If I told you there was a way to experience Venice without the tourists, would you believe me?
The secret lies in 1) traveling in the off-season when there are fewer crowds and 2) getting off the mainland to explore the nearby islands. The city of Venice is the largest land mass in the Venetian Lagoon but it’s not the only one: there are dozens of smaller islands scattered across the water that are well worth exploring for a change of pace and scenery. Murano, renowned for its glass-making tradition, attracts the most visitors due to its proximity to Venice but if you head further north to Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello, you’ll be richly rewarded by the sights, sounds and flavors of the so-called Venetian countryside.
The Countryside Of Venice
Unlike Venice and Murano, which had thriving commercial enterprises throughout much of their history, Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello are traditionally agricultural islands which have been home to fisherman and farmers throughout their history. The three islands make up what is known as “Native Venice” and they are brimming with rural charm, from smaller houses and traditional dishes to a slower pace of life. The locals even have a distinct dialect from their Venetian neighbors further south, underscoring the cultural and lifestyle differences that coexist in the lagoon.
Of course the island of Burano itself isn’t exactly a secret: it is well-known for its lace tradition, which dates back to the 17th century, and for its delightful candy-colored homes. From bright fuschia and lemon yellow to brick red and evergreen, every single one of Burano’s houses is painted in vibrant shades that span every color of the rainbow. Legend has it that the houses were painted in bright shades to help fisherman navigate through the thick winter fog though some say wives painted the homes specific colors so their husbands wouldn’t accidentally stumble into the home of another woman. Regardless of which theory is true, the rainbow hues make Burano one of the loveliest fishing towns in Italy and walking around will make you feel like you’re in a fairytale come to life.
A proper town built on water, Burano only has 2,800 inhabitants so everyone knows each other; you’ll see parents walking their young children to school each morning and elderly citizens gathering in the main piazza before church each Sunday. It’s incredible to think that people can grow up in a place so beautiful and otherworldly but a walk around will reveal local artisan shops, pint-sized grocery stores and plenty of traditional bakeries – there fixtures of daily life everywhere.
Burano is utterly charming in every direction you look but until recently travelers could only spend a day wandering around the island because it didn’t offer any accommodations for guests (the traditional fisherman homes were too small to convert into hotels). Now, with the launch of a new hotel experience, guests can spend more time relaxing on the island and relish the tranquil atmosphere of Burano after the day-trippers have come and gone.
Casa Burano, the first and only hotel on the island, is a sister property of the nearby Venissa Winery, a gorgeous vineyard and estate located just across a foot bridge on the island of Mazzorbo (more on that soon). The design-forward Casa Burano is an albergo diffuso, or “diffused hotel”, that consists of thirteen rooms located within historic buildings on the island, offering guests the unique opportunity to experience Burano like a local rather than a tourist. From the yellow Casa del Pescatore, Home of the Fisherman, to the pearly white Casa del Merletto, or Home of Lace, each home has been thoughtfully restored with local materials and furnishings that aim to transmit the history of Burano and convey a sense of place to its guests.
I really appreciate the philosophy of Casa Burano: everything you find in the rustic-chic suites is Made in Italy, primarily by design companies and artisans in the Veneto region. For instance, the geometric tiles in each entrance are made by Orsoni, the last varnish and enamel manufacturer in Venice, while the the wooden floors in the bedrooms are produced by Itlas, a company that uses the same wooden planks that were used to construct the Venetian Republic’s naval fleet centuries ago. Then there are modern mod design touches, like lamps by FontanaArte and leather chairs by Moroso, that add a pop of color in the cozy, minimalist rooms.
In keeping with the local focus, a concierge at Venissa bikes over each morning to deliver a breakfast basket filled with freshly baked muffins and croissants from the estate, along with little jars of homemade yogurt, marmalades and butter. Breakfast may look “express” but the quality of the products is superlative and exceeds what you normally find at a breakfast buffet (and looks very #accidentalwesanderson shot against my turquoise table!). After all, Venissa boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant and a fabulous Contemporary Osteria that I’ll be writing about shortly.
Although I could spend all day relaxing in my own personal steam shower, the best part of Casa Burano is being in the middle of all the action. As soon as you step outside your front door you’re fully immersed in the beauty of the island and all its little canals and bridges. While you meander through the town, don’t miss a visit to the Museo del Merletto, the Lace Museum, for a glimpse of this important local tradition, and a peek inside Chiesa di San Martino in the main piazza which features a distinctive leaning bell tower. Venissa can also help organize local activities so you get the most of your time on the island, from rowing lessons with the Rowing Association of Burano and fishing trips with local fishermen to photography expeditions in the most hidden reaches of the lagoon.
My favorite part of the whole experience? Strolling through the quiet alleyways of Burano in the early evening when the sky turned deepening shades of blue and the streetlights cast a warm glow against the colorful homes, creating a really beautiful atmosphere in this corner of the lagoon.
Website: Casa Burano
Address: Fondamenta di Santa Caterina, 3, 30142 Mazzorbo, Venezia VE