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Venetianhistory's blinding magic; Sam Moritz laps up the romance of Venice.

Byline: Sam Moritz

NO WONDER Venice, a stunning vista of palaces,churches and castles perched on a lagoon, has given us some of the most memorable movie images.

This is where Don't Look Now came to life and a paleDirk Bogarde confronted his own mortality in a cream three-piece suit and Panamahat.

It is amagicalcity,especially in the autumn. On arrival at San Marcoairport, visitors not staying in one of the top hotels which provide a private water taxi service should avoid all thoughts of taking the public water launch to save money.

If you can't afford 85 Euros (pounds 60) for a private water taxi thenbeg, borrow or flirt your way into sharing the fare with someone else -it's worth it!

This is what Venice is allabout, whether you arrive in daytime or darkness. Nothing is quite as thrilling as cutting through the waves as the splendid outline of the city comes into view for the first time from your privatecabin.

Then comes a striking stillness as you approach the labyrinth of canals to reach your hotel and step off the motor boat toaguiding outstretched hand and the warm welcome of an Italian. The perfect start to afairytale weekend.

Our choice -the luxurious 18th Century Westin Europaand Regina -boasts the widest frontage on the Grand Canal. From the terrace, beautifulcourtyardor romantic La Cuisina restaurant, the views are dominated by thebaroquemagnificence of the dazzlingly domed SantaMariadellaSalute.

The hotel's marbled,chandeliered and mirrored interior is quite hypnotic and the perfect backdrop for the opulent and elegant furnishings. Spacious rooms have wonderful high ceilings, Venetian glass chandeliers, antiques and marbledbathrooms.

The heavenly beds with antique headboards and multiple pillows in crisp cotton bed linen a rejust perfect to fall into after aday's sightseeing, shopping and sashaying back from Harry's Bar. Moreof that later.

With so much to see, where do you start?

First stop on the tourist trail surely should be the most famous square in the world, PiazzaSan Marco. On a perfect October day with the sun's golden rays highlighting the piazza's crumbling architecture,it is quite breathtaking. The crowds aredeep,even out-side peak season,and pigeons often anuisance, but it has to be seen to bebelieved. Themosaicencrusted Basilicadi San Marco is resplendent and the climb up to the gallery delivers the best view of thecity.

Afterwards, the famous Florian, dating from the 17thCentury, is the perfect cafe in which to enjoy a creamy cappuccino and pastry whilst surveying what Napoleon once described as Europe's ``drawing-room''.

Under the surrounding arches of the piazza,in between the many tourist shops and alongside the Murano glass shops a remagnificent contemporary and antique jewellers.

Venetian goldsmiths make theParisians lookabit sad by comparison. Vesco sells flamboyant cock-tail rings with candy coloured gemstones and Attilio Codognatoserpent bracelets fit for Cleopatra. In Frezzeria,one of the many winding streets off the piazza, GloriaAstolfo is famous for fashion,high-quality jewellery and striking pearlchokers. The prettiest glass- ware is found nearby at Galleria All'Ascensione.

We moved away from the crowds and designer boutiques, over bridges, past Gothic,Renaissance and Byzantine churches (the city has 120 in all), trattorias (allinviting) and arrived at Ponte dell'Accademia.

This is the location of the Peggy Guggenheim museum in the 18th Century PalazzoVernier dei Leoni and her immaculate collection of 20thCentury modern art and sculp-tures. All the greats arehere, directly alongside the Gallerie dell'Accademianext door with the finest collection of Venetian masterpieces including Giorgione's Tempest.

At Ponte di Rialto, where young Venetians hang out in trendy pizzerias and bars and locals shop for fresh produce in Mediterranean style food markets, you will find one of the best local restaurants, AllaMadonna. It serves the freshest and most delicious seafood (ex-cept Mondays) so don't be deterred by the bright lighting: it's reasonable,fun and the food is fabulous. Closer to home in San Marco, Ristorante daRaffaele sits alongside a quiet canal and is perfect for a romantic dinner. It must have been an old armoury as vintage pistols and a selection of swords adorn the brickinterior. There's an open fireplace for winter and a pretty terrace outside in which to sit in the summer. Excellent Scaloppa Milanese and a one -course dinner for two with acarafeof house wine came to 55 Euros (pounds 38). No weekend in Venice is complete without a trip to thecelebratedHotel Cipriani. Even if you have no intention of eating there, it's worth taking the complimentary private launch (departing every 15 minutes alongside San Zaccariaon Grand Canal for a spectacular ride) just to see this semitropical island and to enjoy a glass of Prosecco in the bar overlooking the most immaculate grounds and swimming pool in one of the most famous hotels in the world. Harry's Bar,birthplaceof the Bellini in summer and the Canaletto in winter, is great fun too. Just off the PiazzaSan Marco,it's a popular waterfront place, usually heaving, with tables downstairs rare as gold-dust. We saw one couple, strays perhaps fromanearby wedding party -he in silk top hat and tails, she in cocktail hat and fox throw -offered a tableinstantly. Now that's how tomakean entrance and guarantee service with a smile. Four Bellinis and two delicious rissole cost about pounds 40.

For a special souvenir,LedaFabris has reasonably priced linen and lace tableware, parasols andhandcraftedVenetian masks -while the fascinating Leon D'Oro Boutique, near La Fenice theatre, is stuffed with marionettes, ornate and bejewelledmasks, tricornes and glittering costumes.

Just about perfect for skulking around alleyways on the arm of Don Giovanni, and living out that fairtytale weekend dream.

notesSAM Moritz was a guest of Thomson Cities and Short Breaks (0870 606 1476 or www.thomsoncities.co.uk)and she stayed at the four star de luxe Westin Europa & Regina which offers two nights B&B from pounds 409, including return schedule flights with BA ex-Gatwick,all taxes,and aguidebook. Various regional supplements include Manchester (direct)for pounds 28. Birmingham via Paris (pounds 64),Bristol via Amsterdam (pounds 90),Glasgow via Paris (pounds 76).

Thomson also books any low-cost flights from various airports,if cheaper than scheduled fares.

CAPTION(S):

The Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice (above) and a breathtaking aerial view of the romantic; city and (front cover picture) the many gondolas lined up along one of Venice's canals
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 10, 2004
Words:1043
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