If one knows little of Venice, they would hardly imagine that the city has beautiful parks and ample roads where it is pleasant having a stroll. The stereotype includes small alleys, the buildings bundling up along the canals, so it would come almost as a shock to see trees and shrubs at Giardini and Sant’Elena, the easternmost area of Venice.
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It is easy to reach it from Piazza San Marco: just walk along the water. On your right is the Bacino di San Marco, that used to be the port, the grand entrance of the city.
This promenade is called Riva degli Schiavoni, in reference to the Slavs with whom Venice had strong relationships for centuries. Proceed east and you will pass along some of the oldest luxury hotels that bring back to mind olden fascinating times: Danieli (with its breathtaking roof bar), Londra Palace, Gabrielli (with its top quality restaurant).
After spotting the Arsenal on your left, a few meters divide you from the green area of Giardini. The name simply means “gardens” and it is a park that was created by the French authorities at the cost of the demolition of old buildings. The lonely arch in the park was part of the church of Sant’Antonio which survives only in it and the placenames.
A recommended stop is the agreeable café quite near the waterbus stop: the place used to be the city glasshouse dating back to the 19th century and it has been recently restored and transformed into a flower shop and a café with outdoor tables.
If you happen to visit Venice from May to November, it is strongly advisable to see the Biennale which has its oldest exhibition center here. The exposition focuses on the visual arts in the odd years and on architecture in the even years. Besides the exhibits and installations, it is worthwhile to admire the pavilions which are architectural masterpieces, the outcome of talents such as Hoffmann, Scarpa, Rietveld, Stirling, Fehn, BBPR, and others.
Go further and turn back, just before a bend. From here, the view of the city and the nearby islands is riveting. Cross the last bridge and you’ll have stepped in Sant’Elena, an island through and through until it was linked to the rest of the city with three bridges. The pine grove is sheltering and refreshing, and the kids have a well-equipped playground to spend some time for themselves. Most of the former island is residential but there also is the soccer field, two boat clubs, and the navy school.
Not to be missed, though, is the old beautiful church of Sant’Elena. If you have preferred to delay your break, here is the perfect place at Vecia Gina, a bar that at meal times is an excellent pizzeria that also serves great baccalà and fish-fry.
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