Venice: History, beauty of Italian city may leave you speechless

Charlene Peters
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Carnivale of the past at The Hotel Metropole, Venice.

In a letter to his wife during a stay at Venice’s Casa Kirsch (now Hotel Metropole) in 1895, Sigmund Freud wrote: “Don’t expect me to send you much in the way of a description. The thrill of being in Venice makes it impossible.”

Freud’s analysis of Venice holds true today, although clearly things have changed significantly since the turn of the 20th century.

Over the past few decades — up until 2020 — tourists have outnumbered pigeons in the famed Piazza San Marco and atop the Rialto Bridge. Souvenir shops were a constant threat to overwhelm the view of the city’s waterfront.

Today, Venice’s sad history of countless orphaned and homeless children who lurked in its historic alleyways and marketplaces, committing petty thievery in order to live, still exists, and it is the wise tourist who takes these minor urban detractions in stride.

Venice is and will always be a thrill. And history is its stock in trade.

I consider myself grateful for my visits to Venice in the not-so-distant past, a time when travel was open and easy to maneuver. My most recent stay was at the historic Hotel Metropole, a former convent transformed into a five-star luxury hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant. All of my visits to Venice were memorable, and I cannot wait to return.

Jacopo de’ Barbari, a painter/engraver during the Renaissance, painted a map of Venice that included the Hotel Metropole, which is a short walk from the Alilaguna water bus that whooshes visitors direct from Marco Polo Airport into Venice. In the hotel gallery are displays of artifacts from the Belle Epoque era, and in the hallway of each floor are quirky collections of items like corkscrews, nut crackers, crucifixes and fans.

From the window of my luxurious yet modestly sized room, I spied snippets of Venetian life in the streets below. My thoughts were lost in history for a moment, until I realized it was time for tea, a tradition that’s been held over from the hotel’s earlier convent days, and the experience hints of Orientalism.

The tearoom in the Oriental Bar is the only piece of history that remains at Hotel Metropole. Here, Italy’s most revered composer, Antonio Vivaldi, was paid to give music lessons to its resident orphans from 1703 to 1740.

Today, the space offers late afternoon tea and food pairing lessons amid candlelight and soft music. As I sipped on green tea, I learned it should brew no longer than three to four minutes and is best served with fish dishes. Delicate white tea is best steeped at a temperature of 70 degrees for five to seven minutes. Black tea steeps at 90 degrees for five minutes and pairs well with cheese or beef.

My advice to travelers once Italy welcomes back U.S. visitors: Visit Venice soon. By small fractions, the city is indeed sinking, but the Hotel Metropole’s reputation continues to rise. The restaurant is designed like a theater with a raised stage and drawn curtains to showcase its dining tables, with surrounding wall art of antique paintings and overhead Murano glass chandeliers. Fish served at the Met Restaurant is caught at the Rialto Market; vegetables are selected from the gardens at St. Erasmo.

The hotel boasts one of the ultimate views of the legendary lagoon, is a party site in February for Carnival of Venice, and is where Met Restaurant Chef Luca Veritti creates Italian recipes in a whimsical presentation of either traditional or contemporary Italian fashion. The overall experience of a stay here is sure to leave you, as the city did Freud, at a loss for words.

Charlene Peters is a travel writer based in Napa Valley. She can be reached by email: SipTripper@gmail.com.

Lagoon view from the main entrance of The Hotel Metropole Venice.