|September 21, 2019 Follow us|
Natale a Venezia
Venezia returns to its true state, free of its usual swarms of tourists, for Christmas. Stanley Moss looks at how the city transforms for the season
Christmas in Venezia comes down to four main headings: concerts, crèches, consumerism, and cuisine. A splendour of choice awaits the traveller prepared to plan ahead, bundle up and improvise at the last minute.
The season begins on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday when many businesses close in observance. Expect everything to be chiuso on Christmas Day, December 25, the most important religious holiday of the year, as Venetians celebrate at Saint Mark’s Basilica. A huge audience fills the Byzantine landmark for midnight mass, its great doors thrown open, a combination of bracing air, haunting melodies, a thousand candles reflecting gold-tiled mosaics, swirling incense, crimson accents and ringing bells, set on a background of the moonlit square. The following morning, December 26, the feast of Santo Stefano occurs. Families venture out on this public holiday to view nativity scenes in churches and visit Christmas markets. The Frari in San Polo, one of the coldest churches in Venice, offers a free concert at about 4 p.m.
At home, Venetian Christmas Eve tables abound with traditional seafood recipes: risotto de Pevarasse (Venetian clams risotto); branzino al forno (oven-cooked sea bass); anguilla (eel); mixed fried fish garlanded with grilled or stewed vegetables; capeeti or ravioli in brodo di Cappone (ravioli in Capon broth); cappone lesso (boiled capon); musetto (boiled salami). Seasonal sweets like slices of candied orange coated in bitter chocolate are a local favourite, as are glazed chestnuts the size of plums (and priced at over €1 each). Panettone or pandoro with a dollop of mascarpone round out traditional meals. These are the specialties to look for on restaurant menus.
The challenge is how to sample seasonal dishes outside private homes. Many restaurants close from Christmas Eve until mid-January or from New Year’s (San Silvestro) until late January. Some may stay shuttered until Carnevale (February 22–March 4, 2014). In Venezia, you are best served to plan your Christmas dinner location weeks ahead, book early, and avoid the last-minute rush for scarce seats. This writer’s preferred option for a holiday feast would definitely include a visit to the restaurant at the Luna Hotel Baglioni where Chef Cosimo proposes an amazing four-course Christmas lunch menu featuring prawn salad, homemade ravioli, Roquefort fondue, lamb medallions and signature frozen nougat dessert.
A midnight walk after Christmas dinner has got to be part of your game plan. All the ghosts and spirits will be out, drifting in the mist, peering through the shadows, whispering along the lanes. Stop for a moment on a secluded bridge, look around, take a moment to listen to the lapping of waves against the ancient bricks. This is the unforgettable Venezia not everyone knows, the stuff of fiction, the realm of fantasy, uniquely yours forever. •
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Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.
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