The new cruise ship that hasn't been banned from the heart of Venice

·5-min read
View of Venice canal - Uniworld River Cruises
View of Venice canal - Uniworld River Cruises

On the penultimate day of our seven-night cruise we made our return to Venice in the waning sunlight. Italy’s most compelling city appeared like a celestial frieze of belvederes and domes. Noticeably absent from the scene were the mega cruise ships that formerly berthed at the Stazione Marittima terminal.

They’re now banished to a remote ferry dock at Fusina after campaigners argued they caused permanent harm to the city. Ships displacing more than 25,000 tons are no longer able to pass through the Giudecca Canal and in front of Saint Mark’s Basilica. However, fortunately for those of us soaking up the view on deck, smaller ships, such as ours – La Venezia – are still allowed to undertake what surely must be the most stunning arrival into this city, where every emotion is doubled because it is mirrored in the water.

The 126-passenger La Venezia has just made its debut with Uniworld, an operator best known for its boutique-style river cruisers. Formerly known as the River Countess and completely refurbished in 2020, this is the most opulent vessel to sail the Venetian Lagoon.

From the riverboat’s berth at San Basilio I could see across the Giudecca Canal to the Fortuny factory, established by Mariano Fortuny in 1922. This is where the company still produces silken cottons printed with Art Nouveau patterns and it was these fabrics that inspired the interior designers of this floating fashionista.

Nowhere does the shimmering Fortuny fantasy hold more sway and swags than in the ship’s suites and cabins. The handcrafted Savoir beds come with high-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and duvets. The marble bathrooms serve up luxuries such as Asprey’s ‘Purple Water’ amenities, while the two ‘Grand Suites’ have bathtubs. Passengers staying in suites are able to use the services of a butler.

View from inside suite on board La Venezia - Rainer Witzgall/Uniworld River Cruises
View from inside suite on board La Venezia - Rainer Witzgall/Uniworld River Cruises

Hari’s Bar and Lounge is the focal point of the ship, a space that overflows with antique mirrors and Murano glass wall lamps. Ruffled Fortuny drapery sets off the furniture, which is upholstered in shades of silver, cerulean and bronze.

In Ristorante Rialto, with its booth-style seating and button-back tan leather chairs, fresh Italian specialities are offered at the lunch buffet as well as headlining the dinner menus. Complimentary red and white Italian wines are served at lunch and dinner.

For a €95 (£81) splurge, passengers can dine in the intimate La Cantinetta where a chef creates a parade of traditional Italian dishes, each paired with fine regional wines. A more casual alternative is Cielo’s, which serves wood-fired pizzas. Elsewhere, there is also a small gym plus a spa.

While Venice is shaking off its lockdown cloak, the hordes of day trippers are mercifully fewer, so now is an ideal time to visit. It’s also the 1600th anniversary of the founding of the lagoon city.

La Venezia exterior - Rainer Witzgall/Uniworld River Cruises
La Venezia exterior - Rainer Witzgall/Uniworld River Cruises

An added beauty of this river cruise is exploring Venice off the beaten path, quieter areas to the north of the lagoon that remain untouched by overtourism. Islands such as Torcello – in the northern part of the lagoon, which is surrounded by mud flats and marshes. Now a haven, 500 years before Venice became an empire it was the most populated island in the lagoon. The Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, founded in 638 AD, was rebuilt in the 11th century. An erudite art historian interpreted the mosaics, including a 12th-century Madonna, plus a magnificent depiction of the Last Judgement.

Next, La Venezia headed to the outer reaches of the Venetian Lagoon – a 212 square mile fragile ecosystem where ocean tides from the Adriatic meet freshwater streams from alpine rivers. One morning the October fog lent the distinction of indistinction to our journey, accompanied only by the muffled sound of remote church bells. Gradually the morning sun unwrapped the day from the cloak of mysticism to reveal a scene somehow detached from the ebb and flow of time.

Having tied up alongside the fishing port of Chioggia, there was time to amble through the Corso del Popolo, the wide main street in the heart of this historic town before pottering past mussel beds on a traditional wooden bragozzo boat.

On the northbound journey through the lagoon, a rose-tinted sky kissed the glassy water where cormorants stretched their wings out to dry atop bricole, the wooden poles marking the navigable waterways. Ahead of us was Burano, which offered such photogenic prettiness our Instagram accounts went into overdrive as we snapped fishermen’s cottages, painted in vibrant shades of vermilion, saffron, pink, purple and sapphire.

Colourful houses on the island of Burano - Nick Brundle Photography/Moment RF
Colourful houses on the island of Burano - Nick Brundle Photography/Moment RF

For an exquisite few days, this elegant cruise had taken me on a romantic adventure, pushing the pandemic to the back of my mind. Back in Venice I toured Ca’ Macana, a renowned atelier of papier-mâché Venetian carnival masks, where I saw craftsmen making the beak-like mask, known as the dottore della peste or plague doctor. A haunting symbol that can happily remain in the 17th century – and a reminder that civilization has weathered pandemics throughout the ages.

How to do it

Panache Cruises offers a seven-night cruise departing July 17, 2022. From £2,497pp, including flights, transfers, meals and drinks (0161 516 4286; panachecruises.com).

Reader Service: Did you know that some cruise operators require specific cruise travel insurance? Learn how to get the right travel cover for your trip.

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