Welcome to Venice
If you're the kind of traveller who likes to venture off the beaten track and develop your own 'take' on a city - and we're guessing that you are - then a trip to Venice can be a disquieting experience.
Such is the city's fame and ravishing looks, it feels like every crumbling building, evocative alley and sun-dappled square has been photographed, painted and sighed over by countless visitors. And that's before you even get to the real show-stoppers, such as the Piazza San Marco - Napoleon's 'finest drawing room in Europe' - and the Gothic Palazzo Ducale, which John Ruskin thought the most perfect building in the world. The result is that one can feel, as author Henry James complained, that 'there is nothing left to discover or describe'.
The city has always teemed with foreigners: as Europe's most profitable port, this collection of 117 tiny islands was an indispensable gateway for merchants, the military and migrants. Later, it became an essential stop on the European Grand Tour.
But Venice's pleasures aren't just about the Grand Canal, the Piazza and magnificent palazzi. Lose yourself in the narrow, cobbled streets, stop for a Spritz and chicchetti in a quiet square, watch self-conscious lovers float past on gondolas at dusk.
Perhaps a better way of looking at it is, in the words of critic Mary McCarthy, that 'the tourist Venice is Venice': there are still a few hidden gems in this most explored of cities, and we'll help you find them.