“When I went to Venice, I discovered that my dream had become – incredibly, but quite simply – my address.”

Marcel Proust

I’ve been going to Venice for many years, but continued returning to the same, familiar spots that were beginning – awful for me to say – to become a touch repetitive and draining.  I thought – is this it?

Cue a young, local who’s spent years studying, living and breathing real Venetian life. Of course this isn’t it.

Apparently, there are an embarrassing amount of exceptional Venetian delights I’d missed and – like most wonderful things – discovered they’re right under my nose and studded throughout the six sestieri of Venice. You just need to know where to look.

To help you avoid the same error, I want to share a few lovely places with you all. Secret treats you can’t not do when visiting the Serenissima. Inspire your loved ones, delight your children, surprise your fiancé or simply take yourself off on a walk under the pearly, spring sky through the abandoned streets, as an invisible bell booms nobly down a narrow calle. 

Simply take yourself off on a walk under the pearly, spring sky through abandoned streets, as an invisible bell booms nobly down a narrow calle 

Do me a favour when you head to the loveliest city in the world, will you?  Head to the Sestiere Castello and look out for the Libreria Acqua Alta.

Libreria Acqua Alta

Secret, unmissable things to see in Venice: Part 1

I discovered this treasure a few weeks ago thanks to that kind Venetian I was telling you about.

Step inside the ‘most beautiful bookshop in the world.’

What a claim! I see you frown.

Hear me out – inside there is an intoxicating fragrance of books: look closely and you’ll see the bookshop has been invaded by gorgeous, glossy gondolas and abandoned boats – astonishingly stuffed with books upon books upon books. One looks twice as the boats are practically camouflage in the tiny space. A familiar, black coat gleams by your leg as the box transforms into a gondola. Books, magazines, music scores of long-lost operas, comics, plays – lavishly thrown everywhere: stacked high, exploding out of the rickety space.

Boats are filled with junk too – upright, yellow mannequins in Venetian masks and pearls give off a creepy air, leaning against plush, velvet cushions  – the bookshop is a magical cross between a theatre, a junk shop, an opera house. Vintage posters, erotic sculptures and dusty comics, glassy, golden chandeliers and the scent of ancient paper muddle with a nearby osteria grilling up a fantastic array of fresh fish doused with aglio and limone.

yellowmannequin

The bookshop is an eccentric confusion of convenience and imagination

The idea was born in 2004 by Vicentino Luigi Frizzo. He created a microcosm of the Venetian world in this unique space – apparently he knows the whereabouts of every single title. It’s a dusty, busy dream where alley cats freely stroll in and out. A large window overlooks the water and relieves the place of potential feelings of claustrophobia. This is where Luigi’s caffe steams on a nutmeg table, you’ll also notice a regal, green armchair where one can watch the rise and fall of the water and wave at incoming gondoliers – I bet Luigi knows every single one. Hanging next to the open window is a lifebelt and tangled nets, a curling cat. The place is an eccentric confusion of convenience and imagination.

Secret, unmissable things to see in Venice: the most beautiful bookshop in the world. Libreria Alta Acqua.

Balancing on the canal, the bookshop is a dusty, busy dream where alley cats freely stroll in and out

The water is a beast though, creeping surreptitiously into the bookshop every now and then when Luigi’s back is turned: the boats are also intended to safeguard the millions of precious volumes from drowning. Not just boats – basins, boxes, canoes, rowing boats, hauled in and stifled with books.

Libreria Alta Acqua.

Before you go, peep your head out to the scala di libri  and traipse up the book-steps. This simply couldn’t have been dreamt up: the books are like beautifully created wax sculptures, bound together in a damp pile of literary and architectural perfection.

Scala di libri 

Libreria Arqua Alta secret things to see in Venice

The books are like beautifully created wax sculptures, bound together in a damp pile of literary and architectural perfection

Fear not! Not a single book was mistreated in the making of these steps – it was merely a way of re-using already ruined books, and saving them from a bitter end in the pulping mill.

Practically speaking, these steps are actually an emergency exit – but everyone knows it’s the gem of the bookshop, offering an immaculate panoramic view over an undisturbed angle of Venice. They say the bookshop area is really a secret ‘cover’ – a gimmick – to offer customers a quiet view of the Venetian backstreets and the drifting canal. It’s a brilliant bonus to a brilliant idea.

With pride and a sly smile, signor Frizzo is a modern day Casanova bookseller. He will answer any curiosity and point you in the direction of anything you may be searching for: ancient plays or classic volumes, history, philosophy, fiction: from Vento di Guerra, love stories: la lettera d’amore, Ed McBain’s Kiss or The Little Prince in Venetian dialect.

Totally devoid of any logic or place in the editorial market, it’s too over the top to be overlooked or considered unnecessary – a labirinto di libri, it is a Narnia for bookworms and anyone interested in the authentic – and of course anyone who still likes surprises.

Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, Sestiere Castello, 5176/B  30122 Venezia, 

Open 9:00-20:00.

 

 

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