Renting a car is usually how we get around in Europe. However since we were going from Rome to Venice and Naples we opted instead to use the high speed rails. Driving from Rome to Venice and then Venice to Naples by car would have taken 12 hours, the train saved us 4 hours, and allowed us to relax. Since you can’t take cars into Venice, pricing for high speed rail tickets was also cheaper than the cost of the rental car and parking. Italia Rail’s high speed train cars are relatively new; we purchased premium cabin seating with large comfortable seats and tables for working or eating. Midway through the trip a steward came by with espresso for the adults and juice for the kids, and a choice of salty or sweet snacks. We also visited the cafe car which had a variety of sandwiches, salads, pasta, drinks, and coffee. Before boarding, travelers often go to the market near the station for food. The market sells cheese, meats, bread, and fresh food that they will package to go so you can have a picnic on the train.
Arriving in Venice by train was a lot more fun and scenic then parking and taking the small ferry. The train goes over a sea level track which pulls right into the station on the canal. So as soon as you walk out of the doors you see the canals, bridges, and boats ready to ferry you away. At the station there are different docks where you can board Vaporetto Water Buses for many different locations. Alternatively you can take one of the wood paneled water taxis for hire, which cost significantly more but save time. Since our hotel, the Hilton Molino Stucky was on Giudecca Island and required a transfer, we opted to splurge on the private water taxi.
Giudecca Island is only fifteen minutes away by water shuttle from St Marks Square. So while it’s away from the hustle and crowds it’s not too far to visit popular tourist sites. This island only has a few hotels and unlike staying across the canal where it is mostly occupied by tourists, many Venetians live on this island. If you will be staying a few days and want something more relaxed and authentic, I highly recommend Giudecca. There are restaurants, coffee shops, and small food stores if you don’t feel like going across on the shuttle.
As a long time Hilton Honors member, I’ve stayed at a lot of Hiltons. The Hilton Molino Stucky was one of the nicest Hiltons I have ever stayed at. The hotel was converted from a flour mill. Its best feature (in summer) is a gorgeous roof top pool with views of the grand canal. Also, compared to other hotels in Venice, This hotel has larger rooms that have been recently renovated. Food options on-site include 3 restaurants, 2 bar/lounges, including the Skyline rooftop bar with expansive views. Eforea spa and fitness center occupies the bottom floor of the hotel, the spa has multiple treatment rooms, wellness center, saunas, whirlpools, Turkish baths, and fitness center.
After checking in, we immediately headed up to the rooftop pool. At night they sometimes have parties on the rooftop; so the kids wanted to make sure they got to swim. Pool attendants secured us loungers, and we ordered some snacks and drinks. The pool is surrounded by glass railings which provide panoramic views of Venice, its definitely an Instagram worthy pool.
Hilton provides a water shuttle to the city center, there is a small fee of around $9 per passenger for the duration of your stay. Departure times vary so I would get the schedule at check in. Alternatively, there is a public water bus station about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.
For our first night we caught an early evening shuttle to the city; walked around, visited some shops, had a nice dinner at a place that we had visited before with amazing lasagna, and then finished the evening with gelato.
First order of the day was to get Zack his gondola ride. Since the heat wave showed no signs of going away we set out very early. We chose to just do 30 minutes, and asked to be brought away from the crowded areas so we had a lovely ride down some of the side canals. All the guidebooks and blogs about Venice speak about taking a trip up the Grand Canal, but when we took the gondola we only saw a few minutes of it before turning off into the side canals. So after we finished we boarded one of the Venice Vaporetto public water buses and took a cheap cruise up the canal and got off at a couple of stops, including Lido Island, where the sandy beaches are in Venice; which is the one island that has cars. Even if time or budget don’t permit a gondola ride, purchasing a ticket on the water buses still allows you to experience the grandeur of sailing not only around the Grand Canal but around most of Venice if you have time.
Ending our journey at an interior location, we wandered around and eventually came across one of the many Venetian mask shops. Although unplanned, Zack saw this store was offering decorate your own mask sessions later in the afternoon. Dave also enjoys this kind of thing so he took Zack and signed up to make their own masks. Our artists enthusiastically headed over to the studio to select the mask they were going to paint. I was surprised what a wide variety of options were available; and happy we wouldn’t be going home with two of the exact same things like often happens in those wine and paint classes.
Painting took about an hour, so Dylan, mom, and me wandered a bit aimlessly. We ended up buying some Venetian glass and handmade wooden toys. Upon returning to the mask shop we found our artists melting in the un-air-conditioned studio, using hair dryers to dry their masks. Zack was about to keel over, so I took over for him while Dylan revived him outside with cold water. Masks were still a bit damp, but the heat was so oppressive we opted to leave, carrying them carefully until they dried. Lunch was selected solely based on whoever was close by that had air conditioning. I found a small place a few minutes away that advertised air conditioning, but when we went in it was clearly not on. I turned around to leave and was asked why I didn’t want to eat and I said, we need air conditioning my family is overheating but it’s not on in here. Someone, perhaps the owner then came out from a small office and lead us to a second room in the back that was empty and there in the ceiling was the unit set on the lowest setting; he asked if I turn it on do you want to eat and I said yes. Normally I would have just let it go, not wanting to be branded a spoiled tourist, or worse, an ugly American, but it was almost 100 degrees and we were feeling ill.
Once everyone was fed and had some time to cool off we ventured out in search of the filming location for one of our favorite movies. Parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were filmed in Venice. One of our favorite scenes starts with an investigation in a library and ends with Jones and his femme fatale escaping through a sewer hatch, emerging in a piazza in front of the “library” while diners look on in shock. After locating the site, we confirmed our suspicions that Hollywood magic meant was no sewer cover to escape from, and were pleasantly surprised to find the building currently housing a Da Vinci Museum collection. Upon entering the building, it looks nothing like the film. Either another location was used or a sound stage to film those scenes. Our boys enjoyed walking around and playing with replicas of Da Vinci’s inventions. It was now early afternoon and the heat was still unbearable so we meandered back to St Mark’s Square, picked up some New York Style large pizza slices, and headed back to the water shuttle.
When I had first looked at where to stay and found the Hilton, the pool was what pulled me in instantly but my husband was a bit worried about not staying near the city center. However with the extreme heat, as we ferried back across the canal he was grateful I had hunted down one of the few hotels with a pool in Venice.
Dinner was on Guidecca where we could enjoy a view of the grand canal without the crowds, and for whatever reason it felt cooler there.
Breakfast the next day was from a lovely coffee shop that was frequented by locals, about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. They had fresh squeezed juices, coffees, pastries and sandwiches and it was very affordable compared to the restaurants in the hotel. Before heading out in the afternoon for our train to Naples my husband and I decided to treat ourselves to a couples massage at the hotel spa. The spa is very spacious and quiet, and we received excellent service. Later, we were able to join the kids and my mom up at the pool. Since we were going to be on the train for 5 hours I wanted the kids to burn off as much energy as possible, so I selected a later train and asked for late checkout. Our schedule for this trip was ambitious, so I purposely built in a few partial days where we didn’t have to do anything but lounge around.