Some people choose gondolas, others speedy water taxis but our writer Lee Hubbard chose to kayak his way through the beautiful city of Venice…
For some, their first view of Venice may be from the window of an aeroplane moments before they touch down at the evocatively-named Marco Polo airport. For others, it may be as their speed boat water taxi pulls up to dock at the steps of their hotel, taking care not to get their feet wet as they walk the few paces into their temporary home.
For me, it was something rather less glamorous – the cramped confines of the number 6 bus, under a sky of grey cloud, from the suburb of Mestre (still technically Venice, but across the bridge on the mainland). My second view of Venice, however, was magnificent. And it was from exactly the point of view that Venice should be seen from, namely the water. Despite operating for 10 years, many people (locals included) don’t realise that you can meander through the labyrinth of canals and waterways in a kayak, allowing an unforgettable trip through this most unique of cities.
Having never set foot in Venice before, I couldn’t think of a better way to see the city for the first time. Water is the absolute lifeblood of this city, and seeing it from the water will give you an increased appreciation of how the city works – though you’ll probably still get lost when walking through the streets later on. Although it would be a good few months until they started handing out the golden lions to the winners at the famous film festival, held in September, there were times when I felt like an A-lister as passers-by stopped to take photos of us, and then looked on rather incredulously as we paddled on past them.
If you decide to take a tour, I would highly recommend spending a little extra on the evening tour, for two reasons. Firstly, if you’re lucky you’ll get to see places like St Marks’ Square and the tower of St Georgio across the Guadecca bathed in the golden light of sunset, somehow making this impossibly beautiful city even more radiant. The second reason is that, by the evening, the waterways are considerably quieter, with fewer water taxis, vaporettos, gondolas or cruise boats to run you down or create a wake for you to battle with.
I met Rene (the Danish owner of the company) and our guide Loretta on the island of Certosa, where we were given a safety briefing and kitted out with all the gear we would need. I’ve done a little bit of kayaking and rafting but I’m no expert – thankfully Loretta was an excellent guide, and the kayak was nice and stable as we meandered through the canals, and under world famous sights like the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs.Towards the end of the trip, once she was satisfied that we were competent kayakers, we even went through an incredibly narrow tunnel requiring some contortionist skills, and which tested the limits of how flexible and supple I could be if I didn’t want to hit my head on the roof of the tunnel!
With a gondola currently costing around €80 for a 40-minute ride, the €150 that Venice Kayak charge for the 5-hour sunset trip is easily justified. They operate a multitude of different trips, including one to the beautiful island of Burano. Okay it might be not be as relaxing as a gondola (seeing as you have to work a little to power yourself through the city). Your arms may be tired by the end, but you’ll feel like you’ve really earned your spritz or gelato once you’re back on dry land. For a unique experience, in a city you feel like you know before you’ve even set foot there, it sure takes some beating – and perhaps, in the eyes of someone wanting a little more adventure, it’s also far more romantic.
All photos and words by regular contributor Lee Hubbard