Travel: Take the train to awe-inspiring VeniceBy Vicky Smith
August 16, 2011
Cursing Britain’s often crowded and pricy train network has become as common a pastime among us Brits as cheering on our fellow countrymen at Wimbledon, enjoying a Sunday roast and drinking tea. And don’t get us started on their timing.
Therefore it was instinctive for me to feel a little apprehensive about reaching Italy by train. Surely this was a journey that could only be attempted by plane, or at a push by car?
Public transport all the way just seemed like a green step too far.
However, sampling the European train system for the first time has turned this railway cynic into a budding train spotter, or at the very least a champion for this long-distance method of travel.
Catching an overnight train from Paris, which is easily reached from London’s St Pancras station, just an hour from Reading, you can wake up the next morning in Venice or Rome and drink in the beautiful and historic sights that abound in this stunning country.
This easy railway journey and the country’s reliable internal system unlocks all the treasures, both hidden and magnificent in stature, that this country has to offer – without you having to brave the Italian roads.
This was particularly useful in our first stop of Venice, where there are no roads and the only way in is by train, plane or boat.
Upon arrival at the train station we took a waterbus along the Grand Canal to our hotel. We spent pretty much the entire trip with our mouths wide open in awe at this stunning city.
There is nowhere like it on earth. Everywhere you look, there is fascinating architecture surrounded by canals, small and large, and the sight of the traditional gondolas punting by with excited tourists snapping pictures as they go.
After less than an hour in Venice, it was clear our fellow tourists would be hard to escape. This is a city that attracts 60,000 visitors a day and the authorities recently announced the introduction of a tourist tax, a way of raising income in a bid to save the city sinking into the sea.
It is impossible to wander around Venice for a day and completely escape tourists. However, you have a pretty good chance of discovering some quieter spots by staying in the Dorsoduro area, home to what Condé Naste Traveller magazine has described as “Europe’s most romantic hotel”, Ca Maria Adele.
This small hotel offers luxurious rooms with grand décor to fit the impressive city. A pretty terrace, gothic-themed sitting room and dramatic breakfast room complete with Murano glass chandelier certainly tick all the boxes for a romantic retreat.
There are some great choices for dining out in this area, plus plenty of sights, including the Guggenheim museum.
Located just across the Grand Canal, accessible by a short waterbus trip, is the famous St Mark’s Square, renowned as Europe’s grandest drawing room, to coin a phrase from Napoleon.
This magnificent square is the highlight of any trip to Venice.
However, the beauty of this city is you can quite easily spend hours just wandering, stumbling upon stunning vantage points as you cross bridges and pass through busy squares.
Ca Maria Adele offers its guests a free water taxi to the island of Murano, famous for its glass making. This is a must-see, not only to get a chance to travel in the water taxis, which are by far the most lavish taxis I have ever seen, but also to see for yourself the skill of glass makers on the island.
See next week’s getreading as Vicky continues her travels to Rome
Train tickets to Italy, including Eurostar to Paris, can be purchased from Rail Europe at www.raileurope.co.uk
Prices for the overnight train between Paris and Rome or Venice start at £62 return for a seat in a six-berth couchette and go up to £284 each return for a two-person sleeper cabin. Eurostar fares are £69 return for a second class seat.
For more tips on travelling through Europe by train, I would thoroughly recommend www.seat61.com for advice on the various routes you can take.