Le Zattere, or Fondamenta delle Zattere, is a wide promenade along the water’s edge, situated at the furthest end of the Dorsoduro quarter. At lunchtime the sun beats down unencumbered on groups of students huddled in the shade, elegant waterside restaurants and a scintillating stretch of water. Le Zattere runs parallel with the Giudecca island, affording a magnificent panorama. This stretch of open space is special in Venice for several reasons, not least for the local, student atmosphere. Here you can also find one of the most famous gondola workshops in Venice…
The Perfect Lunch Spot
If you’re one of those well-organised travellers that brings a packed lunch, or if you just want to grab an ice-cream and rest your feet, I consider this the perfect place to while away an hour. Here’s why:
Light and Space
While dark winding alleys are suggestive and romantic, sometimes one wants a little space in Venice where you don’t have to continuously rub shoulders or be nudged by backpacks. Le Zattere might be one of the widest stretches of pavement in Venice, dotted with trees and benches. It seems to be always bathed in brilliant sunlight, made more intense by the glittering reflections from the channel of water in front. So while munching your lunch you can top up your tan!
A Breathtaking View
Directly across the water lies the Guidecca island, featuring quaint colouring houses and the handsome Palladian church of La Redentore, gleaming and white. That’s a better view that you’re going to get from a fancy restaurant in St Mark’s Square, and it’s free.
Dip your toes in the water…
While there are benches, I much prefer curling up on the hot stones right beside the water’s edge, so I can gaze into the murky blue below and out at the shimmering sea before me. You’ll see lots of groups of students in this attitude, taking a break from their studies in Ca’ Foscari University. Which leads me too…
A Lack of Dreaded Tourists
Now that I live in Italy rather than just passing through, I’m on a tourist diet and I’m determined to seek out the quieter spots. Obviously there is rarely a street in Venice that is entirely free of tourists, but at least Le Zattere is more of a student haunt, and you aren’t bombarded by ‘tourist menu’ and signs in multiple different languages.
A Bit of Culture
After a rest Le Zattere is provides some after-lunch entertainment in the form of religious and rather more earthly pleasures.
The Church of the Gesuati (not to be confused with the Gesuiti)
Although an enclosed space, the luminosity and proportions of this interior create a sense of openness that is rarely found in the Venetian urban fabric. Light pours in through Diocletian windows high up on the walls and is magnified by the off white and dove grey Rococo decorations. You can find ice-cream coloured Tiepolo ceiling paintings, powerfully emotive faces on Morlaiter’s sculptures and the ubiquitous Tintoretto. There is also an evocative portrait of St Dominic by Piazzetta. And the floor has a pretty wonderful tiled illusion. Overall, this church is somewhat of a relief after visiting the intensely jewelled interior of St Marks or the dark lofty Baroque constructions like the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. A couple of doors down is the previous manifestation of the Gesuati church, which became too small for the congregation, which is worth a look for the rich coffered ceiling.
From the Heavens to Earth
After your elevated experience find Rio di San Trovaso. A couple of metres down you will stumble across a rough-hewn wooden workshop with a number of beached gondole outside lying cumbersomely on their sides. If you’re lucky, you’ll also witness a few topless tanned Venetian men labouring under the hot sun to re-paint the boat’s bases. This is a typical gondola workshop, or squero. You can find information about tours and visits here. This is the official website but only in Italian.
Venice boasts multiple characters, from dark and evocative, to magisterial, to the hard labour that comes with a life at sea. I think Le Zattere captures all and more of Venice’s various delights.