Sant’Erasmo is one of these Venetian islands that fires one’s imagination. Whenever you have dinner in a restaurant which uses local ingredients, they always refer to the produce of Sant’Erasmo. The so-called vegetables garden of Venice is perfect for a half day walk away from the crowds. It is however nothing like Venice. Don’t expect palazzos, museums or shops. You will only find fields full of vegetables, canals and quietness while you’re surrounded by the stunning views of nature and the lagoon.
In this post, I will start by explaining how to go to Sant’Erasmo from Venice. I will also share my walk around the island so you get an idea of what you can expect. Finally, I will tell you about some special events which you can attend.
How to get to Sant’Erasmo
Sant’Erasmo lies on the north-east of Venice, between Murano and Treporti. You can easily reach it with vaporetto line 13, which leaves from Fondamente Nove. The ride takes approx. 35 minutes. The vaporetto first stops at Capannone, where you can disembark or change to a smaller vessel to continue to the stops Chiesa and Punta Vela. The smaller boat will position itself next to the vaporetto, so you can step from one boat to the other. This is already a fun experience to start your visit.
INSIDER TIP: Check the vaporetto schedule before your departure in Venice. Depending on the hour and the season, not all stops are served throughout the day.
We took the vaporetto to Punta Vela in the north of the island, crossed Sant’Erasmo from north to south and then returned to Venice from the Capannone stop.
An idyllic stroll around a quiet island
We started our walk around Sant’Erasmo from the Punta Vela vaporetto stop. As soon as we got off the boat, we were amazed by the stunning views of San Francesco del Deserto, Burano and Torcello. We headed north via the Via de le Motte and followed a path along the coast. We used both small country roads and paved streets.
Walking amidst the fields with vegetable cultivations, the vineyards and the lagoon is breath-taking. The most famous crop of Sant’Erasmo is the carciofo violetto or purple artichoke. It’s delicious. You should certainly try it when you see it on a menu in Venice. The right season to taste this tender vegetable starts at the end of April, when the first small apical artichoke buds, called castraùre, are ready to be picked. The harvest continues until the end of June.
We then moved southwards on the Via dei Forti and passed numerous marshlands, where we saw little egrets (garzetta), oystercatchers and shelducks. At the Via dei Spironi, we took a right to reach the Church of Cristo Re. The church with a façade with curvilinear elements was designed by Brenno Del Giudice. It was consecrated in 1929, shortly after the establishment of the parish of Sant’Erasmo (1926). Inside is a Martyrdom of Sant’Erasmo, from the school of Tintoretto (see also ‘Where to find the most stunning masterpieces of Tintoretto’).
INSIDER TIP: There is a small grocery store close to the church, where you can buy a drink or a snack for your walk. However, I recommend you bring enough water with you in case the shop would be closed.
A country road which cuts through the island led us back to the Via dei Forti. From there, we headed southwards towards the Torre Massimiliana (see further for more information). It is so relaxing to only hear the sound of nature.
Different from Venice, cars and motorized traffic are allowed on Sant’Erasmo. However, we counted only 1 car, a few microvans, 2 cyclists and maybe 10 other tourists. Of course, if you visit during the harvesting season, there will be more activity on the island. We walked almost 3 hours, but it’s impossible to predict how long your walk will take. You might want to stop less or more often to admire the view, to take pictures or just to take a breath of the healthy air.
Our walk ended on the terrace of the Al Bacan restaurant/bar. We enjoyed a spritz and a delicious pizza with a view on the Torre Massimiliana and a small beach. The sandbanks and velme (sandy and muddy terrains) are an important transit point of migratory currents of birds such as sandpipers, ruffs and squids. However, we didn’t see as many birds on our walk as we expected.
The only landmark of Sant’Erasmo is the Torre Massimiliana (Tower of Maximilian), a cylindrical fortified tower on the beach. After the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797 (more info in my post ‘A short introduction to the complicated history of Venice’), the French built a fort between 1811–1814. After Napoleon’s defeat and the destruction of the fort, the Austrian Archduke Maximilian of Austria-Este built a new tower on the remains in 1843–1844. He also found refuge here during a revolt in 1848.
The fort is circular in shape with an indoor area of 600 m², an external diameter of approx. 18.5 m and a height of 11 m. Up to 13 cannons could be housed on the upper floor. The circular shape of the tower meant that the artillery could be used at 360°. This idea was based on studies by the Este Noble Military Academy in Modena. The tower was used as an antiaircraft battery during the Second World War, before being occupied by German troops after 1943.
The Torre Massimiliana is now an exhibition and museum space, and a meeting place for associations. The tower can only be visited during events or exhibitions. Unfortunately, when it’s closed, you don’t see very much of the tower as it is protected by a fortified gated wall.
Events on Sant’Erasmo
There are 2 main events during which you have a unique opportunity to discover the island in ‘action’. The first one is the ‘Festa del Carciofo Violetto’ in honour of its artichoke. It is usually on the second Sunday of May, but it was postponed this year to May 19, 2019 due to bad weather. You will have the possibility to buy local products directly from producers, to taste the artichoke and to watch cooking demonstrations.
The second event worth attending is the ‘Festa del Mosto’, which takes place on the first or second Sunday of October. This event is dedicated to the must. This ‘torbolino’ is the newly made wine from this year’s grape harvest, plucked from the vines just weeks earlier, and of which fermentation isn’t yet complete.
It’s quite easy to discover Sant’Erasmo on your own. We walked around the island, but you can also rent a bicycle at Al Bacan or at the hotel Il Lato Azzurro. If you prefer to visit it with a guide, you can book the Venice Island Farms & Wine Tour of OG Venice. It includes visits to a vineyard and to an organic farm, a walk past seaside farms and a lunch with produce grown on the island. To prepare for your trip, you can immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the island with the book ‘Earthly Remains‘ of Donna Leon.
If you want to discover more quiet islands in the lagoon, you can find more inspiration in my posts ‘Certosa: Relax at a green oasis in the Venetian lagoon’, ‘Don’t forget Mazzorbo and Torcello when visiting Burano’, ‘Venetian grandeur at the San Michele cemetery’ and ‘San Servolo: A green island with a medical history’.