For two days I walked around the city of canals, palaces, churches, venerable old squares, past buildings where geraniums overflowed from wrought iron balconies. Over bridges; through narrow alleys flanked by even narrower waterways where gondoliers and boaters expertly manoeuvred their floating vessels.
I stayed in the landmark Hotel Gabrielli, housed in a palazzo dating back to the 14th century, overlooking the Grand Canal.
Each night I left the curtains of my corner room open to feast my eyes on the lights coming across the water from the Dorsaduro, Castello, Giudecca, Isola San Giorgio and further afield from Isola delle Rose and San Clemente.
And then to be awakened by the sight of the sun coming up over the centuries’ old domed buildings - the stuff that dreams are made of
A large part of Venice involves food and wine. When you have excellent produce you can’t go wrong and the simple way they prepare food - in classic Venetian style, is brilliant.
My first meal: a panini simply encasing some of the best prosciutto I have eaten. It was borne to my table on a little bread board with some rocket and I sat back, sipped a Veneto merlot and watched as locals walked past.
That night after a much-needed siesta, I walked over a couple of bridges and found a family restaurant on the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi. “What’s good,” I asked the bustling signora, who shouted out her orders to the busy kitchen, each peppered with the word, Allora! (which loosely translated means “so” or “then”).
She recommended the spaghetti with lobster and she was right on point. Venice is renowned for its seafood and the men and women tending the pots had not only got it just right but had made it as they probably would have for generations, with love and attention to detail. Fresh tomato sauce, garlic, flat-leafed parsley, a reduction of the cooked lobster shells - a true culinary delight.
The next day I visited the fish market just over the Rialto bridge and was privileged to see vendors with freshly-caught octopus, sea bass, cod (cooked in milk and made into creamy mixture, spread on bread).
Along with the fish, the food was extraordinary. An array of fresh farm produce was colourful: bright red tomatoes, fresh asparagus, small purple artichokes (castraùre, grown mainly on the island of St Erasmo, the famous Venetian gardens), they have a short season, of about one month. They are cut during their blossom, and are so soft they can be enjoyed raw or fried and served with schie (small shrimp of the lagoon).
And thus it was also a given that close to the market I would sample little rolls with that cod mixture and eat those wonderful artichokes, simply marinated in olive oil and a tad of lemon juice. All washed down with Spritz.
Spritz is the official drink of Veneto. While the original recipe calls for white wine, bitters such as Campari and sparkling water, it is also served with Aperol (a sweeter version of Campari). But you can make it with sparkling wine or bubbly, a little orange liqueur and sparkling water.
It’s an ideal light lunchtime drink and everywhere you walk in Venice tourists and locals alike are sipping the pale apricot-hued glasses of this refreshing cocktail, which is enhanced with a slice of orange.
On my return to Cape Town, inspired by all I had experienced and tasted, I cooked a vegetable pot on the weekend.
Slice about six or seven baby marrows; one medium eggplant cubed; and two red peppers in strips. Chop up three plump cloves of fresh garlic and brown in olive oil. Add your veg and allow to brown a little and add a tin of crushed tomatoes and allow to simmer until the water cooks out.
Season with salt and pepper and add some fresh or dried oreganum. Let the mixture simmer for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but firm. Serve with a crusty bread and swirl some extra virgin olive oil over the dished-up veggies.
You can also add in some Parmesan or Pecorino shavings.
Salute e buon appetito!