If you are looking forward to visit Venice in 2021, you might want to add Pellestrina to your list of things to do. It’s perfect for a change of scenery while you’re in Venice and to discover one of the lesser known islands in the lagoon. In this post, I describe a (half) day trip which will take you to stunning views of the lagoon, idyllic coloured houses and lots of fishing boats. The atmosphere and setting are the key features of this walk, so the pictures will tell most of the story.
How to get to Pellestrina?
The first step is to take the vaporetto from Venice to Lido SME. If you want to spend an entire day and really take your time to enjoy the views and different scenery, I suggest you do the entire trip by foot. When you get off the vaporetto, take a right and follow as much as possible the lagoon. You will pass by Malamocco and the hospital. When you reach the dunes and pine trees of Alberoni, make sure to keep on the track so you don’t get lost. At the far end of Lido, you have no other choice than to get on the ferry to cross the lagoon to Pellestrina. The ferry takes approx. 15 minutes. When you’re on foot, you don’t need to pay for it.
If you don’t like to walk that far, you can also rent a bike in Lido or take the bus number 11. The stop is next to the vaporetto stop and you can use the same ticket. When the bus reaches Alberoni, it drives onto the ferry to cross the lagoon. There are plenty of bus stops all over Lido and Pellestrina, so you can easily switch between walking and the bus when you are getting tired of walking.
Depending on your mood, you can continue to walk all the way and back in Pellestrina, you can take the bus to the end of Pellestrina and walk back or you could even walk to the end of Pellestrina and take the vaporetto to Chioggia to spend another half day there.
Pellestrina is a long (11 km) but very narrow (on average approx. 150 m) island. With its Murazzi (see below for more information), it forms a barrier between the Venetian lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. There is a walking path on the side of the lagoon, and a street on the side of the Adriatic Sea. Following the path, you will see plenty of fishing boats and fishing houses on the water. Cars are allowed in Pellestrina (as in Lido), but there is not much traffic.
If you cross the entire island, you will walk through 4 beautiful villages with authentic and coloured houses. The first village is San Pietro in Volta, then Porto Secco, Sant’ Antonio di Pellestrina and finally Pellestrina. You will also pass 5 churches: Chiesa di San Pietro, Chiesa di Santo Stefano, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio, Santuario Madonna dell’Apparizione and Chiesa di Ognissanti. I especially liked the interior of the Chiesa di Ognissanti, which was beautifully decorated when I visited. The Santuario Madonna dell’Apparizione is however the best known as it is dedicated to an apparition of the Madonna to a local teenager in the 18th century (see below for more details). You can see a memorial plaque in the church on the exact spot where the Madonna appeared. Natalino Scarpa (the boy) is buried in the choir.
Pellestrina is a very quiet island and doesn’t attract many tourists. There are a few bars and restaurants, but make sure to bring something to drink and a snack, as shops might be closed at noon for a siesta.
The main characteristics of Pellestrina are the Murazzi, which are stone walls to protect the island from the sea. In 1716, Father Vincenzo Coronelli came up with the idea to replace the previous ‘palade’ with a more sustainable solution. The construction works started in 1744 and were completed in 1782. Eng. Bernardino Zendrini coordinated the innovative construction techniques.
Unfortunately, Pellestrina was severely hit by the acqua granda in 1966. The huge Murazzi were not strong enough to resist the pressure of the water and were damaged. More than 4,000 inhabitants had to be evacuated. Hence, the island could no longer protect Venice from the exceptional and devastating high water. You can read more about it in my post ‘Acqua granda: The story of an eventful day in Venice’. The Murazzi have been partially restored after the acqua granda. In 1996, beaches have been added as an additional protection.
The apparition of the Madonna to a local boy took place on Tuesday August 4, 1716 around six o’clock in the morning. The 14-year old boy Natalino Scarpa Di Giovanni ‘the Muto’ saw an unknown woman on his way to the parish church of Ognissanti. She was short in stature, rather old, dressed in a blue dress quilted with red stars and had a white veil on her head. She called him and told him to go to Piovan and tell people to celebrate Mass for the souls of Purgatorio if they wanted victory. She then touched his left wrist and held it with affection for a few moments. The next day, the battle of Petervaradino (which is now Serbia) was fought out in the war against the Turks. A terrible storm devastated the Turkish camp and many ships broke their moorings and crashed into each other. At dawn, the remaining Turks decided to remove the camp and fled.
Since then, Pellestrina celebrates the apparition every year to remember their faith and history. The festivities are organized in the first week of August and also include the traditional Pellestrina regatta.
If you love to read a book which is set in Pellestrina, I can recommend ‘A Sea of Troubles’ of Donna Leon. If you want to discover other lesser-known islands in the Venetian lagoon, you can find inspiration in my posts about Certosa, San Servolo, San Michele, Mazzorbo and Sant’Erasmo.
Enjoy your walk!