Chioggia’s Canal Vena.
Chioggia, Ravenna, and Trieste emerge as the northern Adriatic welcoming committee.
Improbably created from islands in a swampy lagoon, Venice was never ideally suited to be a port of call. When its fishing villages grew into a fierce mercantile power 12 centuries ago, the influential society that would become the Republic of Venice was born. Today, La Serenissima is perched at the intersection of romantic and impractical, despite its cache of some of the world’s great architecture and art. But as crowds filled the city’s piazzas and canals, the impacts of overtourism became clear, and in 2021, Venice banned cruise ships weighing over 25,000 tons from sailing the Giudecca Canal or docking at the Marittima cruise terminal. Enter the “new” neighboring ports that have taken over as launch pads for cruises in the northern Adriatic – each of them worth exploring in their own right.
To travel across the breadth of the Venetian Lagoon is to reveal how large it is. The fishing town of Chioggia, 33 miles south of Venice at the lagoon’s terminus, is often called “Little Venice.” Indeed, some vistas along the slender canal that divides the island look as though they’ve been transplanted from its more famous neighbor. Chioggia is home to one of Italy’s largest fishing ports, and in April and October the local specialty – fried, soft-shell crabs called moeche – appears in restaurants. Regular hour-long panoramic tours cruise the lagoon’s southern end, but save time to stroll the Corso del Popolo, along which one of the world’s oldest mechanical clock towers rises from the Church of Saint Andrew.
Ravenna’s Basilica di San Vitale.
Lush fifth- and sixth-century artworks cover the interiors of seven of the world’s earliest Christian buildings in Ravenna. These colored-glass, gold-leaf-lined tiles used for the UNESCO-listed monuments glow with religious and funerary stories. The city’s mosaic heritage is so well established that contemporary tile artists still ply their trade, with half- or full-day classes for beginners at central studios such as Koko Mosaico, which faces the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. Most of this low-key town, located 89 miles south of Venice, can be seen on foot – be sure to visit Dante’s tomb and the adjoining Dante Museum, which celebrates Ravenna’s most famed resident.
Aperitivo hour at Piazza Unità d’Italia.
Many non-Italians don’t know that this Vienna-by-the-sea, the last stop before Italy kisses Slovenia, is part of il bel paese. Located 99 miles east of Venice, Trieste served as a vital seaport for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but fell into limbo between the world wars – it wasn’t formally turned over to Italy until 1954. Yet this tiny pocket of coastal history has made a name for itself, from the Piazza Unità d’Italia (Europe’s largest seafront square) to the Caffè San Marco, a favorite haunt of twentieth-century writers. James Joyce lived in Trieste off and on for years, and trailblazing transgender author Jan Morris visited as a soldier in 1946, returning years later to laud this “hallucinatory city” in her writings.