This past year, I discovered something of a ‘hidden gem’ in the Venetian lagoon.
I’m going to admit up front that I’m generally not that wild about Venice – it’s beautiful and very much worth seeing, but between hordes of tourists, an economy based on gouging them, and my own preferences for hills, mountains, forests and the outdoors in general, it’s not someplace I visit that often, despite living only an hour away.
Pellestrina, while technically part of Venice, is a long, thin strip of an island to the south of Venice proper, and completely different in character.
Part of what makes it that way is that it’s not very easy to get to – you have to take a not-very-speedy boat, either from Chioggia to the south, where you can also park a car if you have one, or Venice to the north.
Because Pellestrina does not have anything particular to see, such as canals or glass blowing or famous churches, and because it’s off the beaten path, it has maintained a more local, relaxed atmosphere than even Chioggia. The restaurants have reasonable prices; you see people hanging out their windows chatting with the neighbors, and the bars have local people drinking in them – and don’t seem to charge excessive prices to people obviously not locals. There are even kids playing there.
There’s also something I find beautiful about the stark, spare simplicity of how the island is laid out. Going from west to east, you have
- The Venetian lagoon, where the locals’ boats dock.
- The island itself is rarely more than 200 meters wide
- The east side is protected by a high sea wall, beyond which is a tiny strip of beach.
- The open Adriatic sea.
You can walk across the island in about 5 minutes in many places. The small strip of land seems insignificant between the sea, the lagoon and the sky that looms large above. I’ve only been there with nice weather, but I imagine it must be impressive during a storm, with the water raging on both side as well as from above!
In the image above, from Google’s Street View, you can see the entire island from the sea wall on the left to the lagoon on the right. Click on it and spin it around to see a 360 degree view.
That’s a typical scene: it’s a small, human-sized place.
Interestingly enough, despite being such a small strip of land, Pellestrina is actually fairly old: according to the Italian Pellestrina wikipedia page, it has been around for more than a 1000 years. After the “war of Chioggia” in 1380, when nearly everything on the island was destroyed, the Doge of Venice sent four families from Chioggia to resettle it. To this day, the surnames of those families are by far the most common on the island: Busetti, Vianelli, Zennari e Scarpa.
If you’re looking to relax a bit after the hustle and bustle of Venice, a day on Pellestrina is a nice getaway, and someplace most people never get to see. One particularly nice way to get around, during nice weather, is with a bicycle so that you can easily cruise along the entire island and back.