San Polo and Santa Croce are less known sestieri in Venice, which hide plenty of culinary surprises. Food blogger Nicoletta of Naturally Epicurean is therefore the perfect person to guide us and share some of her insider tips. Nicoletta was born in Venice and named after the location where she was born (San Nicoletto in Lido). She knows every corner of the city and started her food blog last year to share her love for food and photography. On top of that, she has a degree in Conservation of Cultural Heritage from Ca’Foscari.
For this guest post, she designed a roundtrip from Rialto to San Giacomo dell’Orio that will bring you to some of her favorite locations. She flavoured the walk with interesting, fun and historical facts. Whether you like good food, or you just want to disover another part of Venice, I’m sure you will cross the Rialto bridge on your next visit to follow her tips.
Discover San Polo and Santa Croce with food blogger Nicoletta of Naturally Epicurean
One of the most famous monuments in Venice is the Rialto bridge. It separates two very different worlds: the more prestigious San Marco district with the Palazzo Ducale, the Basilica, the Piazza, and fancy boutiques of all sorts, and the San Polo district, with its Rialto market, the local workers and noisy osterie. You should know that the bridge represents a mental boundary for most locals. In fact, crossing or not crossing it is often the question. It is therefore not uncommon to hear us say ‘xe scomodo par mi, xe de a del ponte’ (it’s not handy for me, it’s on the other side of the bridge). Our itinerary begins on the side of the bridge where the market is the vibrant heart of the city.
Start the itinerary at Rialto
Rialto changes a lot from morning to evening. During the day, there are mainly people doing their shopping, workers and adults. In the evening, it becomes the meeting point for the long aperitifs. I suggest to go relatively early in the morning, when the stalls still have the best fruit, veg and fish. The area is quieter and the air is permeated by the perfume of the different foods being prepared in the bars and osterie. Nose around the fruit and veg area first before you go to the Pescaria (fish market). Take a few minutes to look at the original signs ‘Mercato al Minuto’, which can be seen from Campo de le Becarie and also from the opposite side. One of these is just next to the sign indicating the minimum length of the fish that could be caught during the time of the Republic (as you can see on the picture in the banner). Those lengths were established by an Edit in 1173. Today the laws are different, especially because there is a lot more imported fish.
If you wish to bring home a gift for a foodie friend, there are two mandatory stops in Rialto. Antica Drogheria Mascari is the oldest specialty food store in Venice. La Baita is known for cheese, especially the big slices of parmesan.
Enter Santa Croce
From Rialto, proceed towards Campo San Cassiano and cross either of the two bridges. At that point, you will have passed the San Polo district and you will officially be in Santa Croce. Here you have quite a few possibilities: visit a museum, a church or simply wander around. In the first case, you can choose among Ca’ Pesaro, which hosts the museums of modern art and oriental art, Palazzo Mocenigo, the museum of fabric and costumes, or the Natural History Museum, hosted in the beautiful Fontego dei Turchi, perfect if you are traveling with kids.
Something I suggest if you are planning to visit a few sites and monuments is to purchase the VeneziaUnica CityPass in advance. It helps save time and money. For churches, consider buying the Chorus pass, so you’ll only pay once and get a much better deal.
With regard to churches, Venice has so many that I wouldn’t know where to start from. As we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of Tintoretto this year, you could start from San Cassiano, where you can see ‘The Resurrection’, ‘The Descent Into Limbo’ and ‘The Crucifixion’ (1565-68). Then, continue with the ‘Invention of the Cross’ at Santa Maria Mater Domini. Finally, after lunch, end with San Polo.
I’m sure that at this point you are probably hungry and want to sit down. Before campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, there is a lovely restaurant called Osteria la Zucca, otherwise I suggest Al Prosecco for cured meats, cheese, sandwiches and wine or, in the opposite direction, Il Nono Risorto for a budget meal or a pizza and the new wine/cocktail bar called Shiraz in Calle della Regina.
Walk towards Campo San Polo
Wherever you choose to eat, after lunch take the inner streets and slowly reach Campo San Polo. A game I like to play when I bring a foreign friend in this campo is ask them where the façade of the church is. It’s funny, because they start looking around, but have no idea of the answer. That’s when I show off all my Venetianess. I take them to a tiny courtyard with private homes and show them the only visible part of the façade. The rose window is completely overwhelmed by the houses built in front of it. By the way, I forgot to mention that Campo San Polo is the largest campo in Venice. In the past, it was used as scene of bullfights and masked balls. If you want to conclude the mini Tintoretto tour, enter inside the church and look for his ‘Last Supper’, painted in 1570.
Now we’re going to head back to the Rialto bridge via Campiello dei Meloni. I recommend stopping here for a coffee and a sweet treat in the historic coffee shop Rizzardini. This tiny, only standing, spot serves some of the tastiest pastries in Venice. From Campiello dei Meloni, take the calle del Perdon on the left. At the end, just past the restaurant, enter the dark sottoportico della Madonna and look at the wooden plaque. It reminds us of Pope Alexander III, who was escaping from Barbarossa and stopped here in 1177. He sold indulgences to whoever said either one Our Father or one Ave Maria.
From campo Sant’Aponal, take the left and cross the Ponte Storto. You will reach the area of Antiche Carampane. This excellent fish restaurant was in the past known as central courtesan house, owned and managed by the rich Rampani family.
Head back to Rialto
Our tour is almost over. From Carampane, head back to the Rialto bridge and do one last thing. Cross the bridge and enter the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (or Fontego dei Tedeschi as Venetians call it) which was the central post office until some years ago. It is now a luxury shopping centre. Go to the top floor, breath-in, relax and wait in the queue (yes, it will be a long one) until it will be your turn to go on the terrace and admire one of the most breath-taking views of the city. Now, there’s really nothing left for you than enjoy it!
I want to thank Nicoletta for her inspiration for this wonderful itinerary! If you want to know where else she likes to eat in Venice, I strongly recommend to take a look at her website. Naturally Epicurean is a Venice food blog that covers all things food in Venice, with restaurant reviews, tips on the where and what to eat (for every pocket and taste) and some itineraries that combine a visit to a museum and a foodie experience. I will certainly try her suggestions, as well as follow her new ideas on her Facebook page.
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