What to Read, Watch and Download Before Your Trip to Venice

Know before you go

(Images courtesy of Amazon)
Smithsonian Journeys Quarterly

Contributing writers and experts from the Smithsonian submitted their suggestions for Venice-themed books, movies and online resources to enjoy before traveling. 

Movies

Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973) turns Venice's palazzi and vaporetti into the backdrop of a haunting psychological thriller that rivals Hitchcock's best. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star as a grief-stricken couple whose lives disintegrate in the wake of their child's death.

More from Smithsonian.com: Donald Sutherland's Venice

Helena Bonham Carter won an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Kate Croy in the film adaptation of Henry James' novel The Wings of the Dove (1997), parts of which were filmed in Venice's Palazzo Barbaro, the very one in which the novelist himself often stayed. Katherine Hepburn was the heroine of another Venice-based film, playing a naive American secretary and fall into a canal in David Lean's Summertime (1955).

Left mistakenly at a highway rest stop by her husbands and sons while on vacation, middle-aged Rosalba travels on to Venice in the Italian romantic comedy Bread and Tulips (2000).

With his trademark thatch of white hair, big smile and enchanting accent, Venetian-born architect and writer Francesco da Mosto delivers a spellbinding documentary tour of the city in the BBC's Francesco's Venice (2004).

Apps

Writer on all things Italian, particularly food, Elizabeth Minchilli recently revamped her free iPhone app, EAT ITALY, "to share all my views and opinions about where I think you could find a good meal (and just about anything else edible)." Inside that app are directions on how to purchase her EAT VENICE app.

A 30-year veteran of the city, Michela Scibilia offers her personal recommendations on restaurants in Tap Venice, the fee-based, digital iPhone version of her printed eating guide, Venice Osterie. (Reset the app to English by clicking "preferenze.")

Instagram

Venice-based architect Marco Gaggio @neumarc has a professional eye for photographing the city's waterways and buildings.

More From Smithsonian.com: How to Row Like a Venetian

Books

Jan Morris in her book, Venice, writes with immense knowledge, gentle humor and an eye for the telling detail. Mary McCarthy also gets a hearty vote for an engaging take on Venetian art and mores in her classic Venice Observed.

Thomas Madden's Venice: A New History goes back 1,500 years to weave an entertaining narrative that arcs from the earliest colonists, who sought refuge from rampaging barbarians in the marshy islands, to the city's challenges today. Sea battles and diplomatic intrigues fill Roger Crowleu's City of Fortune, which chronicles the rise of Venice as an unmatched naval power and how that translated into influence and riches.

In Venice: A Literary Companion, Ian Littlewood assembles a fascinating compendium of writing on the city by the likes of Byron, Goethe, Proust and Lawrence, all organized around seven walking tours of the city and its neighboring islands.

In No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice, Judith Martin and Eric Denker bring the same level of insightful, arch observation found in Martin's Miss Manners column to bear on the city's coloful social history.

Donna Leon recently published Falling in Love, the 24th installment in the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series set in Venice. Opera diva Flavia Petrelli stars in this mystery, but as always, Leon's most compelling character is the city itself.

After escaping the sacking of Rome in 1527, the beautiful Fiammetta Bianchini and her wily dwarf companion, Bucino, infiltrate high Venice society in Sarah Dunant's novel In the Company of the Courtesan.

While the renowned 18th-century Venetian adventurer and lover Giacomo Casanova filled 12 volumes with his memoirs, no single section delivers more excitement than the passages in The Story of My Escape, recently translated by Andrew K. Lawtson.

Blogs

American expat Sig. Nonloso relocated to Venice in 2010 and records a lively take on the city in Venezia Blog, which he's subtitled "about venice in words & pics, with and without my 7-year-old-son."

A National Geographic assignment in 1994 took journalist Erla Zwingle to Venice, where she fell in love and never left. Her blog I am not making this up: My life in real Venice, and more provides a fun and quirky inside look at the city,

Brit David Lown sells walking tours of Venice, which he's been conducting for nearly 15 years, on his site. A Guide to Venice, which also includes an eclectic blog, a Venetian history timeline, and a generous collection of links to museums, churches, briges, palaces and concerts.

Staple Sites

The city of Venice's website offers a myriad of resources for the real and armchair traveler, including maps, a calendar of events, webcams and a listing of tours organized by location rather than by outfit.

Similarly, the official tourism site for the city, Venezia Unica, has a robust section for visitors and a virtual map of local museums.

Both sites provide information on the Detourism project, a collection of newsletters, a Google map and digital magazines with the self-described aim of helping its readers the city as a local. The map provides locations and links to "made in Venice" products and organic markets. Search "Fuori Rotta google" and select "Categorie" to go straight to the information.

A must for virtual explorers is gondolavenezia.it for an introduction to the history of gondolas. For more on this ubiquitous craft, check out Donna Leon's Gondola, an illustrated book that comes with a CD of Venetian carcarole performed by Il Pomo d'Oro.

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