Journey by Design: A Local’s Guide to Venice During the 2017 Biennale

Follow us as we share insights and tips on how to eat, sightsee, and speak like a Venetian during this year's Biennale.
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Are you heading to the romantic but tourist-filled city of Venice this fall for the Venice Biennale (running through November 26) and want to sightsee, eat, and even speak like a local? Look no further than the suggestions we gathered from local Carlo Urbinati, founder of the Italian lighting studio Foscarini, which is based in nearby Treviso. Follow in his design-oriented footsteps for artistic inspiration and a turn off the beaten tourists' path.

Shown here is Foscarini's Aplomb fixture in red brick.

Design Destinations to Visit 

Urbinati is a big fan of the works by the late-Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa, and recommends visiting the Olivetti Showroom, which was designed by Scarpa in the 1950s. Described as a "tiny jewel of Venice," the showroom was originally created for a typewriter manufacturer that was experimenting with producing early computers and calculators. 

Shown here is the exterior of the Olivetti showroom in Venice.

The showroom was restored in 2011 and today, it's recognized as a historic building and brings together marble, stone, mosaics, wood, metal, and crystal.

The interior of the Olivetti showroom by Carlo Scarpa features a range of materials in a jewel box-like way, including terrazzo, concrete, mosaic, metals, and wood.

Also by Scarpa on Urbinati’s list is the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, a former palace for a wealthy Venetian family that was transformed into the only institution in the city that contains the entire heritage of this ancient and noble Venetian family. 

Venice's Fondazione Querini Stampalia is located in a former palace.

The luxurious rooms are filled with historical collections of furniture, paintings, and artwork, as well as more contemporary exhibitions and events. It’s a unique mix of old and new that you can only find in Venice, and is complete with an in situ system built by Carlo Scarpa to deal with the city's rising water problem.

The palace is located in central Venice and overlooks the canal.

As a lighting designer who frequently works with glass, it should come as no surprise that Urbinati also includes Le Stanze Del Vetro on his list, a long-term joint initiative devoted to studying the art of glassmaking in the 20th and 21st centuries. Located on the island of San Giorgio in the Venetian lagoon, it includes works from glassblowers ranging from Venini and Carlo Scarpa to Scandinavian masters. The current exhibit focuses on Italian designer Ettore Sottsass.

Shown here is Le Stanze del Vetro on the island of San Giorgio.

If you’re interested in purchasing artwork, Urbinati recommends looking no further than Giorgio Mastinu Gallery, where he goes whenever he's searching for a special, one-of-a-kind gift. Although it’s located on a small, inconspicuous street, the owner and curator has an exceptional talent for mixing vintage art items with a rich history, as well as more contemporary objects.

The Giorgio Mastinu Gallery oin San Marco recently exhibited The Campi, a project by artist Melissa McGill.

Where to Eat 

In terms of wining and dining, Urbinati admits that "it’s not so easy to find places in Venice that are ‘untouched’" by tourists, because "Venice is a unique city, a timeless place unchanged for centuries. So, tourists arrive each day to experience this enchantment," he says. 

Shown here is Campo Santa Marina.

However, he looks to several local spots that are not directly on the main island of Venice for many of his favorites, including two in the nearby town of Mestre. Baccalà Divino and Santi Mestrini are two of his front-runners for their delicious cod and local Venetian fare, respectively.

If you’re looking for something lighter, Urbinati suggests Cipriani Harry’s Dolci on Giudecca island—"a classic," as he calls it. He loves to order a coffee and pastry for a relaxing break outside of regular meal times, and enjoys the beautiful scenery. If you’re looking for something near the Biennale, he would advise stopping in the bacaro El Refolo—not a proper restaurant, but rather a typical Venetian bar where you can have a glass of wine at the bar while eating traditional tapas, called cicchetti. It is, as Urbinati, says, "the perfect place to have an aperitif after visiting the Biennale."

Shown here is cicchitti in Venice, the local tapas found at bars.

Tips For Speaking the Lingo 

If you truly want to look like a local, Urbinati suggests learning the local dialect, which is full of curious expressions. Try these out while you’re wandering the streets of Venice, and maybe even stop at a bar to eat some cicchetti

Caiigo: Caigo, in Venetian dialect, is the mist that rises up from the lagoon waters. It's the word for the rare atmosphere that welcomes Venetian fishermen at dawn. 

Bigoi: This is a distinctive type of pasta that's similar to traditional spaghetti, but thicker. There isn’t a real official name for this fatter pasta—it's simply, bigoi

Goto: This is the way to say "glass" of wine or water. 

Ocio: This means eye. It's a way to say, "Pay attention to." 

Foresto: This means foreign—a person that doesn’t live in Venice.  


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