One of the many things we discussed with professional Venetian tour guide Luisella Romeo in our recent Live travel chat was overtourism and undertourism in Venice.
Before the global pandemic, Venice was as famous for its throngs of tourists as it was for its gondolas, medieval piazzas and Old Masters artwork. Property prices inflated by the likes of Airbnb had forced out residents, and the city, which homed 150,000 people 50 years ago, was left with only around 53,000 permanent residents. In peak season, cruise passengers numbering 32,000+ flooded the historic city centre for a few hours before they returned to their ships for dinner and entertainment – meaning they spent little in Venice’s restaurants and bars.
While overcrowding was a huge issue, tourists fuel Venice’s economy to the tune of $3.3 billion a year. Lockdown brought a break from the visitors and for a while, Venice’s canals ran clear of tourist boats, and of sediment. Unfortunately, the reduced numbers of visitors had a less positive impact on the city’s restaurants, galleries and tour guides. It’s a difficult balance to strike.
The enforced peace and quiet of lockdown has given those in the tourism industry and those of us at home time to think about what we want our cities and our holidays to look like when we’re allowed to travel again.
For me, that means staying longer, avoiding aeroplanes wherever possible and making the effort to connect with local people and businesses. I’ll be eating in family-run restaurants, staying in lesser-known neighbourhoods, seeking out unusual experiences and off-the-beaten-path gems, and joining small tours led by experienced local guides like Luisella.
In our chat, Luisella shared some ideas for tours and experiences that can give us a unique – and deeper – understanding of Venice, without following the crowds to the usual honeypot sights.
As well as avoiding the places most prone to mass tourism, which are even more anxiety-inducing in a world with COVID-19, these experiences offer you an unexpected and unforgettable perspective on this city that has graced a million holiday PowerPoint presentations.
Liven up your dinner party chat with these 5 quirky tours in Venice.
Instead of simply gazing at the colours of Venice, get hands-on and create your own. This tour encourages you to have a go at making your own Murano glass beads, or preparing paint pigments using a process that would be familiar to the Venetian Old Masters.
Don’t just go for a gondola ride on your next trip to Venice. Dive deeper into the city’s boating history on a tour that introduces you to Venice’s old boat-building district and learn how to row Venetian-style on wooden boats lovingly restored by locals.
Yes, they still build gondolas in Venice! Learn about the incredible craftsmanship that goes into making each of these Venetian icons as you visit an oar workshop, a gondola yard and a blacksmith’s lab. It will give you a deeper appreciation of your own gondola ride!
Head to the only place in Europe where gold leaf is still beaten and trimmed as it has been for hundreds of years. You can even have a go at helping with the fusion process in a metal foundry specialising in brass objects.
Connect with the people who make their living on the island of Burano. On this tour, Luisella will introduce you to a local portrait and landscape painter and then to a local fisherman who will take you on a traditional fishing boat to show you the traditional fishing techniques used in the lagoon of Venice.
If none of these is quite what you’re looking for, get in touch with Luisella. I think she has the most interesting job in the world, researching and putting together bespoke tours for her clients, on themes such as the history of coffee and chocolate in Venice! Sitting in cafes and drinking hot chocolate actually counts as work for Luisella!
Is Venice on your post-pandemic travel wish list? Which on these tours would you like to do?