Cruising with Gondolas
Bareboat Chartering in the Venice Lagoons
Jan. 8, 2007 09:00 AM
There are many ways to arrive in Venice but perhaps the very finest way is to do so in your own yacht. Fortunately in recent years several companies have set up shop offering self-drive motor yachts, which enable sailors to undertake such an adventure. We chose to use Connoisseur a British based company using British built boats that come with easy to read instructions all in English. The company has bases throughout Europe and in each employ young English speaking staff full of enthusiasm for yachting vacations.
I will never understand why the Venetians built their city on islands inside a swamp in the first place but within minutes of our arriving there, I was awfully glad they had. The city was, according to legend, founded in 422 by Roman refugees fleeing from the Goths who invaded and ravaged northern-eastern Italy and was probably built as a result of the influx of refugees into the marshes of the estuary of the river Po. The ruling families moved to the city’s current location between 811 and 827 and it was here that they subsequently built the monastery of St. Zachary, the first palace, the basilica of St. Mark, and a walled defence. In 828 the prestige of the new city was greatly increased by the stealing of the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria, which were placed in the new basilica, and it has been a tourist destination ever since.
We are here to cruise the lagoons of Venice in a chartered motor boat and will return to this magnificent city by boat but first we have to pick up our boat. A taxi took us to the Porto Levante base, in almost total isolation in the middle of the countryside and a short distance from the town where we picked up essential provisions at the local supermarket. Our trip was to be a one way journey aboard a 42 foot motor boat from Porto Levante to Casier, not far from Treviso, sailing along the River Po then turning to starboard to join the Po Brondolo Canal that cuts through the countryside towards Choggia then across the Venice Lagoon itself for the essential city stop and the islands of Burano, Murano and Torcello, each offering spectacularly differing scenery and experiences. Leaving the lagoon the canals leads into the Sile River at Portograndi from where it is a short trip to Casier. We planned meticulously beforehand to ensure our family group would enjoy it all to the full during our weeklong trip and satisfy everyone’s different predilections.
At the base well informed and happy to please shore based personnel quickly and efficiently went through the ropes. Our boat was clean tidy and both comfortable and well maintained. Her spacious awning covered sun deck, provided protection from the midday sun as well as being perfect for eating al fresco. She came with all the domestic equipment you might need, from the essential bottle opener and wine glasses to bed linens and towels, everything except perhaps a BBQ.
Our voyage of adventure began when we set of down the canal towards the delightful town of Choggia (key-oh-ja) where we moored for the night inside the marina. Choggia is a delightfully colourful and bustling fishing village and is the principle port for this activity in the area. Large fleets of deep sea and inshore fishing boats use this as their home port venturing out to sea from here every day except Sunday and selling their catch every day except Monday at a spectacular street side covered market that offers a cornucopia of differing fish caught both inside the lagoon and just outside in the Adriatic. Needless to say this is the town in which to eat fish at one of the many restaurants that line the streets but if cooking on board is what is wanted then there is no finer choice than at the market. Eel, crab and cuttlefish are the local specialities. The walk back to the boat was an essential exercise after our excellent lunch.
At the heart of our cruising ground is perhaps one of the most beautiful cities of the world and if tourist numbers are taken into account one of the most popular with its famous St Marks Square and stunning cathedral. If you were hoping that you could motor along the Grande Canal in your motor cruiser now is the time we upset you, navigation in that very busy thoroughfare is off limits to all private craft. Our own disappointment at not being able to drive along this maritime main street turned to relief when we saw just how busy it was and how little regard each of the other boats seemed to have for what we affectionately call the rule of the road. The city does however offer three choices of marina. The first, San Geiorgio Marina, is the nearer, more convenient and with one of the most spectacular views in the world; it is located on its very own island directly opposite St Marks, the downside of course is the price. The second is San Elena which can be a bit of a hike if you do not use the vaporetto whilst the third, and cheapest is on Certosa island which has yet to get its own stop on the vaporetto service and therefore you immediately become dependant upon the marinas ferry service. Each, with varying degrees of ease, offers the opportunity to see the sights. From these you can wander through the narrow streets and alleys, visit the Rialto Bridge and discover some of Venice’s incredible Gothic Palaces most notably the Palace of the Doges who ruled the Republic. Steeped in history, art and romance you cannot help but be inspired by the wonders of Venice.
Like any tourist our first stop has to be St Marks Square to see the pigeons of course; we get our bearings and set off to find it. Frequently on route we get lost and frequently we find ourselves again, such is the nature of the backstreets and alleys that crisscross the city. Anyone designing a maze could learn a trick or two here, with so many dead ends and a chosen direction blocked by a canal or the lack of a bridge. Everywhere there is something to stop and see: Gondolas are full of tourists of all shapes, sizes and nationalities, even a wedding party; plazas are full of school children herded by harassed teachers and nuns; shops are full of delightful temptations to refresh the wardrobe and carnival masks for further dalliances; grand palazzi and exquisite churches house art treasures galore.