In the heat of the summer months, when the streets are overcome with tourists and congestion of the narrow streets can be blamed on excessive foot traffic, sneaking off to find a peaceful haven in the shadows away from the bustling piazzas and well-trodden canal walkways is a must for all, not just the crowd-haters amongst us.
Venice is a city full of tradition and hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Once you head away from the natural tourist trails surrounding San Marco Piazza and head into the quieter streets where Venetians spend their days you will undercover the true beauty of this crumbling, albeit charming, metropolis.
Since a teenager, I have wandered miles around this unique, water-infused labyrinth seeking out the true face of a city loved by millions. Each day the streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site are swamped by over 60,000 tourists as they leave the comfort of their cruise ships and hotel rooms in search of a slice of the magic that has inspired so many over the years.
“There is something so different in
Venice from any other place in
the world, that you leave at
once all accustomed habits and
everyday sights to enter an
For me, the ‘enchanted garden’ holds many hidden treasures, including one of the most distinctive bookshops I have ever had the pleasure of exploring.
Set in a quiet alcove, moments away from the commotion of modern day Venice, Libreria Acqua Alta, is a bookshop with a twist.
Not just for book geeks, this peculiar, yet inviting retreat will captivate all that enter. You will be drawn inside after passing by and seeing the bizarre scene that confronts you. Never before have I stumbled across a bookshop happy to display novels in an ancient, rusting wheel-barrow that you first gaze upon because of the striking cherry-red colour of its wheel against the ashen stone floor. At this point you begin to question whether you should sit down on the rocking chair, that has clearly seen better days, to peruse through the untold gems yellowing in the open air or take a leap of faith and head into explore the cluttered, bespoke bookshop.
The bookshelves are bulging with a mixture of musty antique finds, new releases and maps – both new and old. Add to this bookmarks, postcards, an odd collection of prints and a section devoted to Casanova and you begin to realise that this is not just a treasure trove for bibliophiles but a hoarder’s paradise.
Not only are books stacked on shelves, creaking under the pressure, but wander further inside and you will see that every nook and cranny has been crammed full to delight all book junkies. Aisles are narrow to allow for the ever-growing collection. The inventive and ingenious use of bathtubs, canoes, boats and a gondola allow for even more to be displayed, despite the ever-present threat of rising canal water.
The affable and polite owner, Luigi Frizzo, is always on hand to help find the book you desire – name a book and if it is in his collection, he knows exactly where it is. Every genre and most languages are catered for in this remarkable hideaway.
The eccentric nature of this fascinating place continues as you browse further into its depths. With a reading corner on the steps of the canal and an outdoor staircase made entirely out of books stacked high allowing you to venture up to see over the wall into the adjourning waterway, this is a wonderful place to spend time.
“In Venice, things not always as they first appear…”
(Laura Morelli, The Gondola Maker)
Since opening its doors, Libreria Acqua Alta, has grown in popularity, becoming a stop-off for all book lovers, cartographers and anyone with an intrigue for something different. Even if you don’t purchase anything, which in truth will be difficult when surrounded by such a vast amount of literature, the owner is happy for people to simply wander around, explore and snap away with their cameras.
If, when you visit this ageing city, you find yourself in the Castello area, take a moment to seek out this unique bookshop and see for yourself the quirky insides of one of Venice’s hidden wonders.
How to find Libreria Acqua Alta
Open daily from 9am – 8pm
- Address:Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa (Corte Senza Nome) | 5176/B – Castello, 30122 Venice, Italy – it’s close to Piazza San Giovanni e Paolo. If you get lost, don’t worry – ask a local and they will help to direct you to the right spot.