The little island of Burano is one of the most charming and picturesque in the Venetian lagoon, and only 40 minutes by speedboat from Venice’s main railway station. It is famous for the rows of brightly painted houses on its narrow canals, a tradition dating back to the days when Burano was a thriving fishing village, and the rainbow-hued facades allowed returning fishermen to identify their houses through the thick fogs that descend on the lagoon in the winter months.
Today Burano thrives on tourism, with excursionists making up its two million annual visitors. Tourism on this island is like Italian slow food – enticing, leisurely and blue-chip. Visitors stroll along the canals taking photos of the technicolour facades, sip espressos at kerbside cafes, and shop for souvenirs. The exquisite traditional handmade lace on the three floors of the Martina Vidal store is a must for sophisticated housewares and gifts, and it is easy to lose track of time in the many little restaurants serving fresh seafood from the lagoon and the nearby Adriatic Sea.
Casa Burano is the island’s answer to those who want to detox from city life and stay on when the crowds depart the island at sunset, when a peaceful insouciance descends on Burano’s calles and canals, and the island is returned to its 2,000 residents. This scattered hotel, in five charming fishermen’s houses dotted around the heart of the island that have been redesigned to the highest standards by local artisans, has 13 rooms nine of which are suites, and invites guests to experience the genuine spirit of the island and its inhabitants.
The guestrooms are spacious and minimalist, 25 square metres the superior rooms and 50 square metres the suites, and all have natural wood floors, crisp bed linens, TV, Wifi and bathrooms with glowing mosaics and futuristic chromatic showers. Breakfast comes in cheerful baskets to be enjoyed in the ground floor living areas which have beautiful mosaic flooring. But to feel like a local wander into one of the island’s bars where the aroma of coffee and croissants and the chatter and smiles of the islanders are the perfect start to another day.
Casa Burano is the only hotel on the island and it is the brainchild of the Bisol winemaking family, famous for their award-winning proseccos, who have revived an age-old tradition on the bucolic neighbouring island of Mazzorbo, reached from Burano across a wooden footbridge. “Some years ago my father Giancarlo came across a few old vines growing in a private garden on the nearby island of Torcello,” says Matteo Bisol of Venissa Wine Resort. “He discovered they were the famous Dorona grapes that had been cultivated by the doges, the ancient rulers of Venice and we have been successful in cultivating them in the old walled vineyard on Mazzorbo. Every year we produce 4,000 bottles of the prestigious gold-tinted Venissa wine.”
Venissa is also the name of the Restaurant and the Osteria Contemporanea in the Venissa Wine Resort inside the walled vineyard. The Michelin Restaurant has menus of 5, 7 and 9 courses and also an à la carte menu. For their contemporary and stylized creations the young chefs use seasonal produce grown on the island and taken from the lagoon, while in the Osteria, which is also a wine bar, the menu offers more traditional farm-to-table fare.
The Resort has five comfortable guestrooms, and the Osteria has a large room with wooden rafters that is used for functions and events. For Resort and Casa Burano guests and incentive parties Venissa offers exclusive experiences such as rowing lessons with Burano’s expert oarsmen, photography expeditions and fishing trips with local fishermen.
Just across the water lies Torcello – with Burano and Mazzorbo this is the third island of Venezia Nativa, the consortium of local concerns that promotes the three islands – and the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta which has ancient Byzantine mosaics and a bell town from which there are stunning views over the lagoon and its islands.
But the quintessential way to delve into the area’s history and unspoiled nature is to board the Nettuno, a traditional boat for up to eight people belonging to Enrico and Domenico, two of Burano’s twenty remaining fishermen. In this characteristic “bragozzo” wooden flat-bottomed boat you sail along secret canals in the northernmost reaches of the lagoon - far from the busy waterways around the city and the islands - where the only inhabitants are the rich marine life, swamp fowl and wild swans. Enrico and Domenico know every nuance of the lore and legends of these ancient parts, and they are committed to preserving the environment and local traditions. Their “Pescaturismo” tours are much more than a trip on the lagoon, they are a unique way to bond with this uncharted and enchanting part of Venice’s lagoon.