Venice teeters on the edge of cliché with its lacework of canals, its domes and gilded spires, its kiosks with straw gondolier hats and refrigerator magnets in the shape of the Piazza San Marco. Postcard fodder, and yet...
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Venice is beautiful—improbably so, a centaur-like hybrid, neither land nor water but somewhere in between as it lifts from the green of the Adriatic. The city is drenched in so-exquisite-it-hurts beauty: the tracery of arches in the Doge's Palace, the pinpoint of lights from boats in the lagoon at night. The grime of centuries eats at its stones, but the decay is luscious. The seduction proceeds.
It has been so for centuries. To be a tourist in Venice is to join a procession reaching back to the 14th century, when pilgrims stopped en route to the Holy Land. To capitalize on its geography as the departure point for voyages to the East, the canny Venetians created festivals to coincide with the influx, a hint of the commercialism to come.
Irritating, that wallet-squeeze, but one you inevitably force yourself to stomach, particularly when catching sight of the Venice silhouette for the first time from the mainland shore of the lagoon. To get at the essence of Venice, we asked the experts—a group of professional photographers—what they see when they look at the city. From their most treasured scenes to their favorite hotels, they've given us five beautiful reasons to love this city even more than we already do.
--Photographer: Olimpio Fantuz
"I've been coming to Venice from nearby Treviso since I was a child. It's one of the most unique cities in the world, not only for its breathtaking architecture and frailty, but also for its endless array of angles. One of my preferred perspectives is the canal behind the Basilica di San Marco. From the lagoon side on the Ponte della Paglia, you can see this, but it's nearly impossible to get an unobstructed view because of the wave of tourists on the Ponte della Paglia. Farther down the canal, inside the tangle of buildings, you get this stunning look at all four bridges lined up and anchored at the end by the Bridge of Sighs. This is the kind of place that's spectacular in every season and in every shade of light." See the shot.
My favorite hotel: Ca'Della Torre, a two-bedroom apartment with a stocked kitchenette (a two-minute walk from the bridge in this photo's foreground). viewsonvenice.com, sleeps four, $274 per night for seven nights.
--Photographer: Massimo Borchi
"For all the obvious reasons, I understand why Venice receives the deluge of tourists it does in summer. I prefer the city in winter, when this photo was taken inside Caffé Florian, in Piazza San Marco. Then, the cafe is melancholy like the lagoon. Neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city are nearly silent. For me, this photo captures that moment. You see empty tables and locals enjoying their gilded cafe. I believe the beauty of Venice is found in its time of tranquility." See the shot.
Tip: Should you sit when there's a band playing at a cafe like Florian, you'll be charged an additional $8.75. caffeflorian.com, coffee and table service $8.75.
My favorite hotel: The 15-room La Residenza, housed in a 15th-century Gothic-Byzantine palazzo. venicelaresidenza.com, from $107.
--Photographer: Johanna Huber
"For Venetians, high waters are an ugly and perilous occurrence. I snapped this photo just behind Palazzo Ducale [Doge's Palace] on a rainy October day, and it strikes me because the Venetians are just plodding through the torrents rising around them. They persevere, as they have for nearly 1,000 years. I settled in the nearby Veneto region nearly 50 years ago, and I find the water and flooding quite beautiful. The natural process of high tides has long defined Venetians and their city. It encourages sociability and is what's prevented cars from taking over. Now that the Moses dam is being built under the lagoon to limit flooding in Venice, you probably won't see this magical event as often." See the shot.
My favorite hotel: The five-room Palazzo Soderini, whose discreet, walled garden provides the rare Venetian escape from the tides. palazzosoderini.it, from $101.
--Photographer Sam Abell
"For me, Venice's beauty is found in its authenticity. Over the past 30 years, I have traveled there on assignment a couple times for National Geographic, spending weeks scouring the edges of the city, photographing gondola repair shops, stone carvers chiseling tombstones, fishermen hauling in heaps of netting. In 1994, I took this photo of a fisherman near the Hotel Cipriani. The mood was beautiful that evening—the atmosphere with those strong blue colors all around. This man was just finishing up his day, doing tasks that had been done in the lagoon for centuries before him." See the shot.
My favorite hotel: The three-room B&B
Rialto, a one-minute walk to Venice's
storied Rialto fish market. bbrialto.com, from $144.
--Photographer Graciela Cattarossi
"There is something about Venice that goes against modern comforts. I find it a very difficult place. You have to take a boat or walk to get anywhere, and even then there are infinite detours. I wonder if the true Venetians are ever at ease. I took this photo in 2009 near the Rialto fish market. It was midday when I turned the corner to find this group of men chatting together over a late lunch. I've been coming to Venice since I was 7, and even in these modern times with massive tourism, the Venetian lifestyle is still here; it hasn't completely disappeared." See the shot.
My favorite hotel: The eight-room Cà Arco Antico, which exudes a timeless charm, with its Murano chandeliers and lead-latticed windows. arcoanticovenice.com, from $87.