Lent begins today, and though it is supposed to be a time of penance and sacrifice, if you’d rather indulge yourself, there is no better time to visit Venice than during the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. It’s an especially tranquil time in this usually tourist-mobbed city. For me, Venice is all about tranquility: the absence of cars and scooters of course, but wandering mysterious narrow alleys, getting lost, discovering hidden neighborhoods, churches, restaurants and bars, and most of all experiencing its unique beauty at a leisurely pace.
I’ve been to Venice six times, three times during lent and three times in October. My last October trip, in 2007, revealed that the summer tourist season now extends all through the fall—Lent is perhaps the last occasion where one can find Venice in uncrowded beauty. You’ll miss Mardi Gras of course, and the Film Festival, and the Biennale, but Lent provides a beautiful peace, surprisingly good weather (in my experience) and greatly discounted hotel rooms.
Last year, in early March, we had two days of rain followed by five dry days of mostly glorious sun and pleasantly cool weather. The city was uncrowded, with Venetians remarkably seeming to outnumber the tourists. It was easy to walk around, in even the most touristy parts; even the Academia Gallery was deserted, except for a few school groups, and San Marco delightfully uncrowded. Once you got off the beaten track, the city was quiet and mysterious
Many people dash into Venice for a day; I’ve read travel articles saying three days is plenty of time in Venice. On each of my six visits I’ve stayed for a week, and each time I left with the feeling that much was unseen and undone. Yes, you can see the major monuments in the crowded walk from the Rialto Bridge to San Marco, but the real pleasure of Venice comes in exploring the city at leisure, getting lost in the neighborhoods tourists rarely venture, and adjusting to the wonderful pace of a place where nothing need be done in hurry.
I won’t be in Venice this year, but for Lent I’ll be sharing some of my favorite experiences, from March last year (accompanied by Eric, Logan, Nonna and two good friends,) and from earlier visits.