For the past six days I’ve been living the good life and doing so on someone else’s euro.
Totally content with my business-class legroom seat and onboard WiFi connection, I’ve been riding inside a comfortable motor coach with the rest of the intrepid “band of merry media” — guests of Insight Vacations (Insight) on its abbreviated Country Roads of Italy journeys — as it rolled through Umbria and Tuscany. Together, we’ve seen, experienced and tasted so much, but a bit more sweetener is about to be added to this la dolce vita recipe.
As Insights’ German-built chariot, a quickly fading footnote in our rubber-meets-road antics, resets its odometer for a new adventure somewhere else in the Bel Paese, we’re already safely and happily aboard private water taxis, gliding along in single-file formation under a pastel-colored sunset, passing by ornate palazzi where rich merchants once lived, as we make our way to our digs for the next two nights: the Hotel Bauer, a five-star luxury property fit for Casanova and modern-day jet setters alike.
So, where are we? In Venice, on the Grand Canal, beginning the final leg of this wonderful, eight-day, Insight journey.
La Serenissima (The Most Serene), centuries ago a powerful, majestic and innovative maritime republic that was a leader in trade between Europe and the Orient, is still world-renowned for its canals and, more importantly, her ability to take your breath away no matter how many times you visit.
If you’ve only seen Venice from afar, as the backdrop in a Hollywood movie, she’s more hypnotic than you could ever imagine. Hiding behind a Carnevale mask, she’s alluring, captivating and mysterious.
She’s separated by an assortment of canals, like the Grand Canal (called Canalasso in the Venetian dialect) — the doge of La Serenissima‘s waterways that slithers through the city like a giant S-shaped serpent — smaller ones called a rio that merge into the bona fide ones, and the narrowest and shortest of canals called a riello.
And, she’s connected by more than 400 bridges, some architectural masterpieces, all negotiated free-of-charge on foot. Of course, you can float around town, too: economically via vaporetti (public ferries), or expensively via gondola (with or without a musical serenade) and private motoscafo (motor boat) taxis, like ours.
Under the watchful eye of Belinda, Insight’s wonderfully talented tour director/concierge/storyteller, we plan to cross over and squeeze under as many bridges and push through as many canals around La Serenissima as we possibly can over the next 36 hours.
But first, I’ve gotta check in at the hotel, clean up, then head right back out as I’ve got a dinner date with a princess and I don’t want to keep her waiting.
Established in 1928, the Hotel Bauer (the “B”) is an Insight gold-level property and a Leading Hotels of the World that stands along the Grand Canal with an unfettered view of the impressive La Salute — the Basilica of St. Mary of Good Health — is right next door to the Church of San Moisè and its incredibly ornate Baroque facade, surrounded by high-end fashion boutiques, only a short stroll to St. Mark’s Square, and is just down the calle (street) from Harry’s Bar — Hemingway’s favorite Venetian watering hole. One more thing, there’s a gondola landing right outside the entrance, adjacent to the B’s private dock where we arrived.
A restored 18th century palazzo (palace), the B has an urban vibe to it with its art deco-inspired public interiors showcasing original works of art by local artists.
Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a complimentary box of fruit-flavored candy sitting on the nightstand just waiting to be opened.
Many of the rooms and suites, 109 in all, have views of the Grand Canal or the bell tower of St. Mark’s Square, but all are elegantly appointed and complimented by the nightly turn-down service.
The staff is discreet and the service at the B is simply impeccable.
The price for a night in this palace ranges from 900 to 1,500€ for a standard room, but, if you travel with Insight, that rate dramatically drops as the daily cost throughout the entire Country Roads journey averages out to about 220€ per person.
Your per diem price includes transportation, transfers, baggage handling, most of your meals, art historian guides and surprising “signature” moments when you least expect it.
Now that the “product placements” are out of the way, let’s go eat. I’m starved!
That dinner date with a princess that I mentioned earlier? I wasn’t lying. Our “band of merry media,” temporarily split into two groups because we’re so many, will dine at different Venetian restaurants tonight. I’m assigned to Team Princess and that’s where we’re headed: Ristorante La Principessa (La P), just a short walk from the Bauer, through St. Mark’s square over to Riva degli Schiavoni that front’s the Grand Canal Basin and a camera-ready view of San Giorgio Maggiore.
The wait staff at La P is courteous, friendly and super fast as stocky, dark green bottles of chilled Lugano, a dry white from the Cà dei Frati winery around Lake Garda, are delivered almost before we get situated around la tavola. The first glass poured, this dinner party is now officially underway. Cin cin!
Most of Team Princess orders first and second course dishes of fish. Makes sense since we’re looking straight at the Adriatic, so we might as well cast a virtual line out there for the catch-of-the-day, right?
Our group has bonded really well over the past few days, so there’s lots of food sharing involving fork stabs at table mates’ plates. Care for a nibble?
We cap our evening of fine dining at La P with the quintessential Venetian dessert/digestive: Sgropin, as the locals call it, or Sorbetto as it’s known around the rest of La Penisula. It’s the semi-frozen smoothie that aristocratic fats cats of old inhaled during and/or after a large feast.
The Sgropin is a mixture of lemon sorbet and Prosecco sparkling wine. It goes down real easy and makes you feel like you haven’t eaten at all.
Turns out the Most Serene Republic of Venice thought of everything way back when, including this alcoholic version of Slim Fast!
With a light drizzle falling and strong winds kicking up, we blow through St. Mark’s Square back to the hotel where we retire to the bar for a rowdy nightcap.
Somebody on Team Princess mentions to no one in particular: I’ve had enough. I’m going to bed.
Without missing a beat, someone else on the squad responds: Goodnight, principessa!
For complete information on Insight Vacations‘ 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries and over 100 journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you outside tomorrow in Campo di Moisè when we walk the plank to experience Venice’s seasonal pastime: Aqua alta (High water).
©The Palladian Traveler