Venice, Italy: Vacation More as a Traveler & Less Like a Tourist

Recently, I've read a lot about Venice, Italy, and tourism in the town that's played an important role in my life for close to three decades. Many writers, bloggers, journalists speak about what attractions you should avoid, where not to eat or what not to buy when visiting.
07/28/2015 04:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Recently, I've read a lot about Venice, Italy, and tourism in the town that's played an important role in my life for close to three decades. Many writers, bloggers, journalists speak about what attractions you should avoid, where not to eat or what not to buy when visiting. They seem to paint the town I love as a tourist trap with few qualities to offer visitors or residents. Though there are some truths in these articles, I think by only pointing out the negative these travel experts have overlooked the many fine things Venice offers.

But first, let me agree that in recent years 'trinket shops' have steadily squeezed out some of Venice's authentic artisan shops. One reason why these establishments struggle to survive is because of the National government's decision to free up the market and stop controlling what type of shop opens up when another one closes. There was a time when the number of licenses issued to operate mask shops, glass shops, greengrocers, bakeries, butcher shops, hairdressers and all the rest were monitored to balance competition while providing adequate services. That's no longer the case. Now, with the proper amount of funds and some real estate space you can open up a shop and sell anything--as long as it's legal. Good old competition is great; however we're talking about Venice, where there are fewer than 58,000 residents and an average daily visitor rate that nears 100,000. I'm not a genius of economics, but in my opinion that tilts the scales away from meeting a living city's daily needs and toward supplying the demand of mass tourism.

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That reality acknowledged, it's difficult for local artisans who make and sell quality goods to compete with the recent load of foreign money pouring into Venice. Low-grade souvenir and, especially, lower-quality leather goods shops are mulitplying. The average tourist might not be aware of what they're buying until they recognize the same bright orange or turquoise leather bag they just purchased in numerous other nameless shops around town, and elsewhere in Italy and Europe. Still, if the item is priced right, one might not care if it is authentic Venetian or even Italian. But then the unaware buyer is sustaining a system that is leaching off one of the most precious and delicate cities on our planet, instead of contributing to the survival of its authenticity. Sound harsh? Perhaps it is. But this type of trade is one of the dear prices beautiful unique Venice is paying to accommodate mass tourism.

Now I didn't intend to make this another negative article about Venice. So, what can we tourists, travelers and residents do? We can begin to talk about this, spread the word and acknowledge the trend, and then support the authenticity that does exist in this divine city. I'm going to start by listing a few authentic Venetian shops and restaurants I know and frequent. I'm not doing this because I have a financial interest in or will be rewarded by any of these places of business. I don't and I won't. I simply want to support and help salvage the authentic Venice I know and love by sharing them with those who appreciate that authenticity and look for quality craftsmanship when traveling.

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Handmade Venetian Masks:

Ca'Del Sol in the Castello district: http://www.cadelsolmascherevenezia.com/it/

All masks are hand-painted and decorated in their laboratory in Venice, just across the bridge from their shop. They also hold mask making workshops.

Venetian Glass:

Venetian Dreams by Marisa Convento in the San Marco District:
Venetian Glass Pearls and Beads--Jewelry and Embellishments

Marisa, a lovely woman with beautiful silver curls that fall to her shoulders, will greet you at her quaint shop and explain the Venetian history of stringing tiny colorful glass pearls into elegant necklaces and mystical flowers--embellishments that make an outfit, an evening bag or a special pair of shoes more elegant. Proudly keeping this tradition alive, Marisa has made her passion her business.
http://www.marisaconvento.it/

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Murano Glassware:

Granted, Murano Glass is not for everyone's wallet, but buying fake glassware in Venice is like ordering soda water at a fine restaurant and then pretending you're drinking Champagne. No matter how you rationalize it, they're not the same thing. So, if you're interested in authentic Murano glass, click on the link and read how to identify it and where it's sold in Venice and on the Island of Murano: http://www.muranoglass.com/en/#.VbUsHWsw_X6

Fashion:

Banco N. 10 Dress Shop in the Castello District: What better way to rehabilitate those who have wronged society than to prepare them to work in the real world once they've paid their dues? The women's prison on the Giudecca Island trains women who find themselves there to become seamstresses. They do beautiful work. You can see some of it here. https://www.facebook.com/BancoLotto10?pnref=story

Leather goods:

JB Gloves has two shops in Venice--one in Calle del Lovo, San Marco and one in Calle delle Mercerie San Zulian, San Marco. Their gloves may not be made in Venice, but they are made in Italy. They're supple, beautiful and come in all sizes and lengths. Most are lined in wool or silk and are available in the latest season's trendy or classic colors. http://www.jbgloves.com/

Il Grifone in the Dorsoduro district: Leather bags in all shapes, colors and sizes can be found at this authentic Made in Venice leather goods shop. Toni, an authentic Venetian Artisan, has been making bags in his shop for twenty years. http://www.ilgrifonevenezia.it/index.php

Forcole--Venetian Oarlocks:

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Paolo Brandolisio's Forcola Workshop in the Castello District:
There are still a few artisans around town who continue to hand carve and furnish the local Venetians, gondoliers and appassionati della voga veneta in Venice and abroad with authentic oarlocks for their row boats. Paolo Brandolisio is one of them. The skilled laborious method he uses to carve and shape these solid wood objects make them lovely household decorative items, too. http://www.paolobrandolisio.altervista.org/home_eng.html

Where to eat:

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I have too many favorite restaurants, trattorie and osterie in Venice to mention here. So I'll give you three.

Osteria ai Do Gobbi in the Castello District. Fresh seafood, delicious risotto, nice wine, friendly service. Reservations suggested. https://www.facebook.com/osteriaaidogobbi?fref=ts

Al Diavolo e L'acquasanta near Rialto. I've been going here for years, no, decades. As good as you'd expect a home cooked Italian meal to be. But don't ask for Ketch-up on his delicious fried calamari. No reservations taken. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ostaria-Al-Diavolo-L-Aguasanta/129437723828867?rf=476355622379638

Vineria all'Amarone in the San Polo District. The perfect place for a light snack and a good glass of wine. A cozy wine bar where you can sit indoors or outdoors. Try their delicious cicchetti, the Venetian version of tapas. https://www.facebook.com/allamarone?fref=ts

Still, this is only a slice of my authentic Venice. There's so much of the real Venice to discover. Why not do so by vacationing more as a traveler and less like a tourist?

Follow Marie Ohanesian Nardin here and on her Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/authormarieohanesiannardin?ref=hl