Magazine

The satellite islands of Venice

There’s a different Venice, colorful and hidden, that is waiting to be discovered. 


Venice by itself is truly a pearl in the Venetian lagoon, but all around St. Marco square, the Rialto bridge, and the Chiesa della Salute, there are rough diamonds ready to shine. The Venice islands are a world of colorful houses, small beaches, green gardens, vineyards, and centuries-old history. It’s time to explore the other Venice.

The Venice Islands: 8 satellite islands to visit

Giudecca

This island is the closest to Venice, made of eight tiny parcels of land linked to each other. Because of its short distance from the mother island, Giudecca shares Venice’s ancient and precious history, when it was rich with beautiful gardens and green areas (now replaced by residential buildings). Here you can visit the Redentore church, an important building from an architectural and religious point of view, and center of the Redentore festival (every year on the third Sunday of July) which celebrates its construction in 1576—in thanks for their deliverance of a major outbreak of the plague. On the Saturday before the festival, a bridge made of boats is formed over the Giudecca canal, linking the island with the Zattere promenade, the most southern part of Venice, so people can walk to the Redentore church. The biggest edifice on the island is the Stucky flour mill, built between the 1884 and the 1895, now transformed into the iconic Hilton Molino Stucky Hotel. This luxurious hotel has a rooftop bar where a glass of the classiest kind of Prosecco would set the mood, Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze.

Lido

Famous for the annual Venice Film Festival, this long and thin island is the only one where cars, motorcycles, and buses can drive on the roads. Lido offers also a long, golden beach where many Venetians go during summertime to enjoy the sea and the sun. This island is the right place for active outdoors folk, with its golf green, tennis courts, and even the possibility to go horseback riding. Venice Film Festival Venice Film Festival - © Igor Filippov

Murano

This is known worldwide as the glassblowing island. This ancient tradition, which brought the island its fame and success, is still a vivid craft today, and generations of Muranians have passed down its traditions one by one to keep it alive. The Murano Glass Museum is a must-see stop for any visitor, where creations from as early as the 15th century to modern times are exhibited for the public. Preparatory stages of making a glass vase Preparatory stages of making a glass vase - © Creative Commons

On the island, you’ll definitely want to watch a glassblower at work, a fascinating craft that takes serious practice and years of dedication to master. This is the discerning difference between a real Murano piece and an imitation, which can easily be found all throughout the city of Venice. Although the recent, hard economic times have not been kind, the glass masters of Murano are doing their best to keep this ancient tradition alive. Glass rooster of Murano Glass rooster of Murano - © Francesca Allegra Bettetto

Burano

Considered one of the most colorful places in the world, the island of Burano is located in the northern part of Venice. The leaning bell tower, the tiny channels full of colorful reflections of the houses, and the calm atmosphere underscored by the low murmurings of the elderly ladies allow visitors to take a deep breath and let a weight fall from your shoulders. Burano has been a unique economic spot for the production of Italian laces and fishing. A legend has it that it was thanks to a fisherman that the traditional lace production started. The man, after holding out against the mermaids’ melody to reach his beloved who waited for him in Burano, received a beautiful wedding veil made of lacy sea foam for his fiancè as a gift from the queen of the sea. It seems that the girl’s friends, envying her beautiful veil, tried to imitate it, thus starting a centuries-old lace school. Burano Burano - © Isem 2012

Mazzorbo

On the eastern part of Burano is Mazzorbo, a kind of appendix of the colorful island, since a bridge links the two. Here in this small island, a rare native Venetian grape variety is cultivated: Dorona, the golden grape loved by the Doges. It has been grown for more than eight centuries, and was almost wiped out in 1966 when water levels reached the highest level in history (194 cm), but now it is protected and cultivated to produce Venissa wine. This complex white wine is aged for two years before release, and gets its sunny, golden color from its unique winemaking process—macerated, like a red wine, on its skins for nearly 30 days before fermentation, extracting aromas and color.

Torcello

The Basilica of this island, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, is a masterpiece, built in the 11th century with beautiful mosaics of Byzantine inspiration. The church is proof of the island’s ancient history and its close relation with Asia, and of a pre-Medieval epoch when it once hosted thousands of inhabitants and represented a rich port with important metallurgic and wool productions. However, though noble families occupied the island until the 18th century, a very slow decline in population began around the 15th century due to a slow transformation of its lagoon into a swamp, bringing in a plague of malaria. Nowadays, besides the Santa Maria Assunta’s Basilica and the Church of Santa Fosca, it’s possible to admire one of the last examples in all the lagoon of a daringly rail-less bridge: The Devil’s Bridge. Basilica of Sant'Assunta Basilica of Sant'Assunta - © John Reynolds

Sant'Erasmo

The fertile soil of this island gave it the nickname of “the green garden of Venice,” as it serves as the main source of fresh produce for the mother island’s farmer’s markets. Here, an Italian Slow Food Presidia is cultivated: the Sant’Erasmo violet artichoke, flavorful veggies often preserved in olive oil or eaten raw. Rent a bike from one of several local businesses (a picnic basket is included) and ride along the fields and toward the Torre Massimiliana, where art exhibitions are periodically held. Sant’Erasmo is also a relaxing refuge for Venetians, some of whom have private properties where they enjoy the peace and calm away from the bustling tourists of their city.

San Michele

The red-walled island of San Michele is known for its beautiful monumental cemetery constructed in 1807 and its Monastery of San Michele, originally built in the 10th century and rebuilt in the mid-1400s. However, you would never expect to find a vineyard within the monastery. Professor Flavio Franceschet, a wine lover and retiree living in Venice, established a community in 1993 called “Laguna nel Bicchiere - Le Vigne ritrovate” (“lagoon in the glass - rediscovered vineyards”) to recover abandoned vegetables and vineyards. Through his projects, they uncovered a small vineyard in San Michele, from which the white wine Laguna nel Bicchiere is produced and aged in the monastery—the last ancient winery of Venice.