In Italian lagoon is feminine. Quite and mysterious. The sea, instead, is masculine. It never rests, always subjected to wind and waves.
(from the movie ‘Shun Li and the Poet’)
I spent a weekend in Italy, in the north-eastern region Veneto. I had a mission: to unravel the land of the ancient Dogado – the Duchy of Venice – and resist the call of the main town.
During those three days I never longed for Venice. Honestly I visited Venice before, I even spotted it from the ferry while getting to the lagoon. Anyway, although I was so close I never felt the desire to run after its unmatched sights over the canals. I was happy to be here, with someone to show me the features of the districts around Venice, the beautiful and remote places, their stories, the people’s hard work, the dialects, the arts, the landscape. In the Dogado there are ancient villas, masterworks, canals streaming towards the lagoon, and from the lagoon to the sea. There are welcoming people and delicious food.
The visitors may feel like being in Northern Europe around here, as in one of those charming Dutch villages crossed by rivers and graceful ferries. I was not only surrounded by this kind of soft beauty, but also by art and culture, priceless palaces and churches. Many of these buildings are open to visitors and some are even available to rent, villas rich in history but perfectly preserved thanks to enlightened owners in love with their land. It’s the case, for example, of Villa Valier, an example of history and arts delivered through the centuries to the current Brenta territories.
Visiting the Dogado – by bike or car – a sensible tourist might have a look around and discover an orderly countryside, rural products and farms involved in protecting traditions and typicalness, like the Chioggia radicchio. A nature half domesticated and half wild, lights and colours which do not mark borders but instead disclose the secrets of life in the southern lagoon.
By speedboat, the most adventurous can roam a landscape filled with bewitching elegance, discover the barene – the typical Venetian lagoon land – where plants are hidden amid salty and sweet waters, spot the islands in front of Venice, most of them uninhabited, each one with a different story of human settlements and transformation.
And the wildlife, seagulls and cormorants, the fishing structures and the fish farms, the stilt storehouses. Such an experience offers a the feeling to have a limitless world in front of you, surrounded by a flat quite, almost unchangeable, where the lagoon ‘feminine, quite and misterious’ throws itself in the arms of the ‘masculine and relentless’, and from this encounter comes regeneration for both.
Just as I did, the visitors will stop to talk with bakers and discover the local cakes, or with the ice cream maker, the fisherman, the vegetable seller, the farmer. They will meet the many sides of the Venetian people’s industriousness, their love for a caring land. And when they feel ready, they can start discovering Chioggia, the mirror town.
The water in Chioggia’s canals mirrors the life of walls, fishing nets and people. The inhabitants lead an open and friendly life, articulated by joyful toasts with the local wines. Chioggia is its sea, the labour, the tools, the workshops smelling of salt and fresh bread, the women at the windows, the laundry hanging over the canals, the bridges and the boats, the religious icons and the quirky encounters.
Chioggia is the encounter of lagoon and sea, it’s real life, far from mass tourism. It’s the hard working Veneto, proud and sincere, it’s the colours of the canals and the façade of the houses.