Don’t be put off by the guidebooks telling you that Venice these days is little more than a glorified theme park on water. Yes, you’re one of 60,000 tourists daily who’ll be de-sensitised within a matter of hours to the carnevale costume masks and Murano glass jewellery (and the selfie-stick hawkers) at every five paces. 

However thousands of tourists can’t be wrong. And they’re not. Venice’s waterways and bridges and velvet-seated gondolas make this vibrant Italian hub as cinematic as it is dreamy. It’s a city that’s chronically picturesque, and your only problem will be the hours you spend culling gigabytes of snapshots of you beaming with pride on yet another gorgeous bridge (whether that was taken with a selfie-stick or not).

One of the best ways to enjoy Venice is to walk in the shoes of two of the city’s most well known and appealing characters – taking yourself back in time to its former glory and deep, glamourous roots.


Peggy Guggenheim’s palazzo on the Grand Canal
Venice has been famous for being famous for the last couple of hundred years – so what better place for American heiress and art collector Peggy Guggenheim to relocate there in 1946.

Viewing her art collection in Dorsoduro, provides you with the double-whammy of checking out her Grand Canal-facing former residence and garden while, simultaneously, visually engorging a breathtaking Picasso, some Jackson Pollocks, and works by her second husband and surrealist artist Max Ernst. 

Among the wall-hanging prey for the culture-vultures is bronze sculpture The Angel of the Citadel, out in the courtyard. This gift from an artist mate of hers came with a detachable you-know-what. Peggy said in her autobiography that she’d remove it before the more “stuffy” of her visitors would arrive, but sometimes she’d forget to, causing her “great embarrassment”.

Today you can still find it standing in the courtyard facing the Grand Canal, where it was in 1949, deliberately positioned to face her neighbours on the other side of the canal. 

Casanova’s prison cell in the Doge’s Palace
Casanova was a towering 6’1”. But it was more than his height that gave him so much luck with the ladies. Gifted linguist and cunning fugitive, Casanova was also a spy, a diplomat, a mathematician, a professional gambler and an occultist. The husbands of the women he got busy with, had him arrested for possession of occultist literature – a crime punishable by death. 

Casanova’s prison cell is in the roof of the Doge’s Palace and you can see it if you do the ‘secret tour’ of the palace for 21 Euros, booked a couple of days in advance. He worked on his escape by carving in the wooden floor beneath his bed. But before the hole was finished, he was moved to another cell; at which point the hole was discovered. The guard who discovered it threatened to get him busted for it, so Casanova counter-threatened to snitch on the guard himself, who had had actually been the one to bring him the iron file in the first place.

Casanova then bribed his escape out of the palace and, legend has it, that once he was outside the palace he paused for a coffee in St Mark’s Square before resuming pace to Paris.  

So while you are sipping your latte after hours of traversing canal bridges and the usual touristy hot spots, do contemplate delving into the more eccentric and historic elements of this diverse city and be pleasantly surprised you did.