It’s our last day here in Venice and with most of the key attractions covered we decide to venture a little further afield and visit some of the lagoon’s other islands.
Murano and Burano are a must for any traveller with a keen eye for photography. Known respectively for glass blowing and lace making, both islands are also famous for their brightly coloured houses. Gracing the pages of Pinterest and Instagram alike, i’ve already seen hundreds of beautiful images of the homes on my computer screen but am keen to see them for real.
We buy our tickets and board the commuter ferry which is jam-packed full of tourists despite it being low season. we are heading to Burano first, the further away of the two islands and the one with the most coveted picture-worthy abodes. It takes around 40 minutes and we pass by the Cimitero di San Michele – essentially a cemetery island – before overtaking Murano, looping around Mazzorbo, and docking in the north of Burano Island.
As soon as we disembark we see the first of the little coloured houses all lined up to greet us in terracotta reds and mint greens. We follow our fellow sightseers over a bridge and walk alongside the canal where a rainbow of homes line the waters edge; the trademark Venetian washing line strung from windows bearing equally colourful clothing and little speed boats and row boats moored up outside. Every colour is accounted for – pink, green, yellow, red, orange and blue all greeting us cheerily in the February sunshine. The foot traffic is becoming slightly congested as all of us stop to take photographs and so we turn off into a square for a bit of breathing space. Each of the little houses here have striped curtains in their doorways and beautifully maintained pot plants lining their window ledges.
We continue our tour, weaving in and out of the tiny streets and one thing that strikes me is how well maintained everything is. Each house is painted perfectly with only a couple on the whole island that have fallen into disrepair; sad faded paint peeling from their fronts. No two homes are the same colour as the different dazzling hues were first used to differentiate between addresses as a boundary line. This practice has since become such a fixed feature of island life that repainting a home in a new shade requires application to the local council for an acceptable list of colours.
It’s pretty quiet here and I begin to wander where all the residents are. As its mid-week the likely answer is ‘at work’ but I haven’t seen any businesses here, just gift shops selling lace embroidery and a smattering of restaurants clearly geared towards visitors. I’m guessing with a population of less than 3000 that most people head to the mainland for jobs, or are out at sea as Burano is historically a fishing island, but it’s still eerie to find somewhere so deserted.
There’s a few elderly residents sweeping their steps, but other that that the place has a lonely hush about it. We hit what must be the main square and see St Martin’s Church with its leaning bell tower that looks like it’s about to make an imminent bid towards the ground.
Feeling peckish and a plethora of photos procured, we stop for lunch, patiently waiting for a table outside in the sun where we eat pasta washed down with a glass of wine. Bellies full we go back to catch the ferry and make a pit stop at Murano. The houses here are not quite as colourful, and again it’s quiet save for the people outside cafés enjoying steaming plates of pasta. We head to the main square where oddly there’s a giant Murano glass Christmas Tree. Although deemed bad luck to have your tree up beyond the first week of January, I ponder that it must be quite difficult to store one whose branches are made of fine blown glass and that this decoration might therefore be a year-round adornment.
We’ve had our fill of the glass figurines Murano is renowned for on the mainland, so don’t stay too long as we actually want to stop at the cemetery on way home (see previous blogs here for my love of exploring cemeteries).
We pootle across on the ferry to the floating cemetery, which is surrounded by high apricot walls and cypress trees. It’s actually made up of two islands – San Michele and San Cristoforro delle Pace and both historically housed burial grounds before being joined together in the 1800’s, a necessary move to create more space to inter the dead of Venice. It might seem strange to have a whole separate island for burials but the shallowness of the graves on the mainland meant remains often washed up during the annual floods and so San Michele became the final resting place for Venetians.
The cemetery itself is set into sections – some for the various religious denominations, some military graves, even a section for the graves of children. Again it’s perfectly quiet here, and we only see a few other living folk on our walk through the graveyard, the rest of our company the residents of the cemetery who are all sleeping soundly.
There’s a few mausoleums here and there, as well as great curving walls lined with tombs stacked like library shelves atop one another. The graves are all well-tended to, and most have at least one bunch of carnations, the traditional Italian flower of honouring the dead. Each grave is as unique as it’s occupant, some in stone or marble, all with different sizes, shapes and designs. Lots of the graves here also have pictures of the deceased as part of the tombstone, and it’s strange to see people I will never meet, and we stop and read many of the inscriptions, trying to get a sense of what the person may have been like in life.
There’s also a handful of notable people interred here – Igor Stravinsky and Esra Pound to name a few – and we visit their tombs before walking to the furthest end of the graveyard. Here a boundary wall with a barred archway marks the edge of the island and we stare out in a moment of quiet reflection at the cool blue of the the sky meeting water.
It’s nearly closing time and so we retrace our steps, leaving the dead to rest and venture back to the vibrancy of Venice.
A quick pit stop for gelato and Prosecco, we return to the hotel to dress up for our final night out here in Venice. Having had our fill of carbs we have decided to head back to our little unexpected discovery from yesterday for fine wine and cicchetti.
Our host is pleased to see our return and greets us by name. He patiently takes the time to match our wine preferences once more, and we also order a sharing board which he goes off to prepare.
He whisks it over – full of local cured salami, prosciutto, and beef carpaccio sliced so thinly it melts in the mouth. Theres a hard salty cheese from the Dolomites made out of summer cow’s milk and a soft cheese covered in rosemary leaves which is my favourite. There’s a side of freshly toasted bread and peppery red chicory to freshen our palette.
We enjoy every morsel and chat happily over our wine, people-watching and enjoying the vibe of other happy revellers socialising around us. We realise it’s getting late so we reluctantly finish up, bid our farewells and take a midnight stroll back to the hotel for our final night’s rest.
It’s been a wonderful few days here in Venice and i’m so grateful to have visited this little lagoon island and its friends. Tomorrow we jet back home, but will certainly carry the spirit of the spritz and cicchetti with us – taking a leaf out of the locals’ book and keeping it Venetian.