If you’re visiting Venice in the summer, you’re doing it completely wrong.

On a beautiful day, winter is the best time to explore Venice - E+

On a beautiful day, winter is the best time to explore Venice – E+

When the sun shines, it’s gorgeous. Passages, quaysides and canals are quiet; locals are comfortable. The low oblique light shines like diamonds on the surface of the water and is reflected in the cracked marble and weathered brick, filling the ruin with beauty. On a good day, winter is the perfect time to explore the most beautiful city in the world.

But when it rains or fog falls, or when the icy trammontane wind blows down the Dolomites, the damp and bitter cold of a Venetian winter gnaws at your bones. Opinions gone; beauty sleeps You can despair from your weekend break.

cheer up. Bad weather in Venice presents only one opportunity. It’s not just the near-miraculous views of the stone-clad palaces and churches that shimmer like mirages on the water, but what’s inside of them that make this an extraordinary city. What’s fascinating about indoor Venice is how much the decorative aesthetics of the opulent ballrooms and painted halls, the glittering mosaics and airy frescoes have changed over time.

Here’s a winter-warming guide to five different eras of this magnificent city’s glorious past.

medieval glow

The first centuries of the Republic were Venice’s greatest moments. Its trading and maritime power rose and peaked from the 10th to the 15th centuries, making it the wealthiest city in Europe by 1400. Of course, in the intervening 600 years, very little interior has survived – much later adaptation. But you have one of the greatest treats you can enjoy: St Mark’s Basilica (basilicasanmarco.it) 12th-13th. century interior. The walls are covered with gold tesserae and monumental figures from the Bible, and now the mosaic floor, crumpled from antiquity, is dazzling geometric patterns and a magnificent animal scheme.

The interior of St Mark's Cathedral feels enchanting, especially in winter - Getty

The interior of St Mark’s Cathedral feels enchanting, especially in winter – Getty

You get a good grasp of the interior design of a medieval palazzo at Ca’ D’Oro (polomusealeveneto.beniculturei.it), built between 1428 and 1430 on the Grand Canal, near the Rialto Bridge. It was extensively but relatively sympathetically restored in the 19th century and is now an art museum (with artifacts from the Middle Ages and beyond). Some original features have survived, such as the ornate coffered ceiling in the chapel, the open porch overlooking the canal and the arched waterway in the piano grande, and the colonnaded inner atrium and courtyard.

Renaissance exotic

There was still a sense of trust among Venetians in the 16th century – he saw himself as a cultural rival to Rome and Florence, enlarging their palaces and supporting artists such as Titian and Tintoretto. By far my favorite renaissance palace is Grimani (polomusealeveneto.beniculturei.it). Off the tourist path, always quiet and beautifully restored and presented.

The airy 16th-century frescoes and stucco decorations added when the building was enlarged from the 1560s are great attractions. The rooms are decorated according to different classical themes – for example, one is dedicated to Apollo, the other to Callisto, and the vaulted tribune hall was built to house the large family collection of ancient sculptures. Best of all – and decorated a bit later – is the Sala a Fogliami, where the ceiling is frescoed with a forest of exotic birds, plants and trees, from lemons and pomegranates to recently imported species from the New World such as tobacco and corn.

For an even more intense interior decorating scheme, Tintoretto’s epic biblical ceiling and murals scheme at Scuola Grande di San Rocco is one of the high points of renaissance art (scuolagrandesanrocco.org).

pleasure palaces

In the 18th century Venice’s civic and economic power had disintegrated. The city of Casanova, Vivaldi, Canaletto and Goldoni was now a resort town – a stopover for young, sensual aristocrats from the north on their grand tour of Italy. But it was still a great place to party. And the largest party palace of these is Ca’ Rezzonico (carezzonico.visitmuve.it), which was completed in the 1750s and boasts one of the largest and most imposing facades on the Grand Canal. Now an 18th-century museum, the spacious reception rooms with highly polished terrazzo floors, extravagant Murano chandeliers and frescoed ceilings by Tiepolo house the largest collection of Venetian art of the time.

Venice - Bridge to Campiello Querini Stampalia on a rare snowy day in Alamy

Venice – Bridge to Campiello Querini Stampalia on a rare snowy day in Alamy

Ca’ Rezzonico is temporarily closed for restoration, but if it hasn’t reopened when you visit Venice, try Casa di Carlo Goldoni (carlogoldoni.visitmuve.it) instead. This is the house in San Polo sestiere (district) where the great comic playwright and librettist was born in 1707 to a middle-class Venetian family. play.

royal wealth

The 19th century was not Venice’s proudest moment. The city became an emperor’s plaything, conquered by Napoleon who reshaped St. Mark’s Square, and then reabsorbed by the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Habsburgs converted the now Correr Museum (correr.visitmuve.it) on the south side of the Piazza into their private residence, and it was handed over to the Kings of Savoy when Venice became part of Italy in 1866.

The last nine of the suite, consisting of 20 royal apartments decorated in the last half of the century, were opened to the public last summer after years of restoration. The furnishings and decorative plan range from bright and airy to opulent, luxurious and decadent, with an elaborate room in the Ottoman Turkish style built by Austrian Maximilian and King II. Contains a state bedroom made for Victor Emmanuel. The newly opened rooms can only be viewed on a pre-booked private tour (correr.visitmuve.it).

modern minimalism

The architect hero of Venice in the last century was Carlo Scarpa. Born here in 1906, he was a master of understated modernist design and is partly responsible for the restrained and stylish aesthetics we still admire in Italian architects and designers today. Skilled in adapting and restoring historic buildings and interiors – especially in Venice – his work goes unnoticed by the vast majority of tourists. Yet you can see it even in St. Mark’s Square, where the Olivetti Showroom (fondoambiente.it/negozio-olivetti) in the north arcade oversees a subtle conversion.

The striking façade of the Olivetti Showroom in the North Passage - alamy

The striking façade of the Olivetti Showroom in the North Passage – alamy

Across the piazza, Scarpa also did a great job designing the picture galleries of the Correr Museum and also oversaw the restoration of the Accademia Gallery (gallerieaccademia.it).

But perhaps his most impressive intervention is the ground floor of Querini Stampalia (querinistampalia.org), a 16th-century palace, now an art museum and study centre, near Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Scarpa turned the usual risk of flooding into an advantage, allowing water to enter the lower floor that opens onto a Zen-like garden at the rear of the building.

How to

Nick Trend was a guest at the St Regis Hotel (00 39 041 240 0001; marriott.co.uk), two former palazzi on the Grand Canal, recently restored to pay homage to Carlo Scarpa’s style. Couples start at £660 including a private tour of Carlo Scarpa.

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