The city known as La Serenissima ('The Most Serene') has beguiled travellers for more than a millennium. Ever since a group of plucky refugees fleeing Atilla the Hun's rampaging hordes decided to make these marshy and (thankfully no longer) malaria-ridden islands their home, Venice has defied convention.
It takes a hefty dollop of audacity to build a city across 118 islands, with 170 canals and over 400 bridges connecting them, plus innumerable palazzi and campi (squares, only St Mark's is a piazza), in the middle a lagoon, and yet successive generations of Venetians have done just that. There are very few places in the world that can claim as spectacular a natural setting as Venice, which is only enhanced by the mish-mash of architectural and cultural influences - from Roman to Byzantine and Ottoman - that makes the city a living and breathing work of art. St Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace and St Mark's Square must be among the most visited spots in the world, and their breath-taking beauty is best appreciated at sunrise or after sunset once the hoards of tourists have returned to their hotels for the evening, safe in the knowledge that you're seeing something truly special. (Gentlemen - or, for that matter, ladies - if you're going to propose in Venice this would be the moment to drop to one knee!).
Romance aside, Venice is the ideal city for getting lost. Stray five minutes off the tourist trails and you will almost certainly be lost, but you'll most likely have found a deserted campo (so called because they were once grassy spaces for grazing livestock) which feels almost like it did 500 years ago. You will uncover churches that are works of art in themselves, and you might even get lucky and stumble across one with an Old Master behind an altar. Should you want to get even further under the skin of this magical city, we have a raft of local guides who are experts in art, history and architecture on hand, as well as local chefs who can arrange private cooking classes to learn the secrets of Venetian cuisine. Anyone lucky enough to have eaten at Russell Norman's popular Polpo restaurants in London will know quite how good the local food can get.
While we're on the subject of food (and this is Italy, after all), eating out in Venice can be more difficult than you'd imagine. Caffe Florian is iconic - and once the site of many an evening's drinking session for Hemingway and Fitzgerald - and drinking bellinis in Harry's Bar is probably just the right side of cliché, but both venues can be crowded and extortionately expensive. A better bet is to head away from St Marks to the tiny, blink-and-you'll-miss-them local haunts, where everything is fresh, and made from whatever looked best at the market that morning, according to the recipe nonna (grandma) passed down from her nonna. Our Concierge will give you an insider steer on the best of these secret spots. Start with some chichetti (Venetian tapas) and a couple of Aperols (everyone's favourite drink was invented in the Veneto) before whatever looks best from the menu and plenty of local wine and finally a late evening passeggiata around the labyrinthine streets until you eventually find yourself back at your hotel.
Away from the city itself, the outer islands, particularly Murano (famous for its beautiful hand-blown glass) and Burano (home to the brightly-painted houses of many an Instagram feed, and exquisite hand-made lace) are well worth a visit, if just for a late afternoon wander, and the Lido - where Venetians go for a day by the seaside - is great fun.