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Your hands-on guide to Venice ... and the Biennale



Your hands-on guide to Venice ... and the Biennale

The architectural trends festival starts this weekend, but nobody needs an excuse to visit the Italian jewel

Anne Hanley

From speakeasy bars and seafood restaurants to new hotels and carnival parties, our Venice expert offers some good excuses for a trip to the city in 2018.
Immerse yourself in a bumper BiennaleDublin-based architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara will helm the 2018 Biennale – a massive, wide-ranging exploration of contemporary architectural trends. Entitled Freespace, this 16th edition of the two-yearly fest will explore the “generosity of spirit and sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself”, the curators say. Whether the contents grab you or not, the Biennale is an unmissable opportunity to enter glorious areas of historical Venice otherwise off-limits to visitors. It starts on Saturday and runs until November 25.
Arsenale, Giardini del Biennale, and other venues. Ticket prices vary; labiennale.orgSip cocktails in Venice’s first speakeasy
Venice’s first “speakeasy” – located in a deconsecrated church in the northern reaches of the island – has attracted a faithful congregation of cocktail-sippers since its hallowed portal opened last year. Not that it opens much: only 25 guests are accepted on its limited (Thursday-Saturday) evenings. Call to book, and remember the password of the day to gain entrance. Perhaps uniquely for Venice, no spritz is served – just a small selection of very sophisticated cocktails.
Cannaregio, campo dell’Abbazia: 00-44-744-864-9927; facebook.comBed down in Venice’s swishest new hotel
Scheduled to open in the second half of 2018, this first Venetian outpost of the Spanish group Melia will be unique among hotels in the centro storico in having a swimming pool. The 79-room five-star will occupy the Ca’ di Dio, a former old people’s home close to the Arsenale – perfectly placed for visitors to the Biennale, but also just a short stroll along the lagoon to St Mark’s square.
Opens late 2018. Castello 2182, Riva Ca’ di Dio; meliahotelsinternational.comBook a table at the city’s trendiest new seafood joint
The original Timon remains one of Venice’s hippest steak houses/drinking dens but its recently opened seafood-heavy trattoria outpost just down the road, Timon all’Antica Mola, now rivals the motherhouse for laid-back vibes and high-quality fare. Noise levels are high and tables are elbow-to-elbow in the pared-back-chic interior: it’s no place for a romantic tete-à-tete. But the clientele of youngish local creative types is a refreshing change from the tourist norm.
Closed Thursdays. Cannaregio 2880, fondamenta dei Ormesini; facebook.comWhile away time in an exciting new bookshop-gallery space
In late 2017 the hyperactive independent MarcoPolo bookshop rowed successfully against the tide to open a second branch. Located on the Giudecca – unquestionably the most happening of Venetian islands at the moment – Libreria MarcoPolo Giudecca is part bookshop (with an emphasis on smaller publishers) and part gallery display space. It also offers an impressive range of travel books, and second-hand books in Italian and English at very low prices.
Giudecca 282, fondamenta Ponte Piccolo; libreriamarcopolo.comCheck out a quirky music-themed art exhibition
Music is the underlying theme in the 2018 shows at Venice’s Francois Pinault-owned galleries. At Palazzo Grassi Cows by the Water includes 85 works by Germany’s Albert Oehlen who cites music as central player in all his creations, many of which belong to Pinault’s own collection. This same inexhaustible fount of contemporary goodies has been mined for the accompanying exhibition at Punta della Dogana, Dancing by Myself, which uses painting, photography, installations, sculpture and more to explore an artist’s role in his/her own production.Cows By the Water is on until December 1 . Palazzo Grassi, San Marco 3231, campo San Samuele; Punta della Dogana, Dorsoduro 2, campo della Salute. palazzograssi.it
Eat at the new chicheti joint that everyone is talking aboutBringing a contemporary touch to the traditional Venetian bacaro, Salvmeria is  a very recent addition to the city’s eating and drinking scene, located in a tastefully revamped old-style deli along buzzy via Garibaldi. From lunch until late, Salvmeria serves original cicheti (bar snacks) made from top-notch local ingredients along with cocktails, wine and long drinks. It’s perfectly placed for Biennale-goers, and a short walk along the lagoon from St Mark's too.
Castello 1769, via Garibaldi; salvmeria.com
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