Island Hopping in the Venetian Lagoon

Posted in: Venice Sights


Venice Lagoon
An iconic scene of the Venice Lagoon with Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore as the perfect backdrop. Photo: Thomas Leplus

The Venetian lagoon is blessed with a great scatter of islands, some of secular demeanor and others more heavenly in aspiration. Lido di Venezia, once home to many brothels, appeals to instincts of the flesh. Those looking for more spiritual diversions might retreat to Isola di San Francesco del Deserto—a wee fleck on the map of the lagoon and a haven of quiet well removed from the hustle and bustle of Venice.

Last week here on EuroCheapo, we reported on Venice’s island of the dead. For over 200 years, the Isola di San Michele has served as the city’s principal cemetery. This week, we’ll look at island churches in the Venetian lagoon.

The best panorama in Venice

Few visitors to the city do not at some stage take a vaporetto over to Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, if only to gaze back over the Canale di San Marco towards the Palazzo Ducale, the Piazzetta and the St Mark’s Basilica. The view of Venice from the campanile (entered through the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore) is perhaps the finest panorama in the entire city. Don’t make the trip just for that view from the top of the tower. The church itself is a wondrous place—even if John Ruskin found it “barbarous.” It is a delicate confection of pale marble, one of Palladio’s finest achievements.

La Giudecca

The impressive La Giudecca rising in the background. Photo: Rita Manicor

West to the Redentore

So you’ve ticked off San Giorgio Maggiore. Where next? Well, if you liked Palladio’s essay in classical Renaissance design, hop over to La Giudecca, the island immediately west of San Giorgio Maggiore. Just two stops on vaporetto route 2 will do the trick. It’s a six-minute ride on a route that runs five times an hour from dawn till dusk. Alight at Redentore and you’ll be confronted by the main sight of La Giudecca. The Chiesa del Redentore is one of five churches in Venice built to give thanks for the end of the plague. And with the Redentore, Andrea Palladio really pulled out all the stops. Even Ruskin was impressed.

Armenian connections

Churches and islands go together in Venice. Another popular Venice excursion is to San Lazzaro degli Armeni—which is not quite the sole Armenian religious imprint on the Venetian landscape for there is an Armenian church tucked away in a side street just north of the Piazza San Marco.

When Byron went out to San Lazzaro for his thrice-weekly lessons in Armenian, he had to row to the island-monastery. Today’s visitors have it easier. Vaporetto route 20 runs a dozen times each day to San Lazzaro from the boat station by San Zaccaria (just east of the Palazzo Ducale).

The peaceful monastery on San Lazzaro degli Armeni. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalberra

The peaceful Armenian monastery on San Lazzaro degli Armeni. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalberra

San Lazzaro degli Armeni

San Lazzaro is something special. Yes, it pulls the tourist crowds, but it has an atmosphere all its own. The writer Jan Morris (in her wonderful book Venice) describes it as a place “that never feels far from the great world, and takes modernity easily in its stride.”

Armenian monks have prayed on San Lazzaro for close on 300 years and in those years the monastery has developed into one of Europe’s leading repositories of Armenian art and culture. The best way to visit is to join the tour held each afternoon and led by one of the monks. Take the vaporetto at 2.30 pm from San Zaccaria which will get you in good time to San Lazzaro for the tour, which usually starts about 3.30 pm.

San Servolo

Another unforgettable view of San Servolo island from the ferry. Photo: Emanuele

The island of the mad

If you like the idea of a trip out to San Lazzaro, it combines well with a stop on another fascinating Venetian island: San Servolo. The low huddle of buildings on San Servolo conceal a hidden history: the island served for many years as an asylum. The story is told by the Museo del Manicomio (Museum of the Asylum) on San Servolo. The island is also served by vaporetto route 20.

This is the second of two posts on Venice by Nicky and Susanne. Their first post looks at Venice’s Island of the Dead.

About the author


About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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