Bestselling book on Rome Italy
Bestselling book on Rome Italy



Letters from Italy
Venice: In Grand Style
Italian Eating Habits
Pope John Paul II
Modern Art in Rome
Parking in Rome
Getting around Rome
Christmas in Rome

Venice: In Grand Style
“Piazza San Marco”


A View from our Room, Hotel Bauer
A View from our Room, Hotel Bauer
Photo by Diane Epstein


Ciao Amici,

If you're looking to spend a few days sitting in the lap of luxury, Venice is the place to go. It is a city that has always had an opulent, decadent side, and even though its glory is past, Venice still knows how to entertain in grand style.

We arrived there after two weeks on the East Coast, where we were buried in a foot of snow in New York. Flying in to Marco Polo airport was like entering another world. You leave the airport terminal and walk fifty feet to a boat that drops you off forty minutes later in Piazza St. Marco in Venice, after a stop on the ancient and beautiful island of Murano, where glass makers have been concocting fanciful creations for centuries.

The weather, for Venice in the winter, was acceptable. The temperatures were in the 40's under a weak, hazy winter sun -- great light for taking memorable photos. After walking a few steps from the Piazza, we found ourselves at the Hotel Bauer Grunwald at Piazza San Moise', where we stayed a few nights. Don't be put off by the modern, nondescript entrance and lobby. The hotel is a gem. The friendly staff is courteous but not stiff or formal, the buffet breakfast overlooking the Grand Canal suited everyone's taste, from simple caffe' latte and a brioche to the more American-style bacon and eggs, and a better location in the Serenissima would be difficult to find.

But the real treat were our quarters. Since our two children were with us, we had a suite with two bedrooms, each equipped with individually-controlled thermostats; soft, thick, terry-cloth bathrobes; firm beds (just what we were looking for after two weeks with air mattresses, couches, sleeping bags, and pull-out beds); and marble-lined bathrooms that turned out endless streams of hot water in which to soak after walking the cold, humid streets of the ancient city. The rooms were so comfortable (some of which have spectacular views overlooking the Grand Canal) that we didn't want to leave them, especially the kids who found television programs to watch from all over Europe, in French, German, and English. But of course we fought off the jet lag enough to have two dining experiences worth mentioning.   Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco
Photo by Diane Epstein
First, an admission. Because we live in Rome, we are spoiled eaters. The food is so good and so reasonably priced, that it is easy to find an established trattoria where a family of four can eat like royalty for under a $100. Not so in Venice. Our past culinary experiences at this level were not memorable, so this time we decided to splurge.

  Hotel Bauer, Terrace on the Canal
Hotel Bauer, Terrace on the Canal
Photo by Diane Epstein
  One place I would recommend is the Ristorante Antico Pignolo, in a characteristic building with exposed beam ceilings on a tiny street at the other side of Piazza San Marco from the hotel. We were taken care of in grand style by our personable waiter Luciano, who speaks perfect English and likes to practice it. We started off with an antipasto of pureed baccala' (codfish), seppie negre (black cuttlefish), and polenta (corn meal), and then went immediately to a primo piatto of tagliolini pasta with ample pieces of tender, tasty scampi and vegetables. We could have stopped there, but Luciano convinced us that we must continue. He brought us a tray of perfectly-grilled fish and seafood -- lobster, sole, sea bass, and scampi -- which was washed down with a bottle of crisp Soave. Dessert was a meal in itself: custard-filled crepes topped with powdered sugar, strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and Grand Marnier.
Of course, after a meal like this, you always think you'll never eat again, but the day after we were back at it, this time sitting aside a huge picture window that looks out onto San Marco, also known as the "finest drawing-room in the world." The restaurant is called Quadri, and it has basically been there in one form or another since 1638. Our handsome waiter Antonio seated us in the elegantly-appointed dining room of a restaurant in the city that claims to have served the first cup of coffee in Europe in the middle of the seventeenth century.
Dining has certainly evolved since then. We followed in the footsteps of Stendhal, Dumas, Proust, Wagner, and Byron, and sampled the culinary pleasures of a world-famous restaurant. Our antipasti consisted of carpaccio of duckling with radicchio and balsamic vinegar and a salad of pear, arugula and shredded parmigiano. These were succeeded by primi piatti of fusilli pasta with duck sauce and risotto with scampi and radicchio. For secondi we tried roasted veal with wild mushrooms and a Venetian specialty: fegato (liver) with sauteed onions. Our desserts of tiramisu' and panna cotta did not disappoint either.  


Grand Canal, Venice
Grand Canal, Venice
Photo by Diane Epstein

By this time -- perfectly sated -- we were ready to board the train back to Rome, leaving behind the cold, humid, foggy air of Venice for the warmer climes of the Eternal City, where the temperature when we arrived at 10 PM on January 5th was 60 degrees. As they say, it's great to get away, and it's also great, especially when your home is Rome, to get back. When we are next in Venice, we know exactly where to go.
Alan Epstein

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