A visit to Burano is often associated with Murano, but I recommend to combine it with Mazzorbo and Torcello instead. This will give you a wider perspective of the beauty and variety of the lagoon islands. I suggest to start your day trip at Torcello, before moving further to Mazzorbo and finally Burano.
Torcello is ideal for escaping the hustle and bustle of Venice for a couple of hours. Take your time to walk between the fields and vineyards, to visit the museum and the cathedral and to climb the campanile. Before heading to Mazzorbo, face the devil at the Ponte del Diavolo and enjoy a delicious lunch.
The small island of Torcello is the real cradle of Venice. The inhabitants of the Roman city of Altino settled here in the 5th century, fleeing from the troops of Attila the Hun. This was the start of the habitation in the lagoon, even before Venice. Torcello was once the economic centre of the lagoon, with about 20,000 inhabitants, many palazzos and 16 monasteries. At the moment, the island is almost deserted. It has only 20 residents, the Locanda Cipriani hotel, a few restaurants, the Santa Maria Assunta cathedral, the Santa Fosca church and a museum.
The Santa Maria Assunta was the first cathedral of Venice. It dates from the 7th century and was built in Veneto-Byzantine style. The Byzantine mosaics, which are the earliest remaining mosaics in the Veneto region, are the most remarkable part of the cathedral. On the main apse, you can see an enormous golden mosaic from the 11th century, which shows Virgin Hodegetria. You can also discover mosaics referring to San Martino (more info in my post ‘San Martino: the Venetian version of Epiphany’). Don’t forget to climb the campanile for a great view over the lagoon. The small museum in front of the cathedral is also worth a visit. It gives you the historical background on the island. Next to it, you can find a small vineyard where the Dorana grapes of Venissa originate from (more info below in Mazzorbo).
The Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) is one of the few bridges in Venice without a rail. There are several legends related to it, but I prefer this version related to Christmas Eve. During the Austrian occupation, a Venetian girl fell in love with one of the Austrian soldiers. Her family didn’t agree with the relationship and soon her lover was murdered. The girl was devastated and turned to a witch to make a pact with the devil. He promised to revive the boy in return for the soul of a dead child on Christmas Eve for the next seven years. When she arrived at the bridge, the devil and the boy were waiting on the other side. The girl crossed the bridge and ran away with her lover. The witch, who was in charge of the payment, died in a fire immediately after this pact. Since then, every year on Christmas Eve, the devil waits for the souls of the children at the Ponte del Diavolo, disguised as a giant black cat.
INSIDER TIP: Stop for lunch at the Osteria al Ponte del Diavolo (Fond.ta dei Borgognoni 10/11). The restaurant offers a very fine cuisine and a perfect service. You can enjoy a great view on the garden.
After taking the vaporetto from Torcello in the direction of Venice, get off at the next stop at Mazzorbo. Take a right to make a walk around the island. You won’t see that many coloured houses, but it offers peace and quiet as you can see on the picture in the banner. I could spend hours just watching over the water and see all the boats pass by. Can you imagine living here in the middle of the lagoon?
Mazzorbo is connected by a bridge to Burano. Just before you cross it, you will notice a small estate surrounded by medieval walls and with a 14th-century belfry. This is the Venissa vineyard, which was set up by Gianluca Biso in 2002 by replanting the last 88 vines with Dorona di Venezia grapes that survived the 1966 flood. The first vintage of Venissa was introduced in 2010. The vineyard and the small vegetable garden are free to visit, so take some time to stroll around. You can also book a guided tour if you want to know more about it and taste their wines. The price is 25 euros per person, and a lunch at the osteria or the more luxurious restaurant. I haven’t tried it yet, but the setting with the view on the vineyard is stunning.
DID YOU KNOW? Venice and the lagoon islands had an important viticultural or winemaking tradition. Piazza San Marco even had a vineyard until the year 1100. There were also many vineyards on the islands until 1966, when the acqua granda (the great flood) destroyed them (more info in my post ‘Acqua granda: The story of an eventful day in Venice’).
As soon as you cross the bridge from Mazzorbo, you will notice the houses painted in all colours of the rainbow. This was done to clearly indicate the borders of a property. The legend however says that the fishermen used it to easily recognize their house from the lagoon when coming back late at night or in a fog. This concept is similar to that of the pali da casada in front of the palazzos in Venice (more info in my post ‘These colourful poles are an underestimated landmark of Venice’).
These colourful houses are the main attraction of Burano. It’s a real paradise for photography and Instagram lovers. You will see a beautiful shot with every step you take and you will find it hard not to stop each time for one more perfect picture. However, don’t make the mistake of staying in the streets close to the vaporetto stop. At these first encounters with the stunning colours, everyone stops so you will have to be patient if you don’t want to have your pictures photobombed. There are plenty of picturesque opportunities all over the island. Just walk further into the streets and follow your instinct. In only a few minutes, you will get to areas which are almost free of tourists.
The ‘Casa di Bepi’ is the only house which is not painted in one particular colour. It is decorated with geometrical shapes in different colours. The house belonged to Giuseppe Toselli, or Bepi Suà, who sold sweets and worked in the Cinema Falvin in the 1940s. In the summer, he projected film classics in the courtyard in front of his house. He also loved painting, and worked for days on his house. He changed the colours quite regularly and added more details and decorations. You can find it in a small street (Via Al Gottolo 339) next to the main street.
Burano is also known for its lace making. You can visit the Lace Museum to learn more about this artisanal trade or visit one of the many lace shops on the islands. The museum is located in the historic palace of Podestà of Torcello on the Piazza Galuppi. This used to be site of the famous Burano Lace School from 1872 to 1970.
DID YOU KNOW? There is also a Biennale del Merletto (lace). In 2017, the main locations were Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice, the Lace Museum in Burano and the School of Lace in Pellestrina. The program for 2019 hasn’t been finalized yet. Several Italian cities (amongst which Venice, Burano and Pellestrina) have asked UNESCO to recognize the Italian lace as intangible cultural heritage.
The vaporetto from Burano to Venice can be very crowded. Most people however tend to leave the island when the shops close around 6 PM, to be back in Venice for dinner. I suggest you sit down on a terrace to relax and see the crowds pass by. This will also give you the opportunity to take some beautiful pictures of the main areas without the crowds. Catching one of the later vaporettos will ensure you have a place to sit.
INSIDER TIP: I recommend the Trattoria da Romano at Via Baldassarre Galuppi 221, which is the main street. I have very good memories to this restaurant. It was one of the locations where we celebrated our wedding (more info in my post ‘How to organize your destination wedding in Venice’).
You will need 3 vaporetto tickets for this day trip (Venice-Torcello, Torcello-Mazzorbo, Mazzorbo-Venice), so it’s best to buy a day pass. If you want to discover more islands or take the vaporetto in Venice, a 3 day pass makes even more sense. You can order these tickets online before your trip, so you can pick them up from a ticket machine when you arrive in Venice. You can find more information on transportation in Venice in my post ‘A practical how-to guide on transportation in Venice’.
I hope you enjoyed your trip! If you want to visit some of the other lagoon islands, I can recommend Murano (more info in my post ‘Murano glassmasters: artisans or artists?’), San Giorgio Maggiore (more info in my post ‘Why San Giorgio Maggiore is worth your visit’ or Certosa (more info in my post ‘Certosa: Relax at a green oasis in the Venetian lagoon’).
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