After our delicious lunch on Saturday, we boarded a special open-air train for a guided tour among the ‘barenas’ (salt marshes) to Lio Piccolo, an ancient village reached through a thin strip of land between the waters.
The prominent buildings – a dusky pink church and bell tower – were built between the 1600s and 1700s although the village dates back to the year 1000. We pass many cyclists and walkers enjoying the tranquillity of the area and kids wave at us grown ups on the little blue and white train. There is lots of wildlife to explore – we didn’t see any flamingos up close but they can be seen by eagle birdwatchers in the area.
As the clock strikes 3 in the afternoon, we hop back on board to go to the Civic Centre for the ENAJ AGM. During the meeting, chaired by Lisa Bellocchi the President, Ukraine is granted informal membership, linked to their application to become EU members. Their representative Iurii Michailovic was asked to give an update of events in Ukraine and the consequences of the war including the dramatic economic and social repercussions on the population and on the agricultural sector.
That evening, we took a ten minute walk to the restaurant linked to our campsite – La Tenuta di Cavallino – which can be translated as the estate of Cavallino. This restaurant used to be farm sheds and you can tell with the high ceilings and wooden beams. It has become a landmark in the area having blended traditional style and characteristics with a modern renovation to incorporate an open-air brewery. Many patrons were enjoying their pizza overlooking the large copper vats. As we walked through to the private dining space with our Aperol Spritz in hand, the pizzas looked and smelt amazing, however they weren’t on our menu. Instead, we had a fine dining experience of six courses ahead of us!
We started with a Bloody Mary using the tomatoes grown before an appetiser of salami and cheese with pickled vegetables and homemade jams. The Mayor Roberta Nesto welcomed us and then the first course of gnocchi was served with the most amazing tomato sauce – reminding me that the pizza would have been out of this world! A blanche beer sorbet cleanses our palates before the main course of Venetian pork knuckle braised with beer ‘La Bock’ that is brewed on site. The sweet course is a sphere of La Tenuta di Cavallino – a kitchen secret – best described as a tennis ball of meringue that holds within it gelato, the infamous Italian ice cream. We are all glad of the walk back, under the stars, to the campsite to aid digestion after such an amazing meal.
On Sunday, our final day of the trip, we took a private vaporetto to Mazzorbo to see the Venissa vineyard on the site of an old monastery blocked off with medieval walls. Son of the family business, Matteo Bisol takes us around and explains how there used to be 20 churches and convents on the island. Venissa is a project of agricultural rejuvenation and sustainable hospitality set in the most untouched part of the Venetian lagoon. The Dorona grape almost disappeared after the floods of 1966 and is a rare native grape of Venice that the Turato family have been able to keep alive.
Hence the limited supply, the bianco (white wine) which we get to taste, retails at 160EUR. The adjoining restaurant boasts a Michelen star since 2012 and a green Michelen star from 2022. The family also have rooms on this island and others to offer accommodation to tourists. “The wine is important but the tradition of the island is more important. Too many people in Venice at the one time is not sustainable. Tourists coming to other islands can be a more sustainable way of developing tourism in the Veneto region. Also the time of year of visits can be spaced out – April to May is generally low season as are October to December.”
Back on the boat, we catch a glimpse of Burano with its kaleidoscope of coloured buildings, a miniature but brighter Venice also made of a myriad of canals and bridges, often called Italy’s rainbow island.
We dock at Sant’Erasmo, an island home to just 800 people, referred to as the vegetable garden of the Doges, the rulers of Venetian life up until 1797. The weekend we visit, there is a festival to celebrate the harvest of the grapes in the area which the island is famous for. There is a party atmosphere and stalls and lots of activity on a stage. In a display of tractors, a red Same is decorated with flowers and is a popular spot for visitors to jump into the driving seat for a photograph.
We meet Savino Cimarosto, the owner of I&S Farm Il biologico di Sant’Erasmo growing 5 hectares of vegetables, herbs and fruits. This organic farm only had one day of rain – 6th January – so it has been a challenging year to manage crops without the use of pesticides and herbicides. When there is no rain, the salty water comes up into the soil, impacting the quality. All the produce is sold in their farm shop in Venice as well as directly to island inhabitants on Sant’Erasmo. Every week they plant different crops and produce what they need in different periods. Their shop which has been open 4 years is “our garden in the city” where every day they bring real organic, healthy, high quality food grown with passion and respect for the environmental sustainability of Venice and of the lagoon. “It is the neighbourhood store that in our Venice, a beautiful but complex city, has a very important role and value in food, social and environmental value and we are in it!” Their gardens, cultivated since the times of Serenissima – relating to Venice’s seafaring past and the most serene republic of Venice between the lagoon and the sea.
As our time as a group of forty journalists comes to an end, we celebrate in one of Silvio’s fields with an alfresco lunch served by his wife and some employees. Growing up on a potato farm, I have had many a lunch in an open field but not as glamorous or beautiful as this. We sit down at tables and chairs with the sound of Prosecco corks popping fills the air! Oh that Ireland would develop a taste for bubbly refreshment in the middle of a hard day’s work. Alas, our climate is more suited to tea but it was a wonderful experience sampling the pasta sauces made on the farm as well as the roasted pumpkin and aubergines.
We make our final trip across the vast lagoon and are dropped off at where we started on Friday – Piazzale de Roma. With our flights not until the next morning, we have a few hours to explore Venice. For a weekend in October it was pretty busy so I can only imagine summer months wouldn’t be as pleasant to explore especially with higher temperatures. We explore the Santa Croce and Dorsoduro districts on foot, enjoying a gelato and delighting to see what is around the next corner and over the next bridge.
We catch an amazing sunset – at 6.30pm – as the sun goes down behind the Mulino Stucky – once a flourishing flour mill and pasta factory, supplied by boats across the lagoon. It is internationally recognized as one of Italy’s iconic pieces of industrial architecture and now operates as a Hilton hotel. Whilst we don’t have time to take a gondola (around 80EUR) or see St Mark’s Square – I am happy to have an excuse to come back to Venice!
I didn’t fully appreciate the scale of the lagoon until our flight home. My window seat gave me the perfect view on a clear day as we took off from Marco Polo airport headed back to Dublin. As the island of Venice disappeared you began to see other islands and small patches of land, some with a few sheds and a farmhouse. Those kinds of farms would certainly need boats as well as tractors to carry out their duties.
It was strange for a farm girl from County Down not to see any animals or mountains for so long, as tasty as the food had been. Venice and the lagoon have to be seen to be believed. It is no wonder that Italians use the same word for magical.
Perhaps when you go to see Venice, you will think of staying on Cavallino – Treporti and enjoy boat trips around the lagoon. One thing for sure, you will enjoy the produce grown by many passionate farmers who want to see Venice being a sustainable travel destination going into the future. Arrivederci!!
Many thanks to Lisa Bellocchi, UNARGO, Parco Turistico di Cavallino Treporti, Ca’Pasquali Camping Village, La Tenuta Di Cavallino, Venissa, I&S Farm Il biologico di Sant’Erasmo and Assocamping for organising the trip and for all of their superb hospitality. Grazie a tutti!
This article was written by purplerain