Where Secret Gardens Abound
Updated: Nov 13
The low-lying area of Veneto in the northeast of Italy is sometimes overlooked because Venice is such a jewel. And yes, it is truly the most unique city in the world. Besides being the nucleus of wealth in art, architecture and culture, its riches are also biological. Lagoons, estuaries and sandbars maintain the city that was inhabited before the Romans.
Built on the lagoon it is fed by alpine rivers like Sile and Brenta, but flushed by the salt waters from the Adriatic Sea. The tidal currents of the lagoon and silt deposits have always been crucial to the survival of Venice. Its mud banks, shallows, and channels are a source of earnings from marine, bird life and salt pans, plus its natural sewerage system of the tides rinsing out the city’s 200 canals twice daily. This Venetian environment is truly unique.
Most visitors to Venice don’t think of visiting gardens, but there is art too in the amazing gardens in private palazzos and especially cultural establishments. There are over 500 gardens tucked between the 400 bridges to explore. Many are invisible as they are hidden behind walls. If you are lucky to be in Venice the first weekend of October get tickets for Festival dei Giardini, it gives you special access. If not, here are some to enjoy.
Giardini Reale is surprisingly located in the touristic heart of Venice, near Piazza San Marco. The entrance is however hidden between the stalls in front of the bacino di San Marco. The garden was created by Napoleon and the young Viceroy Eugenio di Beauharnais. They wanted to use the Procuratie Nuove building as the site of the Royal Palace. Move to Arsenale Nord and be in the Thetis sculpture garden. Or head to Ca’ Rezzonico, the ancient palace that now houses the Museum of 18th century Venice or to the courtyard of the 16 century Querini Stampalia Palace.
If you move out to the islands go to the Borges Labyrinth and the wooded garden on San Giorgio Maggiore Island. For me, the garden setting that I was always enamored by was the gardens of Locando Cipriani’s restaurant on the island of Torcello with a backdrop of the Byzantine Basilica di Santa Maria Assunata and Bell Tower. Infamous for its magnificent mosaic of the Last Judgement. This has always been a favorite and magical place I have shared with friends.
And then I discovered another gem that makes my heart dance – I love to find people with true passion! Venissa is a boutique hotel, food hub and wine estate on the island of Mazzorba, owned by the Prosecco Bisol family.
Growing on five acres of “farmland” of an abandoned Benedictine Monastery and a leaning bell tower is Gianluca Bisol’s native grape Dorona di Venezia vineyard. This golden grape has the ability to grown in the saline soil of the lagoon, it was found again in 2002 on Torcello and brought back to the tiny bucolic haven of Mazzorba and he made it his mission is to bring back the centuries old wine favored by the doges when many thought it lost to history. While walking the vineyard with his son Matteo, I noticed the drip system and asked “do you really need to irrigate”, where upon the answer is, only to flush away the salt from the vines after high tides. A freshwater well had to be dug more than 600 feet down.
From the beginning this was an endeavor of pure passion. The wine bottles are made in a special stocky design by the Murano glassmaker Carlo Moretti and another artisan makes the super thin gold leaf labels on which each bottle is numbered by hand and only 5,000 bottles are produced each year.
Venissa opened the gates of the property and made the park and the vineyard available for the community, as well as, it made land available for the elderly of the island to create multiple vegetable gardens. They are part of the community, this is not just a tagline for sustainability marketing. This is a visit to a garden that will not only ply you with native wine, but Michelin star dining and true hospitality whether you have checked in to lay your head on a pillow or not. Bravo !