When the architect and owner of the villa you have rented in Verona says you must visit Chioggia instead of Venice, you listen. First in disbelief (we’d never heard of it), then skepticism (until his architect wife chimes in, agreeing), and finally with an open mind and consideration.
“It’s only forty minutes south of Venice,” Stefano explained, “you must go.” As if sensing our reticence, he and his wife peppered us with the reasons. “It’s older than Venice,” he started. “And it’s a fishing village with real, working people.” Stefano added that Chioggia has the longest beach in Italy, better food and is far cheaper.
“It has the oldest clock in the world,” added his wife. “You will have a much better time in Chioggia. Trust us.”
The oldest clock in world, and in a town we’d never heard of? That sealed the deal.
Off to Chioggia
From Verona, Chioggia is about an hour and forty-five minutes. Long, flat marshes on either side of the low-lying bridge extend until it hit landmass. Coming off the ramp, the first images were…unexpected. Faded paint blended with clothes hanging on windowsills, the boats in the canals long past their prime, fish netting along the sides of the marina.
The main road off the freeway starts to resemble Venice a teeny bit more, only by virtue of the color of buildings, but the style, age and use dramatically differ.
Two rights and we were crossing the first canal bridge. While we’d heard all Stefano and his wife had said regarding an older Venice, we were still expecting….an older Venice.
One of the first views of Chioggia off the freeway. Unexpected, to be sure.
Chioggia is in no way an “older Venice,” if looks meant anything. The buildings aren’t newly painted and bright, but worn with age. Instead of canal boats with a black and white stripe-shirted rower, it’s ocean vessels worthy of a sea storm. The clothes don’t hang just from the window, but lines over the alleyways as well. If you’ve been to Venice, most of what visitors see is bright, perfectly painted and ready for the tourist. It’s only when you get off-off the main drags that you see graffiti (absent in Chioggia) but the homes are still a cosmetic upgrade from Chioggia.
Yes, Chioggia has canals, but it is a regular city as well as you can see.
Then we began to see the other side. Parking was free and plentiful right in the heart of town, exactly twenty feet from the oldest clock in the world. (Venice requires one to park, then walk). Across from the clock, stretching to the water and a mile in the other direction is what Italians call a Piazza- a shopping district. Like Bellagio, outdoor tables, under extended awnings lined the length of the Piazza. The shops are directly behind, the sidewalk totally covered in shade to allow a leisurely shopping experience. Bikes are welcome (not so in Bellagio) and the canals bridges are angled (not with steps, as with Venice) which allows for bikes.
Does this resemble a gondola from Venice to you? It’s so Seattle, I loved it.
The differences in the two towns were becoming apparent.
The world’s oldest clock and two girls from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Clock admired, photos taken and education gained as we learned a replica of the internal mechanisms are in the museum in Verona, but the clock itself is going like a champ.
Not the Grand Canal of Venice, but the intimate, working canal of Chioggia
Time to explore
As we walked, we waited for the beautiful canals full of tourist-filled boats to appear. Nope. Not a one. The canals of Chioggia are not what I’d describe as pretty. They are a bit murky and green. It’s the ocean, seaweed exists and this is a living system, not contrived into a fantasy environment. Bikers rode up and over the canals, fishermen trolled their boats out to sea, and as the sun set, the villagers living in the town began to come out of the homes.
Buildings are further apart, some canals have been modified and the styles are old and new, just like any modern city.
Watching the activity was like going on a first date with a short individual dressed in their parent’s hand-me-downs who was late for the date, only to notice the smooth skin of the face, bright, blue eyes and happy, embracing laugh.
Another working waterway heading to the ocean.
Along a side street, my girls spotted what turned out to be a couture children’s clothing shop at Target prices. We spent about 150 Euros on clothes that would have cost two grand in the States, if we’d been able to find them at all. More shopping followed until we joined a growing number of seniors taking places under the awnings. The crowd was a wonderfully mixed bag of what Dominic Dunn would have called “mature women” in full makeup and big, black and gaudy glasses sitting beside others who embraced their natural, wrinkly selves. They talked as much with their hands as mouths as their husbands in press shirts smoked, making way for continual additions to the group.
A young man, about 14, coming in from a ride, giving it all he can. Not something you’d see in “that other city with the canals.”
It’s not always easy to take photos of strangers, and sometimes, I prefer to sit back and observe, which I did, requiring to you visualize the experience. Yet as I removed my camera to take images of the food, I sensed a weirdness and looked up. Sure enough, a woman, leaning out her window was observing us. It had become a common sight across Italy; an open window with a look-e-loo taking in the scene. Of that, I did take a photo.
The Italian pastime — looking out the window to the piazza below.
A meal worth driving 90 minutes
The Sugar Cafe
Caught that morning, Rog ate a half dozen whole mini octopus, heads still on. It was mixed in his seafood salad, a sight my father would have crawled over shards of glass to sample. The girls had pasta dishes and Rog also ordered a fish carpaccio, which he’d never had before. Different from sushi, the white fish (we never did learn the name), Rog announced the platter size portion to be heaven on earth and consumed the entire thing himself.
Fresh and delightful– caprese (UL), fish tartare (UR) and seafood salad.
Dessert followed on a side-street, everyone having double helpings of gelato in different flavors. By this, our fourth day in Italy, the girls had a fair idea of approximately size and cost. Imagine their delight when the portions were about half again as large, and roughly a third the price of Verona, Soave or San Briccio.
What had evolved from an unexpectedly good first date was now an engagement-level passion with the town of Chioggia.
At the Sugar Café–note all the older folks closest to the storefronts–little groups of 3-5, all gathering, community style for their evening dinnertime social.
The famed beaches
Famous to who? We wondered as we drove the mile from our eatery towards the coastline. As you can see from the pictures, famous to the rest of the world of Italians, not to visitors such as ourselves. From one end to the other, thousands of umbrellas await the flock of crowds expected to descend in the next week as school gets out, then absolute mayhem in August. As we drove along the beachfront, we wondered about parking. While the streets were empty of cars at this time of year, and the inside/beach area parking also practically vacant, it wasn’t hard to image the brutality of high season. For grins, we checked out the parking fees, recalling how the last parking fee we’d paid in downtown Seattle was $12 US for an hour, this had to be comparative, or so we thought. Two hours here on the beach, roadside and 100 feet away is 4.50 Euro. No wonder the Italians in Verona love this town.
The beaches of Chioggia. I had no idea it was Miami, Italian-style. Although, I haven’t seen hundreds of cabanas, umbrellas pools like this in Florida.
We’d fallen in love with Chioggia, and didn’t even know it. As a family, we agreed to go back the following day, conduct more serious shopping and eating, which ultimately, didn’t happen. We all overslept, because we darted up to Venice to catch the setting sun and wander for a few hours. You can compare the two cities by reading the blog on the experience.
Definitely take the few hours to enjoy this essentially unheard of, overlooked and /or ignored town. It will open your eyes to a different side of the Italian world, one truly authentic and in its own way, inspiring and charming.