Leaving Venice behind for a day and enjoying the pleasures offered by other smaller and perhaps more picturesque islands in the lagoon is an unforgettable experience. Even the two most famous Venice islands, Burano and Murano, are much quieter than the capital of Veneto. Less grandiose than La Serenissima and its marble palaces, they are also easier to apprehend.
Although locals direct tourists to the many glass factories as soon as they set foot on the island, first getting a sense of Murano and its scenery is a must. In effect, wandering through the narrow alleys is the best way to stumble upon compelling workshops. Some of them propose impressive, if short, demonstrations on glass-blowing and glass-sculpting techniques. It is truly magical to see glowing red glass transforming into an animal or a vase under the talented hands of a glass artist. In order to produce their artwork, masters and apprentices still use century-old techniques. Apprenticeship lasts many years and only the most talented become masters. There are just about 100 glass masters on Murano today.
Murano workshops create many types of objects in many styles: jewelry, statues, vases, and chandeliers. While most shops propose millefiori glass and aquarium statues, other objects are surely unique works of art. It is therefore crucial to visit several locations to get a sense of the production and the style of each workshop before deciding on a purchase.
For the most part, staff in shops and workshops speak English and are eager to explain how each piece was made. Their objective is naturally to convey the idea that everything fabricated here is a work of art. They are obviously proud of the quality of their creation and want to share their passion. Incidentally, by providing details on fabrication, they also demonstrate that a piece is genuine Murano glass. Nevertheless, do ask for a certificate or a trademark – see below.
In B.F. Signoretti shop, everything glitters and shimmers. Delicate chandeliers hang from the ceiling and intricately carved mirrors reflect the collections of colorful glasses, vases and sculptures. Both traditional and contemporary styles adorn the showroom, dazzling visitors with the lavishness of each object.
FerroVetro is a small boutique on Campo Stefano 7. Monica Cavaletto passionately explains how each piece of jewelry was created, and which technique was used. She takes time to discuss styles and colors, without pressuring the prospective buyer. While she designed everything in her shop, several Murano workshops produced most of her goods.
Incidentally, also in Campo Stefano, stands the magnificent blue glass statue “Comet Glass Star,” created by the Simone Cenedese workshop. It is especially spectacular lit-up at night, when the spikes of the comet project different shades of blue: a scintillating blue star has landed on this small Italian piazza, thus adding to the magic of the island.
Make sure your purchases carry the Vetro Artistico Murano trademark. Even in Murano, and even more in Venice, merchants sell glass objects under “Made in Venice” and “Made in Italy” labels pretending to sell Murano glass. Don’t be fooled: ask for the certificate, and look for the signature of the glass master on expensive items.
The Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro) in Palazzo Giustiniani displays magnificent collections, showcasing ancient Egyptian and Roman beads and pitchers, astonishingly delicate 18th century pieces and contemporary sculptures. Greens, blues and browns made room for brighter colors and dull glass to exquisite transparency. This wide variety of objects, presented in the context of glass-making in Murano, thus provides a useful overview of techniques and styles along the centuries.
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Using ACTV public transportation, tourists get a chance to see the life of “real” Venetians. The postmen are getting ready to deliver mail, and people are coming home with their groceries or stopping at S. Michele cemetery for a walk with their dog. For a faster trip to Murano however, have a water taxi pick you up directly at your hotel.
Trattoria Ai Frati, Fondamenta Venier 4, is an inexpensive restaurant on the main canal of Murano. Savor here fresh seafood and pasta, and enjoy local Tai wine while observing boat activity on the canal. Closed on Thursdays.
At Trattoria Busa alla Torre, Campo Santo Stefano 3, order typical Venetian dishes. Each one is passionately prepared by Chef Lele il Rosso with the freshest local ingredients.
If you have time to explore other Venice islands before heading back to Venice, go on to Burano. In addition to the vibrant facades of its houses, this island is renowned for its needlework. The glistening canals dotted with fishing boats are a marvel for the eye. Patches of color reflect in the water and add a joyful mood to the scenery. Allow at least two or three hours since Burano is quite far from Murano and Venice, and the village is particularly pleasant to explore.
A stop on San Michele, located between Murano and Fondamente Nove, is comparatively less time consuming. High walls enclose completely Venice’s cemetery island. One senses not only the inviolability of the place but also the determination of Venetians. Tall cypresses line the quiet alleys, their dark green creating a sharp contrast with the ochre of the high brick walls. A pause here truly provides another perspective on life in the lagoon.
The old gothic palace, where Hotel Nani Mocenigo Palace is located, suggests the nostalgic charm of Venetian olden days. Pink bricks and oval windows of white marble grace the facade. A small narrow canal licks the ancient stairs, still used by tourists arriving on gondolas and water taxis. In fact, stepping out of a small boat onto these marble steps, one feels transported back to Venice’s golden age.
Located in Venice across the Canale della Giudecca, the Cipriani Hotel offers luxurious rooms, a spa, and a restaurant. They also suggest unusual excursions in and around Venice and the lagoon. Admiring the sun setting on the horizon while enjoying aperitivo on the terrace is the ultimate romantic experience.