Driving on the autostrada, the trip between Milan and Venice is only a few hours, so you can very easily spend the night in Milan the first night and one in Venice the second night. If you want to revisit something directly in between, it’s less than 80 miles away from either city. Even more conveniently, unless you have your heart absolutely set on Venice as your new home, spending the night in Padua as you research the Northeast will save you money. It’s extremely close to both Venice and Verona, and you get much more for your money on the mainland than on the lagoon. For example, the Hotel Majestic Toscanelli (Via dell’Arco 2, tel. 049/663-244, www.toscanelli.com, ‚149 d) is a four-star hotel in Padua with doubles starting at a figure that would be tripled in Venice for something this nice. It is loaded with old-world charm, with bright, tastefully furnished rooms and the best buffet breakfast in the area.
If on the other hand, you’d prefer to spend romantic evenings on the lagoon, well, that’s a treat that’s well worth the price. The mazelike streets over the canals are mesmerizing (if making it difficult to find addresses, thanks to Venice’s archaic street-numbering system). For something with a romantic atmosphere, first try Hotel Violino d’Oro (San Marco 2091, Via XXII Marzo, tel. 041/277- 0841, www.violinodoro.com; ‚280 d, plus ‚30 for canal view). This is a little boutique hotel on a small square with a fountain, tucked between San Marco and the Accademia. The rooms are 18thcentury Venetian, with Murano chandeliers and gilded details everywhere. An excellent value for those on a tight budget is the Foresteria Valdese (Castello 5170, tel. 041/528-6797, www.foresteriavenezia.it, ‚100 d). A reservation is hard to come by in the high season, but those who do will find an elegant, 16th-century palazzo with simple Map. This is not a hotel but a foresteria, which is lodging traditionally given to religious pilgrims in Italy, taking its name from an old-fashioned word for foreigners. Most of these dormitory-style rooms give onto a balcony overlooking a canal and go for about the best price in this neighborhood.
Another great deal that hasn’t gone unnoticed by U.S. travelers is the Pensione Guerrato (Calle Drio La Scimia 240a, tel. 041/522-7131, www.pensioneguerrato.it, starting at ‚100 d), right in the central San Polo district, with unmatched views of the finest palaces on the Grand Canal. For that price, you wouldn’t expect to find the Guerrato furnished with taste and history, but it is. It’s an especially excellent deal when you consider the location. Finally, you might try the Hotel Santa Lucia in the Cannaregio neighborhood (Calle Della Misericordia 358, tel. 041/715-180, www.hotelslucia.com, starting at ‚50 d). Loaded with flowers and bright colors, this is a quiet, comfy, and very reasonably priced place to spend a few days. FOOD In Padua, it’s hard to do better than La Vecchia Enoteca (Via San Martino e Solferino 32, tel. 049/875-28-56, noon 3 P.M. and 7 10:30 P.M. Tues. Sat., noon 3 P.M. Mon., ‚12 22). This is wine country, after all, and the region’s enological might is on full display here in a cozy but elegant atmosphere. Specialties of the area include polenta and risotto, as in much of the Northeast, but particular attention is paid to seafood offerings, such as the excellent sea bass in a light potato crust. Venice is overflowing with restaurants, both outstanding and overwhelmingly touristy. A great restaurant can turn into a tourist trap overnight. Here are a couple of can’t-miss bastions of Venetian cuisine. First, there is Do Forni (San Marco 468, tel. 041/523-2148, www.doforni.it, noon 3 P.M. and 7 11:30 P.M. daily, ‚8 20). The menu is outstanding and unadulterated Venetian, with a gigantic selection of seafood, such as linguine with lobster sauce and squid ink risotto, and a whirlwind of hungry locals coming in and out of the rustic dining room.
Another authentic choice, at even better prices, is Ai Tre Spiedi (Cannaregio 5906, tel. 041/520- 8035, noon 3 P.M. and 7 10 P.M. Tues. Sat., 7 10 P.M. Sun., ‚19 39) in the Cannaregio neighborhood. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to eat like a real Venetian, try the braised eel with polenta, washed down with a glass of the local white. Otherwise you can’t go wrong with my favorite fish, a grilled orata (sometimes called gilthead sea bream, sometimes John Dory, in English), a virtual steak of firm, white fish. And as almost anywhere else in Venice, you can just take it easy with a fritto misto, a mixed dish of fried seafood.
My first stop in Venice is usually at Da Remigo (Salizada dei Greci, tel. 041/523-0089, noon 2:30 P.M. and 7 10:30 P.M. Wed. Sun., noon 2:30 P.M. Mon., ‚8 16). It’s like an old friend. The same waiters wearing their same white jackets at the same no-nonsense white-linen covered tables serve an honest Venetian meal at acceptable prices. Last time I was there I was talked into the gnocchi and not at all disappointed, and followed it up with a faithful fish fry. Sometimes the newcomers can be surprisingly good, and I was particularly impressed last time I was in Venice with Taverna del Campiello Remer (Canareggio 5701, tel. 349/336-5168, noon 3:30 P.M. and 5:30 P.M. 1 A.M. Tues. Sun., 5:30 P.M. 1 A.M. Sun., ‚20 for buffet) in a hidden courtyard not far from the Rialto bridge. Opened in 2007, the Taverna indeed has managed a tavern-like atmosphere with candle-lit tables but a contemporary feel. Locals sit and have a spritz at the bar, listening to a tandem on guitar and drums in the corner (it hosts an open mike on Saturday nights), and pretty good food. An excellent place for a night out.