Who in the world has never dreamed of visiting Venice one day ? The canals, the gondolas, the exceptional architecture, the sense of mystery and romance…Italy’s pearl is literally brimming with charm and interest, but imagine for a moment if you could go and explore this unique city, paddling on an SUP. That was the challenge France’s terrible twosome the Teulade brothers, Ludovic and Jeremy set themselves, an off-the-wall adventure that permitted them a very different view of all the marvels Venice has to offer, away from the classic tourist traps. Join the boys on their unforgettable adventure…
It was a no-brainer really. Which other city in the world than Venice could offer such a grandiose and authentic view of itself from on the water than Venice ? The carnival capital of Italy is world-renowned for its unique beauty and atmosphere. No cars, no buses, and no bikes, here the No 1 means of public transport is boat. No one drives, everyone navigates. So as far as we were concerned, SUP seemed like the ideal way to visit Venice. But our research turned up very little in the way of previous SUP trips to or in Venice, leading us to seriously question whether it would really be possible to SUP the city. A couple of local contacts we made, Ovidio, a locally-based SUP journalist, and Eliana, organiser of the only local SUP club, explained that the local rules were fairly strict. For instance, no SUP on the Grand Canal (the biggest canal and attraction in town) before 3.00pm. Which seemed a bit bizarre, given that it wasn’t any less busy, on the contrary. With all the taxi boats, gondolas, private boats and public transport launches, the Grand Canal is more like a French motorway in the middle of August… And it’s impossible to find any SUP board rental companies in Venice, no wonder SUP is such a rarity there.
But anyone who knows anything about the Teulade brothers knows that it takes a lot more than that to discourage us ! Especially with new OXBOW brand ambassador Agathe Rodier deciding to join in the fun, along with OXBOW Italy rider Frederico Benettolo, bringing a little local knowledge to the adventure. Four riders, more than ready to explore the delights of Venice by stand up paddle.
Obviously we start off by paddling along the Grand Canal. It’s 7.00am and the traffic is fairly calm. But after a few paddle strokes in the vicinity of the Rialto bridge, Jeremy and Ludovic encounter the local law-enforcers, the Polizia di Venezia… After a rapid verbal rap on the knuckles, and having been on the water for half an hour at best, we decide to explore some of the smaller canals. A good plan, as we quickly find we have the canals mostly to ourselves. This is when we start truly discovering Venice’s historic architectural heritage, and we quickly understand why it is one of the most prominent and important of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
We rapidly lose ourselves in the maze of waterways and every « junction » is another eye-opening experience as yet another amazing aquatic « street » comes into view. Children are hurrying along the footpaths on their way to school and the sight of us paddling along draws plenty of reaction. A nun parks her shopping trolley, approaches the bank and spends some time observing us. Her face breaks into a broad smile, eyes filled with surprise at seeing such a thing. Away from the frenzy of the Grand Canal, everything is calm and quiet, as if time itself is standing still.
Visiting any country or city also means exploring the local gastronomic delights, and naturally Venice is not lacking in excellent restaurants for testing and tasting the sumptuous pizzas and pastas you find in Italy. We choose a Trattoria to eat in where Ludovic and Jeremy do their best to empty the kitchen with their gargantuan appetites.
Venice is also surrounded by small islands of varying sizes, each one more lovely than the others. Situated 10 minutes from Vaporetto (by motor launch), the island of Murano is renowned for its glass blowers. Further on, 40 minutes from Venice by boat, is the island of Burano, renowned for its different coloured houses. The small fishing village of Burano was built by merchants of Venice who wanted somewhere to hide from the frequent barbarian attacks. So as to able to distinguish their own homes, even in thick fog, the fishermen’s wives painted their houses in bright colours.
It’s the second of those that is the destination for the second part of our Venetian odyssey. We catch the ferry line no 12 from Fondamente Nove, for the journey to Burano. We take two inflatable SUPs with us, handily stored in their backpacks for the Vaporetto. And are very glad we do so, the SUP experience on Burano is simply incredible !
In fact we catch the 6.10am boat, to be on Burano just before 7.00am and the first rays of daylight. The island is virtually deserted and the empty canals and waterways are beckoning ! After 10.00am Burano is over-run with tourists, crowding the waterways all day until 6.00pm. Going before 10 or after 6 is definitely the best way to enjoy your SUP excursion in peace and quiet and we certainly made the most of every moment in the little piece of paradise.
Every corner we turned on the canals gave us moments of pure magic and we discovered things way beyond what we’d hoped or expected. Venice is without question an incredible destination for stand up paddle, and despite what appeared to be a slightly frosty welcome on the water from the locals (the heavy boat traffic stresses the gondoliers quite a bit) if you take care to stay away from the Grand Canal, you’ll be alone in the world in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities ! La Dolce Vita !
Written & Photos Credits by Laurent Nevarez