(Joseph Hunkins)
Article Words : William Gray | 01 December

Into the labyrinth

Wanderlust's William Gray and his family found that Venice can make a perfect family break

It was mid-August and we were on a ferry that was more crowded than a Ganges Delta riverboat during rush hour. We were making slow progress to the world’s most adult, romantic, couple-y city. And it was hot. The kind of heat that usually makes kids whinge and cling. But the voices around me were hushed because the Campanile was coming into view, rising like a giant exclamation mark above a sun-spangled sea. 

“Is it really floating on the water?” chimed Joe and Ellie, adding a touch of innocent wonder to this most magnificent of city approaches. They looked shocked when I told them it was actually sinking. As soon as we disembarked, Joe stamped on the pavement and Ellie seemed reassured.

The queues for the Campanile and Palazzo Ducale were Disney-esque. Not that it mattered – all Joe and Ellie wanted to do was feed the pigeons, which allowed their parents ample time to gawp at the head-spinning facades of St Mark’s Square. It was only when an over-generous handful of birdfood lead to Ellie being mobbed that we tore ourselves away and searched for something cooling and calming.

Warrens, water and wonder

Unfortunately the gondoliers were charging €150 (£100) for a 40-minute punt – €200 (£135) if we wanted to include the Rialto Bridge. So instead we delved into the wonderful maze of narrow streets beyond St Mark’s Square and feigned interest in Gucci handbag shops for quick doses of air-con before the staff got wise and evicted us.

The shops selling masks and little glass ornaments captivated the twins – as did the spectacle of the Rialto Bridge, where daytrippers were scrumming down on the parapet, five or six deep, for a glimpse of the Grand Canal. There was something surreal about being wedged in this melée of pixel-popping humanity while, below us, people glided serenely past in gondolas, trailing their fingers in the water, but Joe and Ellie seemed genuinely entranced by the graceful curve of palazzos and the non-stop bustle of boats.

We extracted ourselves from the crowds, bought ice creams and caught a waterbus back to St Mark’s Square. There was just time to feed the pigeons again (which were now so bloated they had almost lost the ability to fly) before catching our ferry. 

So was it worth taking young kids to Venice? Of course – just don’t expect a romantic meal at a pavement café or a lingering look inside St Mark’s Basilica. Instead, you’ll experience the innocent fun of exploring a labyrinthine city floating on water. You’ll also introduce your children to one of the world’s cultural icons. And you’ll spend a lot of money on pigeon food.

William Gray travelled with Exodus (www.exodus.co.uk)