If you want to spend some time discovering the lesser known islands of Venice, which lie amongst the shallow waters of the lagoon, you need a free day, a favourable climate, no car, no watch and a love of walking and discovering places full of history and mystery. There are some we particularly recommend. “Less well-known” does not necessarily mean “smaller”; the proof of this is Sant’Erasmo, the second largest island, after Venice, in terms of area. The island of Sant’Erasmo is considered “the garden of Venice” because of its abundant production of fruit and vegetables. In particular, it is known for the typical “castraure“, small artichokes maturing in late April.
When these are ripe, a folk festival takes place around the Torre Massimiliana, the massive Hapsburg military fortification located on the island's piazza.
Just before Sant’Erasmo, you encounter the island of Vignole, also known as “the seven vines“. It is worthwhile stopping here to visit the ancient Church of St. Eurosia (what’s left of it) and the military fortifications of the Serenissima, and also to stay for lunch here in the shade of the poplar trees, as the Venetians love to do during the summer.
You can only reach the legendary island of San Francesco del deserto, surrounded by cypress and pine trees, by boat. Legend has it that St. Francis of Assisi (hence the name) landed here after a storm. Returning from a trip to Syria and Egypt he brought back a staff, carved out of a pine branch, which he planted here. From this bare branch grew a pine tree large enough to keep the whole island in shade. A convent with two cloisters survives, one dating to 1200 and the other to 1400.
San Michele, once called “Cavana de Muran” because the inhabitants of the nearby island of Murano used to moor their boats here, has been used as a city cemetery since 1807 on the orders of Napoleon. Many famous people rest here. Amongst them are the American poet Ezra Pound, Russian poet Joseph Brodsky (Nobel Prize winner 1987), the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, the Venetian composer Luigi Nono, the actor Cesco Baseggio, the psychiatrist Franco Basaglia and the painter Emilio Vedova.
Finally, given its proximity to the Hotel Londra Palace and its charm, we cannot help but suggest a visit to San Giorgio Maggiore. The 100 windows of our hotel which overlook the lagoon look directly towards it and, as is shown by our Instagram profile, it is our guests’ favourite view. Originally called “Isola dei Cipressi” because it was covered in cypress trees, its main feature is the imposing Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, designed by Andrea Palladio. The island has a strong cultural value today, being home to the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, established by Count Vittorio Cini, hosting research activities, exhibitions, concerts, conferences and conventions on an international scale.