Exceptional cuisine, fine wine, plenty of sunshine, charming historical towns and quaint fishing villages — Italy is a must for everyone who loves gastronomy, the arts or fashion. If you want to experience it a little differently this time, set out to explore it from the deck of a houseboat. From the water, it holds an unforgettable charm and you’ll have the freedom to visit the sights or discover villages and beaches you'd otherwise struggle to reach. Head to Venice if you're in search of romance and culture, but if natural beauty, tranquillity or excellent wine is your thing, cruise around the beautiful Friuli region.
The Venetian lagoon is more than just Venice
The spectacular Venetian lagoon is home to more than 120 islands. Its shallow waters protect it from the open Adriatic Sea, and the sand bars and beaches have formed what is the largest wetland in the Mediterranean Basin. It is a unique ecosystem for protected birds and other animals.
Cruising north along the coast from Venice, you'll arrive in the Friuli region of north-eastern Italy. This area is less frequented and along the rivers Sile, Piave, Livenza and Stella you'll discover a myriad of wetlands, forests and beaches.
Map of the Venetian Lagoon
Venice surroundings on a houseboat: the most beautiful spots
Once upon a time, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. Unfortunately, that's a thing of the past, but it's undoubtedly still one of the most visually stunning. Its ornate palaces, narrow canals, absence of cars in the streets and romantic atmosphere attract thousands of tourists every year. If you visit Venice by boat, you'll also have a unique chance to explore its surroundings, such as the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello, or to visit the southern part of the Venetian Gulf — Pellestrina and Chioggia. Even if you were to cruise around the Venetian lagoon for an entire week, you'd never succumb to boredom. But if you decide to just take a weekend boating break, it will still be an unforgettable experience. So, what shouldn't you leave out on your trip?
Venice and the Lido: a cruise to see the sights and relax on the beach
Built on a lagoon with some 100 canals and 400 stone bridges, Venice is a historical and cultural gem that was deservedly inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. The very construction of the houses, which stand on oak stilts set into the sea, is fascinating enough, but as you take a stroll along its streets or cruise along the narrow canals, you'll marvel at the opulent palaces and ubiquitous history. The list of sights to see here is dazzling — the St. Mark's Basilica, Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), the renaissance St Mark's Library, the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, the baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute and the Ponte di Rialto bridge.
St Mark's Basilica in Venice
Within the churches, you'll discover works by the most famous painters of their time who made an indelible mark on the cultural history of the world — it was Venice that gave us names such as Bellini, Tintoretto, Titian and Veronese. Unfortunately, the beauty of Venice is so famed that you have no choice but to be patient among the hordes of tourists. In addition to the famous Carnival of Venice, it also plays host to a number of cultural events, including the various biennials of the arts and architecture with their exhibitions and national pavilions (the 2022 Biennale of Arts is taking place).
If you are coming here by houseboat, the main thoroughfare of Venice is the Grand Canal — a 4-km-long and 70-metre-wide canal that connects the main railway station to St Mark's Square. Only gondolas and Venice's public transport are allowed on the smaller canals that connect to it. Although you do not need a captain's license to sail around the Venetian lagoon on a houseboat, if you are heading directly to Venice itself, some boating experience will come in handy.
The island opposite, Lido, offers a completely different atmosphere and although officially part of Venice, it's not regarded as such by the city's inhabitants — for them it's primarily a cruise resort. But it is definitely still worth a visit. Its long beaches are perfect for swimming, relaxation and romantic walks. It's the perfect place to wind down after the more hectic Venice.
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The islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello
The island of Murano is especially famous for its glass — Murano glass, which has been produced here since the end of the 13th century, whether it's for jewellery (coloured glass beads made using the Murano technique) or chandeliers. So don't miss the glass museum, housed in the gothic Palazzo Giustinian.
While Murano is famed for its glass, Burano is equally renowned for its lace. But, above all, you'll be enchanted by its richly coloured houses that glow in the distance. Burano is full of small shops, restaurants, and cafes where you can enjoy a fantastic lunch, coffee or delicious gelato while soaking in the Italian atmosphere. Afterwards, stop at the San Martino Church, with its leaning bell tower and Tiepolo's painting of the crucifixion inside. The town gets more crowded in the evening, so we recommend planning your trip so as to anchor here overnight — you'll get to know Burano in a whole new light.
The island of Torcello is the greenest and most unspoilt of the entire Venetian lagoon. Even so, you'll find many sights here, such as the beautiful Church of Santa Maria Assunta (basilica di Santa Maria Assunta) dating from 639, the museum and the 15th-century Devil's Bridge (Ponte del Diavolo).
South of the Venetian lagoon: the villages of Pellestrina and Chioggia
You can also stop off in the south of the Venetian Lagoon at the fishing village of Pellestrina which is situated on an elongated sandy island. The whole east coast of the island is one long beach, but unlike Lido, you won't find any hotels here — this is where you'll be glad you arrived on a houseboat the most.
Cruising a little further west, you can anchor on the mainland at Chioggia. Never heard of Chioggia before? Well, that's probably the biggest advantage of this town, often called "Little Venice". It is bursting with history and culture, and built on canals, just like Venice but without the swarms of tourists. Don't miss the local fish market or the churches, such as St. Andrew's — which is next to the 9th-10th century Torre dell'Orologio, housing the world's oldest tower clock.
A burial ground of cargo ships: Cimitero dei Burci
If you're taking your bike with you on the houseboat and want a break from the sea, a visit to Cimitero dei Burci, the cemetery of wooden transport barges (burci), offers a completely different but equally interesting experience.
Today it lies partially submerged in a natural park along the Sile River about 25 kilometres from Venice. The best way to see them is to take the cycle path from Casale sul Sile, where you will also have boarded the houseboat, through the historic village of Casier (in some places it runs over the water). The national park itself, along the Sile River, is 3000 hectares long and is full of a variety of springs, pools and marshes, making it a great place for some birdwatching.
Practical information on cruising around Venice
If you decide to cruise the Venetian Lagoon, it's best to fly to Treviso (or drive there if you can). You'll then board your houseboat in Casale del Sile, about 10 km from Treviso airport (25 km from Venice Marco Polo). Trains also run to Treviso, or you can get to Casale del Sile by car.
Where to anchor around Venice?
You can only moor near Venice at designated public moorings. Space is quite limited, especially in the busy summer season. Instead of worrying about where to moor your boat there, try further afield and take a water taxi (vaporetto) to Venice.
What about water?
You'll need to refill your water once or twice during your week-long cruise. It depends on your consumption. There are many harbours/marinas in the area that will allow you to fill up for a fee, and in some places, this fee is included in overnight mooring costs.
For peace and nature, sail to Friuli
Need a break from your worries and enjoy some peace and quiet? Then head in the opposite direction to Venice, to Friuli. This region offers a completely different atmosphere.
Wetlands of Isola Della Cona in Friuli
A boat trip around Friuli, allows you to see magnificent flora and fauna, as well as historic towns and fishing villages. And above all, enjoy some excellent wine — Friuli is renowned for its crisp white wines, although red wine lovers will not be disappointed. So, which places should you head to?
The first stop is Precenicco, a small town with a charming medieval centre, and a number of fine restaurants and bars. The next stop will be Lignano with its gorgeous beach. The Tagliamento River flows through the town and it's no wonder it's one of Italy's most famous summer destinations. Next on the itinerary is Marano-Lagunare, a fishing town whose skyline is complete with a thousand-year-old tower. In town, visit the famous fish market. The route takes you to Isola delle Conchiglie, a small island characterised by marshy vegetation, and to Grado, an elegant Venetian-style town. To fully soak up Italian history, your journey will be complete in Aquileia, a city full of Roman buildings (such as the ruins of an ancient river port).
The Venetian-style city of Grado
Practical information on sailing in the Friuli area
If you decide to explore Friuli, houseboats depart from Precenicco. You can get here by car, or fly to Venice Marco Polo or Trieste airports (both airports are about 85 kilometres away by car).
Where to dock?
In the Friuli region, from the town of Precenicco, you will find a much wider choice of moorings than near Venice.
Old lighthouse on the beach in Lignano
Operating and dealing with locks
All locks in this area are electric and are operated by a lock keeper. Enter the lock only when the single green light is on. You and your crew should stay on deck when entering the lock, loop the ropes over the gates and hold on tightly to keep the boat steady as you enter/exit. In the case of a moveable bridge, you must call ahead (a few minutes prior to arrival) and ask them to raise or open the bridge. For further information on the operation and passage of locks or bridges, please refer to the on-board manual provided with the boat.