Exploring the Venice Lagoon by Houseboat

Part 3: Burano, San Francesco del Deserto, and Porto Grandi

Tuesday, May 7th began with a light rain, and after having breakfast on the boat, we departed Le Vignole and leisurely motored northeast past the island of S. Erasmo – a horticultural island with numerous hiking paths located on it. From here, we motored north past Burano to the island of Mazzorbo. We moored the boat against the green lawn and stone bulkhead, and walked across the local footbridge bridge to Burano. The island of Mazzorbo holds the Burano cemetery and a church from the 1600’s which is still fully functioning, (complete with crypts in the floor), a few homes, a park, and, initially unbeknownst to us, a Michelin Star restaurant. The island and city of Burano greeted us with swans and color, and is known as “The Italian Lace Island.”  The shops are filled with Italian linens and silks, with colorfully painted shops and houses, and the many canals make it “walking island” where deliveries and transport are all via water. 

Following Bricola to Burano
“Leo” Docked at Mazzorbo Bulkhead

The island of Burano has around 27,000 inhabitants and is one of the more densely populated islands in the Venice Lagoon. The town offered us lots of shopping and a variety of quaint restaurants, with excellent seafood and wine. In the cityscape, the bell tower “Campanile San Martino”, which is typical for the area and freestanding from the nave, catches the eye, as it leans at ~3 degrees and has done so for hundreds of years, appearing ready to fall over. We enjoyed a leisurely midday meal in Burano before taking a long stroll around Mazzorbo and returning to the boat. In the late afternoon, we returned to Burano for aperitifs, watching the locals who have now come out to walk their dogs and socialize once the large tourist’s boats have left. On the way back from Burano to our boat berth on Mazzorbo, we noticed that a previously locked gate was open to a vineyard and we decided to explore. This turned out to be the back entrance to a Michelin Star Restaurant and Wine Bar, the Venissa, so we stopped to drink Prosecco and snack on a sardine appetizer before returning to our boat for the evening. However, that evening at 1:30am, our battery alarm sounded indicating we were running low on battery power, and so we idled the engine for an hour to recharge it. This then happened again at 5:30am. We were told that the engine needs to run at least 4-hours per day to keep the batteries charged and we were surprised by this, but we concluded that perhaps we had been negligent in running it the required amount of time.

The Leaning Bell Tower
The Canals of Murano
Vineyard at Mazzorbo Restaurant

Wednesday morning after breakfast on the boat and cappuccinos in town, we bought some drinking water at the local Burano grocery before departing Mazzorbo, motoring all around the island of Burano, and heading to the Isle San Francisco del Deserto, a quiet island with an ancient but active Monastery. We docked along the bulkhead just inside the canal and took lunch on deck while listening to the birds and watching the planes take off at a distance from Venice airport located across the bay. The Monastery was closed as it was only open certain hours, so after lunch, we decided to head to the island of Torcello. Torcello is in the northern part of the lagoon, where the tides are typically less. It is a very small island, but in the past, it was one of the oldest and once most important centers in the lagoon. The typical highlights of the island are the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of Santa Fosca. The palines are located down a narrow waterway in front of the cathedral, but the limited space, the strong currents, and the sudden failure of one of our bow thrusters made docking there too risky. Therefore, we headed back to Mazzorbo/Burano for groceries, before heading back to San Francesco Del Deserto where the monastery was now open for visitors. Once here, we toured the St. Francis of Assisi church with a local Italian Friar. The Monastery dates from 1220 when St. Francis initially visited the island. A church and Convent were then built, but eventually the island was abandoned and deserted due to the extremely poor conditions of the Venice Lagoon. It was reoccupied and renovated in 1453, and the Friars Minor lived there until 1806. In 1856, the island was given by a patriarch to the San Franciscan Friars. Another renovation was done in the 1980’s and it is now a lovely quiet spot to visit on any trip to the lagoon. After our tour, we had cocktails and chips on our houseboat’s rooftop deck, followed by dinner onboard and a quiet evening of cards. However, that evening at 12:30am, our battery alarm once again sounded requiring us to idled the engine for an hour to recharge it. After it happened again at 4:30am, we disconnected the alarm and decided we would address the issue in the morning.

Docked in San Francesco del Deserto

Thursday morning, we started and idled the engine as the low batteries had begun to allow our refrigerator to warm. After breakfast on the boat, we left a message with the Charter Office outlining our issues with the battery charging system and our failed bow thruster. After leaving the peacefulness of San Francesco Del Deserto and beginning to head back towards Chioggia, the Charter Office contacted us and suggested going to Porte Grandi instead – a town on the mainland in the opposite direction, located northeast of the city of Venice. Therefore, we turned the boat around and headed to Porte Grandi through canals that isolated islands and farms that were lower than the water in the canal. The shores were lined with reeds and stone bags shoring up the island edges and protecting acres and acres of farm land. Along the way we saw swans and their cygnets, and a variety of waterfowl. Porte Grandi is massive boat repair area in front of a set of locks that allow entrance to the Sile River, (The River of Silence), system. Once arriving and while waiting for the repairman, we docked at an out-of-the-way location, observed boats passing through the locks, and had lunch on the top deck. Once the boat technician arrived, he fixed the bow thrusters, (a bad switch) and fixed a broken electrical connection that was preventing the batteries from fully charging. After the repairs were made, we traveled back the way we came to Burano/ Mazzorbo for groceries and dinner. When we arrived and docked, another large cruise boat arrived bringing a crowd of visitors. We found a little café off the main path where we had drinks. For dinner, we went to an excellent restaurant named “Gailluipi” for squid appetizer, mussels, risotto, and tortellini. After dinner, Roc used the restaurant’s wifi to run an SEG Board of Director’s meeting from his phone. Then, it was back to the boat for nightcaps and relaxation.

Swan with Cygnets on the way to Porto Grande

On Friday morning after a casual breakfast on the boat and on a beautiful, sunny morning, we decided to head off to Torcello again to explore the Cathedral and vineyard there. However, when we arrived we observed some of our sister boats that had spent the night there now sitting grounded in the mud since it was low tide. After watching another couple struggle for a while to get their moored boat off of the bottom mud, we decided to skip Torcello and headed off motoring through the canal on the west side of Mazzorbo past Burano and around the Palude de Burano (swamp of Burano) and the Isle Crevan (which is for sale for $6.9M), and back to berth on Mazzorbo. We then headed back into Burano where we found a new, “classy” grocery that let us taste local-made botanical gin, sold us a bottle of Grand Marnier, before heading to the post office to mail postcards. It was then time for lunch, which we had at a small café that was surrounded by locals eating at their personal tables, on  their  front stoops, all along the street. Back at the boat, we relaxed and waited for news on Peter’s wife’s follow-up arthroscopic surgery, (which went well). That night we took dinner late, after the tourists’ boats and ferries had all left and found and ended up at Al Ombré – a restaurant with a tiny, narrow doorway opening into a courtyard of 10 tables, surrounded by bright yellow walls and flowers. For dinner we had homemade lasagna and melanzane ( i.e. Italian eggplant Parmesan) – the best dinner thus far!

Colorful homes in Burano
Typical Burano Residential Street

Then, it was back to  the boat for nightcaps and a game of cards.

On Saturday, May 11, we decided to explore some of the area to our east and position ourselves closer for our eventual trip back to Chioggia. Saturday morning was very quiet in town and on the water with few boats or people around. After breakfast on board, we headed to town for a quick grocery run and cappuccinos, before saying “good-bye” to Burano and motoring down the canal and past Lio Piccolo, an old fishing village. As the morning progressed, numerous small boats came out for a Saturday on the water, and we observed a number of local fishermen returning, along with numerous swamps and lowlands. We headed to Punta Sabbioni, where we tied to the city dock near a restaurant, but decided to have lunch on board with the supplies that we had bought at the store,  (wine, bread, cheese, hard boil eggs, and salami). From there, we headed south past the “MOSE” and its massive flood gates protecting Venice. “MOSE” is the “Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico” which translates into, ’Experimental Electromechanical Module’), and it is a project designed to protect the city of Venice and the Venetian Lagoon from flooding by blocking the lagoon off from the Adriatic Sea during extreme high tides. The project consists of rows of mobile gates that are installed on the seafloor at the Lido, Malamocco, and Chioggia inlets, and that can be raised by filling them with compressed air. After crossing the Lido inlet, we motored on to our berth at Le Vignole for the night. Since it was Saturday afternoon, young kids with their speedboats boats were jumping off the bridges and partying until dark. After that, we bought one more bottle of Prosecco from our favorite farmer and enjoyed a light dinner of duck pate, cheese, and bread.

Women Rowers in Gondola

Sunday, we would have to bring the boat back to Chioggia, since check-out was at 8:30am on Monday morning. After breakfast, we left Le Vignole and headed up Canal Nicolo towards Venice before turning on to Canal Lazzaretto to Canal dells Scoasse. Here, it became very shallow and we needed to be careful to stay in the narrow channel. We then headed past the isle Lazzaretto Vecchio, passing many sail boats that were motoring towards the inlet to the Adriatic Sea. Along the way were people out practicing paddling their gondolas and crewing shells. To the south of where we spent our first night in Malamocco, we temporarily got the wrong side of a bricole and dragged bottom slightly, stirring up the mud. Soon afterwards, we stopped at an unused commercial dock at Alberoni for lunch on deck before continuing our journey towards Chioggia. Once we arrived, we moored the boat in one of our Charter Company’s slips, and made our way to old town Chioggia to locate a sports bar in which we could watch soccer (EPL). This was a non-trivial exercise, and, after 45-minutes of strolling about, we found a little pizzeria and watched the Italian league, instead. Then we headed back to Sottomarina, stopping for drinks at the Budapest Caffe, before arriving at the beach at the Havana Club, where we ate dinner and watched Arsenal play. On the way back to the boat, we stopped at the grocery and bought chocolate, palinka, and limoncello, which we sipped that evening while playing cards.

Viga Bridge in Chioggia

On Monday, May 13, we arose early, finished up our eggs, toast, and coffee, and “checked-out” with the Charter Company staff. All was well, and we left on our reserved taxi at 9:00am and headed to Marco Polo Airport where we dropped off Peter for his early flight. We then had the driver take us to our hotel for the night that was located in Quarto d’Altino, about 10 minutes from the airport. Although we were very early to check in, we were greeted with cappuccinos and cookies, and then given a room in about 40 minutes. We left our belongings in the room and we went walking around, exploring the town. The Train station is only a block away, and the Town Center is a short 10-minute walk. There we found a pizzeria/restaurant where we ate a lunch of salads and spicy mussels marinara. Two and one-half hours later, we walked back to our hotel, showered, and prepared our bags for our flight back to the USA in the morning 

Tuesday morning, we were up early for the shuttle to the airport, where we checked-in and went to the lounge before catching our direct flight to Atlanta, and our connection back to our home in Melbourne, Florida. The trip convinced us that other river-canal houseboat adventures are likely in our future! Stay tuned!

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