VENICE — As a gondola glides by, summer sunlight glints off the water and reflects from the bridges, buildings, and paving stones. Calculating the hour from the slant of the sun, you begin walking in the shadiest part of the piazza. Forget the shops on that side, this side is cooler.
In a city where each building is more beautiful than the one before, each street more charming, each gelato shop more tempting, you suddenly realize you need a break from so much civilization. You need a tree.
Venice is full of greenery - if you know where to look. Gardens - both public and private - dot the island city, inviting even the most ambitious shopper to slow down and rest in the leafy shade.
Here's where to find tranquil spots of nature in what was once the Most Serene Republic of Venice.
Giardinetti Reali Located just a few steps from the Piazza San Marco, these public gardens were built by Napoleon so he would have a nice view from his offices toward the Grand Canal and the lagoon. Filled with trees and flowers, winding paths, and a lovely arbor, the park is loaded with benches beckoning the weary.
This green space is located between the San Marco vaporetto (water bus) stop, and the Piazetta, where St. Mark's Lion and St. Theodore perch on their high columns looking over the water. Facing the Grand Canal, turn to your right and walk along the waterfront, where you will see the gate on the right, past the kiosks. Public rest-rooms are available at the far western end of the garden. The gate is locked at night.
Giardini Pubblici The green soul of Venice is located away from the bustle of the central tourist areas, but only a pleasant 20-minute stroll (or a short vaporetto ride) away, along the Riva degli Schiavoni. Beginning at the statue of Garibaldi just off the Via Garibaldi in the eastern end of the Castello district, enjoy the calm arcade of trees along the Viale Garibaldi before joining the public gardens and the grounds of the Biennale d'Arte exhibition grounds.
In odd-numbered years (including 2001) from June to September, this international festival of modern and contemporary art occupies open spaces as well as permanent buildings devoted to more than 40 individual countries.
Farther along the waterfront, the Parco delle Rimembranze is an expanse of grassy lawns, tall trees, playgrounds, and park benches. Cross to the shops on the wide Viale Quattro Novembre to gather the makings for a delightful picnic under the shade and in sight of the lagoon.
Campo Santa Margherita A large open plaza, Santa Margherita is situated in a largely residential district in Dorsoduro. Cooks buy their fruits, vegetables, and fish from the open market here, mothers stroll with their babies, grandfathers play cards and watch the slow swirl of everyday life.
Huge trees shade the large space, the fountain constantly splashes out refreshing water, and benches invite a chat.
With two excellent restaurants - Al Capon and All' Incontro - along with the popular Pizzeria Al Sole di Napoli and several gelato shops for a tasty ice-cream dessert, one could spend the whole day at St. Margie and have all the flavors of Venice. There are also clean public rest rooms at the large kiosk at the smaller southern end of the campo, along with covered seats and tables.
Chiostro San Francesco della Vigna The cloister garden at the church of San Francesco della Vigna in northern Castello is one of the most silent and cool places in the city. Flowering oleanders and tall cypress trees frame the statue of St. Francis in the center of the grassy courtyard, and tall arched colonnades create deep shade around the perimeter.
The church has several important artworks, including paintings by Paolo Veronese and Giovanni Bellini, and an imposing 1572 facade by Venice's master architect Andrea Palladio. Few tourists venture into this quiet district, though it is only a few minutes walk from the more familiar Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (San Zanipolo).
Sculpture Garden, Peggy Guggenheim Collection The Guggenheim Museum, in Dorsoduro along the Grand Canal, is located in the surprisingly modern-looking 18th-century Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. Intended as a "standard" four-story palace, it was left unfinished at only one floor when American art dealer and patron Peggy Guggenheim purchased it as her home in 1949.
Now a museum displaying her vast collection, the interior courtyard is filled with sculpture, trees, and flowers, and a memorial to her beloved pet dogs. Overlooking the garden is a lovely terrace where light meals are served. Browse the museum bookstore, buy a book of her memoirs, and sip an iced drink on the terrazzo surrounded by the contemporary art she loved.
If you are green with envy each time you spot a wisteria vine trailing over a tall wall, it might be time for you to find a Venice garden to call your own for a few days.
Some hotels and pensioni have courtyards for the use of their guests. Or consider renting an apartment in an old palazzo that offers a view on a private yard, where you awaken to the sound of songbirds.
You needn't go far to find green tranquility in Venice - just step off the beaten track to find a tree, and relax in its soothing shade.
How to get there and where to stay
From Venice's Marco Polo Airport, take the spectacular boat ride into the city on the Cooperativa San Marco public water bus (about $8 per person one-way; obtain tickets from the office near the Arrivals exit), but avoid the very expensive water taxi (private boat).
Or take the ATVO bus, meeting all scheduled arrivals (about $3) to Piazzale Roma parking area. From there it is easy to catch a vaporetto (water-bus) to any stop in Venice.
For a choice of apartment accommodations, see Views on Venice (www.viewsonvenice.com; phone 011-39-041-241-1149), which rents studios, apartments and entire palazzi of up to three bedrooms and three baths for four days or more at surprisingly reasonable rates. Each has a fully outfitted kitchen - ours included fresh bread and fruit for breakfast, along with coffee and a small espresso machine. Some boast a terrace, courtyard, or garden and several have stupendous views.
You'll find lists of hotels with ratings, number of rooms, and contact numbers at www.stb.dircon.co.ukhotels.htm, www.venere.it/venezia index.html.en, and www.meetingvenice.it.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society