It must be rotten being a travel writer at the moment. Actually my first attempt at being a professional self-employed writer was in the travel field and it was pretty rotten then. Hard to get commissions, waiting ages for pieces to appear, then waiting even longer to get paid.
Still, newspapers continue to churn our travel sections and I’d bet a pound somewhere, someone this weekend is running an article on the hidden. As in ‘Discover Hidden Italy!’ Or Greece. Or Spain. Or anywhere else you can think of.
Let’s get this clear from the outset: none of these places are hidden. They’re just somewhere you and lots of other people haven’t found. It’s not the same.
When people travel they home in on the same places time and time again. Right now, here in Venice, the Rialto and around the Piazza San Marco are pretty bustling. Move beyond that and the place is pretty quiet.
That said, Venice is like Italy. The more you visit, the bigger it gets. I’ve set three books here and have been visiting regularly for twenty-five years. But I can still get lost and there are still areas I barely know.
This article is about one on my doorstep, an area I thought unworthy of exploring, and boy was I wrong.
I pretty much always stay in Dorsoduro here, in an apartment not far from the Frari. It’s an area I know very well, and love, from the tip of the Punta della Dogana, to the Accademia, the Frari and the bustle of Campo Santa Margherita.
But with changed travel plans I needed to find somewhere new, and wound up in an area I barely knew at all, the western end of Dorsoduro. Here it is on a map.
There are two places here I did know already. The church of San Sebastiano with its wonderful cycle of paintings by Veronese, and, a short distance away, the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli which, to be honest, isn’t that interesting except that it was one of the key locations for that seminal Venice movie Don’t Look Now.
But I never thought it worth exploring for two reasons. First, there are a few cars driving in from Piazzale Roma. Here I saw motor vehicles for the first time in ten days.
That felt odd. The second reason has vanished. This is close to the port area where the gigantic cruise ships used to moor. Take the vaporetto past Santa Marta and you used to see the bloody great things parked up there, looming over the entire city.
Here’s one on the way out. Well now they’re gone. Finally. Shunted off to the mainland somewhere. I don’t know the details. I’m just glad they’ve been banished. Years ago I rented an apartment on the Zattere waterfront. You could feel the whole building shake when one of these monsters came down the Giudecca Canal.
So this time round, since it’s on my doorstep, I decided to take a look around this part of a city I thought I knew. And what a surprise it was too. First stop I recommend is by the entry point — the bridge into Campo San Sebastiano. Here you’ll find a little café run by a genial Chinese family.
They’ve been here for thirteen years, speak Italian better than I ever will, make lovely coffee, serve Tre Marie cornetti and do a very decent Campari spritz for €2.50. Not many places in Venice where you’ll pay that for a canal side view even if there are only a few tables. Just down the way towards the Giudecca Canal you’ll find more restaurants too.
Cross that bridge and you find yourself in front of the San Sebastiano church with its Veronese collection and only a handful of visitors. Press on and you’re in a world of empty streets, a handful of restaurants and cafes, some patches of greenery and a kids’ playground along with some university buildings.
It’s not a big area and before long you’ll find yourself at the San Marta vaporetto stop, once the place you used to see those blasted cruise ships moored.
Tucked away in this quiet, almost remote corner of Venice is a vegan restaurant, La Tecia Vegana. No meat, no fish, no cheese. This I had to try.
I was dithering between vegan options like tempeh and seitan that were new to me. But then I saw a melanzane parmigiana come out and had to have that instead.
The aubergine was beautiful, as was the rich tomato sauce. I’ve no idea what the cheese substitute was, something vaguely cheesy but quite runny too. That wasn’t so impressive but the rest was lovely.
The starter was less good. I went for panzanella which I often have at home during the summer tomato glut.
This was just bread, tomato, capers, a few olives and dressing. Definitely needed some fresh basil and perhaps peperoncino to liven it up. The house wine was lovely, the service friendly, and it was nice to be eating outside to the sound of youngsters playing football among the blocks of flats that surround the place. If you want to go, make sure to book. The place is certainly popular.
Then I strolled home, along a footpath the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else in the busy cramped streets of Dorsoduro.
It’s worth venturing beyond San Basilio and taking a look.