Oi Va Voi Studio
On a narrow canal in a colourful corner of the Castello quarter, alongside one of the last boats in Venice selling fruit and vegetables, charismatic Ukranian artist and photographer Roman Tcherpak presides over an eccentric workshop/gallery where visitors can buy his intriguing handmade postcards and prints or sign up for a hands-on one-hour course to learn “Monotypo Venexiano”, his unique method of printing which he claims anyone can then practise back at home. The ancient red-brick studio is often filled with a lively crowd of bohemian would-be artists, with the flamboyant Roman holding court, explaining what he calls the technique of “printing digital by hand”.
Banco Lotto N.10
The riotously colourful designs in the Banco Lotto 10 boutique are all designed and hand-sewn by the female inmates of Venice’s prison on the island of Giudecca as part of a successful retraining programme. Silks, velvet and tapestries are donated by the likes of Fortuny and Bevilacqua, and made into elegant dresses, jackets and handbags. Right opposite is Bragora, a funky design store that stocks products from the Malefatte brand, also produced in the prison, plus recycled Freitag-inspired bags and T-shirts emblazoned with a distinctive Spritz logo.
Acqua Alta bookshop
If you only visit one shop in Venice, make it Luigi Frizzo’s magical bookshop. Hidden away in what has been dubbed “Corte Senza Nome” –no name square – Acqua Alta is like no other bookshop in the world. The first sight that greets visitors is a 10-metre-long gondola filled to the brim with books, surrounded by a labyrinth of rooms teeming with thousands of new and used tomes. Be sure to explore right to the canal at the back, where you can walk up a surreal staircase of battered books. There are copies of just about every book ever written on Venice, sections devoted to art and photography, and a popular erotic corner. There are always crowds of curious visitors welcomed by Signor Frizzo, an exuberant character followed around by his many cats.
Shopping for kids is never easy in Venice, so a stop-off at this colourful atelier can make a welcome break from dragging youngsters round the sights. Florence Faval runs a publishing company producing playful handmade books for children that pull out like an accordion. The Dromadaire is her art studio, a boutique and a space where she runs workshops to teach kids how to make their own books using collage, woodblock printing and painting. She also sells posters, cards, dolls and children’s maps. Right opposite is Fabricharte, another artisan gem where young bookbinder Andrea Andreatta restores antique books and makes beautiful personalised notebooks and diaries.
Italy is famous for its shoe designers, but be prepared for the unexpected when visiting the atelier/boutique of master shoemaker Giovanna Zanella. Inspired by Venice’s rich traditions and decadent carnivals, Giovanna handcrafts made-to-measure shoes that succeed in combining originality with comfort. Using a weird and wonderful palette of exotic leather, velvets and plastic, she creates vivid, surreal boots, moccasins, sandals and slippers.
Gilberto Penzo comes from a family of boat builders in the lagoon port of Chioggia, but 35 years ago he transformed his skills to the intricate craft of model-making, opening a workshop and showroom not far from the Rialto bridge. Here replicas of not just gondolas but the elegant sandolo, the traditional, flat-bottomed Venetian rowing boat, and the iconic vaporetto, or waterbus, that chugs along the Grand Canal, are on display. The store also stocks Gilberto’s books on Venetian boats, colourful posters, stirring seafaring ex-votos that he paints himself, and a whole host of do-it-yourself kits to make wooden gondolas at home – a far better souvenir than the fake Murano glass models on sale everywhere.
The Frezzeria, running right into Piazza San Marco, is Venice’s busiest shopping street, lined with glitzy boutiques and souvenir stores. Many visitors walk straight past Paropamiso, an Aladdin’s cave filled with thousands of ancient “Venetian pearls”. These are actually exquisite pieces of Murano glass that have been used in trading around the world since the time of Marco Polo. The owner, Michel Paciello, travels the globe from China and Pakistan to Mali and Nigeria buying up these rare “pearls”. On his voyages, he also picks up surprising antiques and objets, so his minuscule store is like an exotic oriental bazaar. Michel also practises the Venetian craft of impirar (bead threading), transforming vintage or modern beads into necklaces. Although collectors can pay huge sums for certain pearls, the store caters for all budgets.
Second Hand Shop
All of a sudden, enticing vintage fashion boutiques are popping up all over Venice, offering everything from Gucci scarves, Prada handbags and Ferragamo stilettos to retro Murano glass, antique lace from Burano and period jewellery. Alessandra de Rossi and her partner Giuseppe Panella have opened the latest store, right opposite one of Venice’s most popular osterie, Antica Adelaide – shoppers invariably pop in afterwards for a spritz or glass of wine. Alessandra explains that they chose an English-language name to make it easier for visitors, as they wouldn’t survive on local custom alone. Their store also has a recycled section for kids as well as books, vinyls and lamps.
John Ruskin famously described Venice as the City of Stones, and there is still a huge lack of green spaces here today. An exception is the verdant Viale Garibaldi, which connects the shops and bars of Via Garibaldi to the entrance to the more official Giardini, currently hosting the national pavilions of the Biennale of Architecture, but for which there is an hefty entrance fee. One of the grand Liberty villas at the end of the Viale hosts something rather different: the association of Venetian ceramic potters – the Bochaleri. From 10am-8pm every Thursday to Sunday, members set up stands in the villa’s gardens and salons exhibiting their jewellery, hand-painted porcelain pots, wine jugs, jars and vases. There are also regular workshops and demonstrations. Right opposite, don’t miss La Serra, an ornate 19th-century greenhouse converted into a casual restaurant and wine bar.
Il Forcolaio Matto
Piero Dri calls himself Il Forcolaio Matto, the mad oar-maker, and that is probably what his parents thought when he abandoned studying astronomy at university to devote himself to the ancient Venetian craft of sculpting, carving and whittling blocks of wood into the swirling form of the forcola, the crucial rowlock, the fulcrum for a gondolier’s oar. Fortunately, the city is enjoying a rowing renaissance, so Piero has a steady supply of orders from Venetians keen to rediscover the traditional gondolier-style of rowing. His tiny carpentry workshop is hidden away in a backstreet behind the sumptuous Ca d’Oro palace, and there are plenty of forcola-inspired souvenirs on sale for travellers to take home: a sculpture of a forcola mounted on a pedestal, his own designer forcola lamp, earrings and necklaces, key rings and wooden utensils for the kitchen.