After months of abnormally empty squares and shuttered shops, life is starting to pick up again in the canal city of Venice. A sense of optimism reigns as the bars arrange chairs and tables in the campi and remove the “open only for take-out” signs, world-famous museums and galleries reopen, and foreigners exit Santa Lucia Station, blinking in the sunlight reflecting off the canal.
As the number of new coronavirus cases declines and vaccine rollout accelerates, Italy has gradually eased Covid-19 restrictions. On April 26, outdoor dining became possible again and travel between regions designated as “yellow” zones was permitted. June 1 should also see indoor dining permitted. Europe’s ‘Green Pass’ scheme – for those who have been vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19 or received a negative test result – will also see the return of overseas travel in a bid to save this holiday season.
St. Mark’s Square, which was stylish if drab without its usual bustle of cafes and tourists, has filled up again as historic bars like Caffè Florian and Caffè Quadri reopen.
Cultural attractions like the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a treasure trove of paintings by Tintoretto, reopened to the public while La Fenice opera house celebrated opening night with a concert of music by composer Giuseppe Green.
On the glass-blowing island of Murano, tourists are starting to return, albeit a bit more slowly. The glassworks, which depend so heavily on foreign tourism, have suffered greatly over the past year.
Punta Conterie, an innovative restaurant, bar, florist and exhibition space on the island, has been preparing for months to welcome visitors. Co-owner Alessandro Vecchiato said, “It’s an uplifting and optimistic feeling that marked the reopening of Punta Conterie. After so many months of closure, this is the first sign of a return to a new kind of normality.”
Dario Campa, also co-owner, describes the revised menu, based on the territory’s seasonal ingredients and pairings with local wines, while Vecchiato explains the latest exhibition, Murano in brief. It features photographs by Luigi Bussolati, Massimo Gardone and Roberta Orio of a “never seen before Murano”.
Monica Cesarato, a Venetian food and drink blogger, is in Punta Conterie preparing for a big live event next week. During the weeks locked up at home, she embarked on a project to celebrate the reopening of Venice. In collaboration with Sofa Tours, a company specializing in virtual live experiences, Cesarato organized a week of live interviews with artisans, restaurateurs, galleries and local businesses. Live-in-Venice, which kicks off on Monday the 17th, is set to “be the biggest event ever broadcast live from the city,” Cesarato said.
Cesarato has an important goal driving the project; to educate returning tourists on the wide variety of attractions and sights that Venice has to offer, beyond famous landmarks. The aim is to offer viewers an in-depth look at a city whose visitors too often only scratch the surface. Cesarato says: “It’s a way of showing that Venice is not only its emblematic monuments, but above all its people”.
There are only around 50,000 residents left in Venice, as many have been forced to move to mainland cities due to rising property prices. Their workshops and businesses are often tucked away in side streets off the beaten path, but Cesarato assures them they are well worth the time to seek out. “People have to stay more than two days to really appreciate the city,” adds Cesarato.
By persuading tourists to extend their visit to the city, Cesarato hopes to help tackle the problems of overtourism that plagued Venice before the pandemic. Excursion tourism has been particularly damaging to the city as it has brought little economic benefit to residents.
Last weekend, Venice recorded 30,000 visitors in one day, raising concerns about a potential return of the overwhelming number of tourists who thronged the city before travel restrictions. “I really believe that what happened in the last year has given us all the chance to change the paradigm,” says Vecchiato. “Murano is changing from a productive island to a receptive island, but before quantity, however, we have to look at quality.”