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Artisan Shops for Masks, Glass, and Food in Venice
Venice is one of the most visited cities in Italy—indeed, the world—and its main sites are often crowded with tourists milling about the nearby stores and kiosks selling mass-produced souvenir gondolier hats, mask refrigerator magnets, blown-glass menagerie, and similar nick-knacks.
Luckily, Venice is also a city in which it is amazingly simple to shake off the crowds and the consumerism...just a few winding streets away, intrepid visitors will find blessedly quiet piazze or squares (known as campi in Venice), shimmering deserted canals spanned by picturesque bridges, and tiny artisan boutiques and quirky local shops stocked with unique and uniquely-Venetian wares. Here are a few worth the wander:
Where to Buy Masks
Masks are everywhere in Venice (It is slightly deflating to discover that the ubiquitous elaborate styles date back from no more than a few decades ago; historically, masks in Venice were anonymously standard white or black), but one of the best artisan shops is Papier Mache, where the artists work from original molds to form the base, and then decorate the masks in traditional or contemporary designs. They also offer hands-on mask-making workshops.
Where to Buy Glass
Murano glass is one of Venice’s most recognizable wares, and the city has been making the world’s most prestigious hand-blown glassware for centuries. If you are going to see art glass anywhere on the island of Murano, you may as well go straight to the top and visit the Seguso family foundry, Vetreria Artistica Archimede Seguso. Though the Archimede--considered one of the 20th century’s greatest glass artists with works in many museums worldwide--passed away in 1999, the Seguso atilier continues his tradition of creating breathtaking and creative pieces.
Historic Food Shops
Italy is nothing if not passionate about food, and there are a number of historic food shops in Venice that are worth a visit. To satisfy a sweet tooth, head to Dal Mas Pasticceria, where the Balestra family has been feeding the residents of Cannaregio neighborhood and all of Venice their excellent chocolates and pastries since 1906. For savory treats, Casa del Parmigiano, just steps away from the Rialto market stocks some of Italy’s finest charcuterie and cheeses. Around the corner, at Drogheria Mascari you can visit the last remaining spice merchant on Calle D egli Spezieri, once Venice’s High Street of spices.Continue to 2 of 2 below.
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Shops for Shoes, Accessories and Books in Venice
Italy as a whole is known for its excellent quality (and stunningly beautiful) shoes, and Venice is no exception. You might easily pass by Giovanna Zanella’s workshop on a tiny called in the Castello district, but the colorful and whimsical shoes crowding the shop window will stop you in your tracks. Many seem straight out of a fairytale, with their delightful and fantastical swirling leather, floral, and animal designs.
If you are drawn to any kiosk in Venice, let it be the Malefatte stand in Campo Santo Stefano. Here you can purchase with your conscience, knowing that you are lending a hand to a solidarity project involving the Venetian prison population. These Mascari you urban bags, tshirts, accessories, and organic personal care products are made by local detainees as both occupational therapy and job training and are sure to be an eye-catcher and conversation-starter on the streets. They also sell through a number of local shops, a list of which can be found under I Nostri Rivenditori on their website.
Venice is often downplayed as an Italian Disneyland, a fantasy city with no genuine local residents still living there. To disprove this, look no further than the quirky Libreria Acqua Alta bookstore, on Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa. A landmark as only the musty corner neighborhood bookstore can be, this charmingly topsy-turvy mess of books stacked on tables, in boats, under cats, between chairs, and, finally, in the form of a staircase serving as the emergency fire exit, is proof enough that a pulse still beats through the heart and along the veins of Venice. Be prepared to elbow your way through the browsers and have a chat with the gregarious Luigi, proprietor and local institution.
Shopping in Venice was written by Rebecca Winke, an American who lives in Italy. For more shopping with Rebecca, see Assisi Boutiques and Artisan Shops.