turn-of-the-century heyday. A double room starts at 130 euro per night.

The Viktoria Palace Hotel is another good 4-star hotel in Lido preserving the atmosphere of days gone by. A double room from 120 euro.

For a very different Venetian experience consider Country House Le Garzette ( a lovely agriturismo surrounded by small vineyards and market gardens, near Alberoni on the south of Lido island.

The Relais Alberti is a luxurious small hotel in a beautifully restored 14th century noble residence in the hamlet of Malamocco, double from around 140 euro. While, if you decide to be really adventurous and stay on Pellestrina, the only option on the whole island is the ‘ittiturismo’ Le Valli, which has six well-appointed rooms in a natural setting, starting from 90 euro a night.

What to do:

Friday evening

Assuming you are staying in Lido, we suggest settling into your hotel and then exploring Lido town. From the ferry wharf head down the Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, the liveliest street on the island, full of shops and restaurants until you reach the Lungomare Marconi and the sea. Since its beginnings as a seaside resort in the late 1800’s, this stretch has maintained the atmosphere of an upmarket resort, lined with the grand hotels of the era on one side and a beach, lined with kiosks the famous capanne, or bathing cabins, on the other. Lord Byron used to ride horses along this beach (the story goes that he swam out here from St Marks Square, sure…) and Thomas Mann found the inspiration for his book Death in Venice while convalescing at the Hotel Des Bains. After your stroll, try dinner at Ai Murazzi, a unique restaurant set in a small timber building with seafaring decorations and marvellous views out over the retaining walls and the sea – meals for around 40 euro per person.

Saturday morning:

Go cycling. This itinerary can also be walked following the cycleways or done using the local bus service, number 11, which runs the length of the island and back again, starting from the ferry wharf and finishing at Alberoni, from where you can catch the ferry to Pellestrina and back.

If you do both islands, the total itinerary is 20 km each way, 11 kms along Lido island and then 9 kms along Pellestrina island. Bikes can be hired on Lido in Piazzale Santa Maria Elisabetta, in front of the ferry wharf at a cost of around 10 euro per day – you can also pick up a map here. If you are setting out in the other direction from Chioggia, bikes can be hired at the Pellestrina petrol station for around 10 euro per day.

Leave the Lido piazza, head back down the Gran Viale and turn right down Lungomare Marconi (being careful to avoid any movie stars who may be here in August/September for the annual Venice Film Festival). At the end of the Lungomare, you come to the Murazzi, the retaining walls that were built in the 17th century to protect the island, and Venice, from the sea.

After leaving the town and peddling for 5 kms you come to the charming little port of Malamocco, one of the oldest settlements in the lagoon (it has Roman origins) and the capital of the Duchy of Venice from the 8th century to the 10th century, after which they moved the capital to its current, and better protected, location. There is an excellent little restaurant here, the Trattoria Al Ponte di Borgo, where you can taste some wonderful Venetian culinary specialities in a simple and very amiable ambience.

From Malamocco, keeping peddling (all very easy as you follow mostly small roads without a incline in sight) until you get to Alberoni at the southern tip of the island, where there is a small nature reserve. From here you can load your bike on to the ferry for the short hop to Pellestina island, on the way passing the impressive structures of Moses, the mobile locks, designed to protect Venice from the rising tides.

Saturday afternoon:

Pellestrina is a fishing island, 11 kms long and very narrow – barely 100 metres wide in parts. Riding down the lagoon side of the island you pass through numerous little fishing settlements, with small canals and pretty, coloured houses until you get to the little hamlet of Pellestrina itself. At the southern tip of the island is Ca Roman Oasi, a small bird sanctuary which you can visit. The best place for lunch on the island is Da Memo, at Porto Secco, between Pellestrina village and the northern end of the island. Having finished you visit to Pellestina ride back to the ferry for Lido and head back to your hotel.

Saturday evening:

Two options for those feeling cashed up: a night at the casino on Lungomare Marconi or, for something completely different, and spectacular, walk up to the Airport Nicelli (Venice’s first and only airport) from where you can catch up a helicopter with Heliair and view Venice and the lagoon from on high.

Sunday morning:

After an exhilarating and energetic day, it’s probably time to chill out on the beach. The beach is sandy and wide and the water quite clean and popular mostly with Venetians. There are a number of free sections but the classic way to do it is to hire one of the numerous capanne, small beach cabins that can even have verandahs. They don’t come cheaply: at the Quattro Fontane you can spend from 44 to 122 euro per day, depending on the season and which row you are in! The ‘Tahitian’ umbrellas and mini-cabins at the Hotel Des Bains’ beach can cost from 50 to 205 euro per day, although there is a 50% discount for after 2.00pm.

Sunday afternoon:

For achange of focus, you could visit the glass factories on the nearby island of Murano, which involves catching the traghetto number 5.1 to Le Fondamenta Nuove on Venice and then the 4.1 or 4.2 to Murano.

Sunday evening:

Dinner at the Trattoria Bar Trento, a small rustic restaurant which serves classic Venetian cuisine.


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