The canals are serene; the occasional gondolier sways past, service boats deliver and collect and you may even see a group of stand-up paddle boarders working their way around some of the narrower stretches of water.
We are in Cannaregio, a suburb of Venice on the lagoon side of the island, a good walk, or row, away from the popular tourist trail, but offering the chance to see a new aspect of this unique Italian city.
This is the quieter side of Venice.
But don’t get the idea that this is an ordinary part of town. The canals are lined with houses with vivid pink petunias spilling out of window boxes and over balconies, lovely restaurants and bars, and historic churches where you can see stunning works of art, undisturbed and away from the hustle and bustle.
It is within this part of Venice that the Hotel Heureka has opened. A beautifully-furnished 10-room boutique-style hotel, which retains the historic character of the building, yet with a modern twist.
The name comes from the obvious – the owners spent years searching for the right building in the right area, and when they saw this, it was their ‘heureka’ moment. They had found it.
And you can see why, because it offers much more than many hotels in Venice.
Cannaregio was once the vegetable garden of Venice, with lush green spaces growing produce for the citizens but as land became ever more at a premium, it was snapped up, developed, and lost forever.
The four-star Hotel Heureka, however, retains its magical garden.
Walk through the entrance into a stylish reception and delightful bar, pass out of the rear door and step into a green haven where peace and quiet abound.
Trees, hydrangea bushes, even banana plants populate this hidden treasure, and savoring breakfast al fresco beneath the branches is a super way to start the day.
With a waterfront access overlooking the Madonna Del Orto canal, the 16th Century Venetian palazzo has frescoes, columns, vaulted ceilings and two Piani Nobili, long light-filled spaces off which the rooms are set. There is also music room where recitals are held, and a library for cerebral challenges via a game of chess.
Each bedroom has its own distinctive design and identity, oozing individuality with the Venetian architectural legacy combining with contemporary furnishings and fabrics.
The mix of deluxe doubles and suites have four-poster beds, Lacroix textile-drops as bed-heads, double Rubelli brocade silks at the windows, fabulous lamps, designer bathrooms with freestanding baths, and paintings by Julian Khol, specially-commissioned for the hotel, to interpret the spirit of each room.
With views to the rear over red terracotta roofs towards the lagoon, the hotel retains many original features such as the vast doors, the steep brick and marble staircases and discreet stone channels on window ledges to collect rainwater.
We arrived in style, collected by private water taxi from Marco Polo Airport, racing along the water lanes that cross the lagoon to be dropped outside the front door in Cannaregio. It is a special way to arrive in Venice.
But don’t be put off by the location of Hotel Heureka– distances in Venice are small and you are soon on the main artery of the Grand Canal, crossing the Rialto bridge and then meandering further through shaded alleys and cloistered paths toward the focal point of this city Piazza San Marco.
Enjoy the expanse, cornered by St Mark’s Cathedral, the soaring campanile, the Doges Palace and on to the waterfront. This is the Venice you came to see and the Venice everyone sees.
In the summer months, make an early start and enjoy the ambience of the square and the waterfront in the coolness of the morning before the temperatures rises and the crowds flood in.
Yet the beauty of staying off center in Cannaregio is that you experience the pleasures of getting there, even getting a little lost which is one of the pleasures of Venice.
You will discover the ordinary aspects of the city, cross bridges and routes used by the locals, and admire their homes and churches. The fondamenta (canal path) and waterways are quieter, a simple treasure in their own right lined with typical bacari eateries and occasional glimpses of the lagoon and the islands beyond.
A near neighbour is the church the Madonna del Orto – the Madonna of the garden. Peer within and be surprised, this is where Tintoretto painted and now lies at rest and later this year the church celebrates 500 years since his birth in 1518. There is also the church and the Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia, while Santa Maria dei Miracoli is a couple of bridges away, with its impressive polychrome marbles.
Hotel Heureka’s general manager, Andrea Penzo, explained: “We see the Heureka as a quiet place where people can have time to relax and enjoy the house and the garden is very unusual, a real secret in the Cannaregio area. We know it will take a little longer to visit the center of Venice, but people really do want to be away from the crowds and that is what they find with this place.”
The hotel does not have its own restaurant but serves of wonderful breakfast and has an intimate bright bar where you can enjoy an aperitivo or a digestive or sip a cocktail in the garden and swap stories of the day with fellow guests, discuss new routes back from Piazza San Marco and reveal the location of a small restaurant they enjoyed.
Finding your own favourite restaurant for dinner is part of the joy. We discovered the Rioba, a couple of bridges over from Hotel Heureka, by a quiet canal, where diners draw up in gondola or water taxi and savor the best of Venetian cuisine.
Alongside the familiar sights, there are less well-known aspects to explore – go to the Battiloro gold foundry in Titian’s garden where the owners of the family-run business are happy to talk through the process of transforming a 24ct gold ingot into gold leaf for jewellery, tattoos, adornments and ornaments; see mosaics being made at Orsoni and the wondrous “colour library,” or learn how the Venetians pioneered perfume with the Merchant of Venice.
The Valese Foundry - next door to Heureka – is where gondola figureheads are among the brass and bronze figurines and ornaments being created.
Cannaregio is home to craftsmanship, where some of the modern treasures of Venice are still created and great effort is made to ensure the creative traditions are kept alive.
Here too, you can learn to row like a gondolier with a 90-minute session with Row Venice with instructors who will teach you the technique as you work your way around the quieter canals.
Another delight is pausing for lunch Venice style with cicchetti and a glass of wine. Cicchetti are small snacks or side dishes like tapas, typically served in bacari (cicchetti bars) in Venice and include tiny sandwiches, plates of olives or vegetables, hard boiled eggs, and seafood or meat on a slice of bread or polenta. Eaten late morning, for lunch, or as afternoon snacks, they are taken with a small glass of wine known as an “ombra”, or shadow, as it was originally served within the moving shadow of Venice’s campanile.
And then you can retreat back to a little hideaway, the Hotel Heureka in quiet Venice, and relax undisturbed in a secret garden.
Mark Nicholls stayed at the Hotel Heureka (www.hotel-heureka.com) in the Cannaregio area, overlooking the Madonna Del Orto canal with a grand deluxe room from 270 euro including breakfast.