Pigeons walk and lions fly and life is sweet in Venice

Italy’s Veneto region is where ‘the pigeons walk and the lions fly’. The former could only be Venice’s San Marco Square where for one Euro you could feed these spoilt birds who congregate on the plazzo letting passerbys know who are the true inhabitants. Half the hordes of visitors are scared, squealing as they run to the outer areas away from the fluttering wings, while the other 50% sprinkle bird bits attracting these aggressive flocks.

As for the winged lions, they are the symbol of one of this most historic, glorious and diversified areas of Italy.

Although daytime on the famed San Marco Square, with the stately prominent Doges Palace and long admission queues, come dusk a different scenario happens. It becomes a glorious empty stage set which Canelleto probably painted. But one evening my travelling companion, Lydia from Belgium, and I strolled the empty square where the perfection of the monumental buildings took the sting out of paying 22E for two beers. Stick around the touristy areas in Venice and prices soar. Head to the off the beaten path locations and there are sweet surprises. I’m always on the hunt for the best gelato and all things sweet.

My starting point was at Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, considered to be second to San Marco Square in beauty and boasts of a canal location. On the northern side is the elegant the imposing church of SS. Giovani e Paolo. The Venetian Renaissance architecture of the School of St. Mark dates back to the end of the 15th century. Then there’s the church of Saints John and Paul a Gothic ediface, the largest in Venice dating back from 1246 until 1430 and boasts of a marble facade. Centered in the square, the highlight is the equestrian monument to Bartolomeo Colleoni. And amidst this grandeur is Palazzo Bressana which houses Caffe Rosa Salva. I knew I had come to the right place from the gleeful faces of the young clients. At one table was a father and his two sons. One was sucking the ice cream from the bottom of the cone, the other happily dripping cream from the corner of his mouth. The father had a wide smile as I snapped a photo of this Italian family.

Under the white umbrellas, facing the canal as various young people sat at the base of the fountain, I indulged in a tasting frenzy of unknown proportions for me. Piero and Manulea Rosa Salva, have been the owners since 1995. The Rosa Salva company is well known since the family has been working in this industry for six generations and serving Venetians who come to this café where inside, the walls are filled with black and white photos of old Venice. Clients have the choice to sit al fresco or indoors where the temptation of the glassed in shelves of pastries and a vitrine with a variety of 24 flavours of ice cream and sherbets, can’t be too good for the weight conscious . The first splendid presentation was lemon sherbet (sorbetto limone). but with a great difference The lemon sherbet, Piero proudly tells me, is made only of water, sugar and importantly, fresh lemon juice. But that would be too ordinary and boring so he then drizzles dry Persecto, (an Italian sparkling wine) over it and adds “the secret ingredient”, (a secret no more)- a teaspoon of vodka. “It’s too heavy if you put too much but it adds to the flavour.” “That is very important,” says the impressively thin man who says he eats sweets everyday but plays a lot of tennis to keep his down his weight. This was followed by a colourful array of fresh watermelon, blackberry, kiwi, strawberry over mandarin sherbet and topped with a swirl of real and very thick whipped cream which was presented in a wide mouthed goblet. In Italy, espresso is the drink of choice so to end this sweet idyllic repose, Manuela, who is also svelte, explains that the coffee is from a 200 years old factory. The cups arrived filled with strong espresso over the creamiest ice cream. And as a great segue to my next destination, I’m offered some of Caffé Rosa Salva chocolate.

VizioVirtu Cioccolateria isn’t easy to find. The twisting narrow streets even confused my guide. Viziovirtu, about 10 minute walk from San Marco Square, is the first chocolate shop in Venice devoted entirely to chocolate. Mariangela, the thirty three year old proprietress spent time studying the characteristics of the product, their medicinal and aphrodisiac properties and also worked with top chocolate chefs in Paris and Italy. She also learned to blend age old ingredients with modern recipes. With the encouragement and backing of her mother, the shop opened in October 05. It’s appropriate that Juliette Binoche, the star of the film, Chocolat, was the “special godmother” at its inauguration. Mariangela, invents new delights which include aromatic vinegar and spices. It isn’t a difficult destiny to have to sample ginger, cardamom, saffron, lavender filled bonbons as well as the shop’s most popular trio, chili, grapa and pink pepper.. Although the cocoa beans come from South America and South Africa, they are purchased from an imported in Venice. Of course, business has increased since the research that stated dark chocolate is healthy, an antioxidant. It has no sugar.. “But,” say Mariangela through an interpreter, “a lot of people who are sad come here too. Often the same people come every day. Besides, it’s good for their health.” Although it’s Viziovirtu’s first summer, she has had requests for raspberry cream, caramel, tirimasu. As for her slim, ageless, attractive mother who never really indulged, she’s had a major mind change. She adores cinnamon and ginger chocolate. Young and with great ambitions, Mariangela will be delivering orders worldwide.

Even my sweet tooth couldn’t take much more of the culinary sweets. so I was somewhat relieved when we headed to San Marco Square’s legendary Caffe Ristorante Quadri. What could writers Marcel Proust, Stendhal, Dumas, poet Byron and composer Wagner have in common. At various times, they all stopped at Caffe Quadri. “because of the sun.

(The café has a cover charge of 4.50 Euro). But the unique claim to fame is that it was here, that Turkish coffee was first served in Venice. Once there were as many as ten ‘caffetterie’ but although there are still several, there’s fierce competition between Caffé Quadri and Caffé Florian, on the opposite side of the piazza.. Before the tasting began, I wanted to see the interior with the hand painted scenes from Venice’s 18th century. Artist Ponga, for his efforts executing the floral panels and frescoes, now has the famous drink named after him.

There is the difficult time of infamy when the notorious Austrian military frequented Caffe Quadri. Locals preferred Caffe Florian.

As a quartet played memorable tunes from the 40s, various culinary traditional treats were served. Cocktail Quadri, made with typical aperol, Italian dry martini, white port touch of lemon juice and anisette liquor was refreshing as the heat of the day and my sugar intake finally got to me. Happily the next dish was bocconcini sprinkled with oregano on grilled rye bread. (9.50 Euro).. Francesco the elegant maitre d’ was cool as an ‘army’ of policemen gathered around the door as an American diplomat and his entourage came for their late day nibble.

There was no question about dinner. I felt forced fed and another meal was out of the question, but a walk around this exquisite city, as the sun set, was a must see.

Hotel Bonvecchiati, San Marco 4488
Tel 39 04115285017
email info@hotelbonvecchiati.it

VizioVirtu Cioccolateria
Sestiere San Polo 2898/A
Tel /fax 041 27501490

Caffe Quadri San Marco Square