It’s 10 am on a Tuesday morning and I’m walking across Piazza Ferretto, pushing a stroller with one hand and dragging a shopping trolley with the other. Not quite what I had imagined when we decided to move to Venice, or more specifically to Mestre ,one of Venices’ lesser known suburbs. Despite the morning treks to the market under the boiling Venetian sun, I’ve grown to like my new albeit temporary home, so I thought it deserved a blog post.
No, Mestre is most certainly not the Venice you’ve seen in the movies, with its’ intertwining canals, endless bridges, noisy tourists and mazes of restaurants , bars and shops. There are cars here, yes cars! And buses and trams. There are fewer canals , less tourists , cheaper hotels and a tranquil, easy sort of feeling that you won’t find in the centre of Venice.
Getting here & around
Mestre is a borough of Venice and a 20 minute tram ride from Piazzale Roma in the centre of Venice. Piazzale Roma is sort of a transit hub where the trams , buses and Vaporetti (Ferries) meet.To get to Mestre from Piazzale Roma, hop on the tram heading to Favaro and get off at the Mestre Centro tram stop. The centre of Mestre is small – the main square, Piazza Ferretto is just that, a square dotted with bars, restaurants and shops. It’s a purely pedestrian square, with a large open space in the middle where children run around freely after the harsh summer sun has gone down.Trams are easily available around Piazza Ferretto going to other parts of Mestre , but if you only have a few hours to spare and want to stay around the square, going around on foot is a lot easier. For Tram information, visit the ACTV website.
Although there isn’t much to see in a touristy sense in Mestre itself, its’ proximity to Venice centre, availability of land transportation & cheaper hotels have made it popular with tourists, who hop on a tram to Venice Centre in the mornings , spend the day sightseeing and then head back to Mestre in the evenings., like everyday ‘Mestriani’ do. Consider getting a VeneziaUnica pass if you want to do this, so you have one card that gives you access to various transport options.
Food & Drink
I love Piazza Ferretto in the mornings ; Italians love their morning coffee and they flood the bars, drinking their Cappuccinos and munching on their Brioches. I love it in the evenings too , drinking a Spritz ( Aperol for me and Campari for Pier) and eating bite-sized appetisers called Cichetti are a sort of right of passage here. Venice has some unique appetisers , some of which I’ll be attempting to recreate, so do come back if you are interested in those recipes. If you find yourself here in the summer, do yourself a huge favour and order a Crema al cafe, a creamy chilled coffee drink that borders on being a dessert – you’ll thank yourself!If you need some respite from the sun, the Feltrinelli Bookshop in Le Barche Shopping Mall has an indoor , air conditioned cafe. During the warm season, most cafes start closing around noon and open again after 530pm.
Via palazzo , which is directly across from Piazza Ferretto, has a lovely, cosy little cafe, Pasticceria Garo which sells amazing little pistachio creams (I’m a fan of anything pistachio in case you haven’t figured that out by now). A box of 12 little cakes and chocolates will set you back only 9 Euros, so you should go crazy & overeat if you are here on holiday. It is Italy after all!
One of the yummiest things I’ve tried here and will definitely be replicating (if possible) is Gamberi in Saor, a sort of salad of prawns in preserved caramelised onions & vinegar. Definitely try that if you happen to find yourself in Venice. There are great Cichetti bars all over Mestre, but one I really like is Trattoria Cicchetteria ai Tigli. We were there a few evenings ago ; a Spritz cost us Euro 2.50 and we got 3-4 pieces of cichetti each for free. We then greedily ordered 2 large plates of cichetti , each consisting of about 5-6 varieties and a total of 10 -12 pieces of cichetti, that cost us Euro 7.50 a plate. Needless to say the second plate was overkill.
Just off the main stretch of Piazza Ferretto, there are two other bars worth visiting as well – Osteria del Lupo Nero is a sort of tavern with a very large variety of Cichetti. The other is Casa Fortuna which is located in its’ own little pedestrian square. Because of this, it’s a favourite with parents, who can have their Aperitivo while keeping an eye on their kids running around. Regardless of which bar you go to, be sure to try anything with Baccala (Cod), especially Baccala Mantecato (creamy whipped cod ) and little toasties with Anchovies (look for Acciughe or Alici on the menu). If you are willing to try something more exotic, look out for Rumegal (Beef rumen), Nerveti (yes, nerves – cooked in herbs) and Spienza (Calf spleen). Cichetti in Mestre are cheaper and just as good (if not better) than those in touristy pubs in the centre of Venice. So act like a Venetian and spend at least one evening with a Spritz or glass of wine in one hand and some Cichetti in the other.
Markets & Shops
I’ve never found the need to venture too far out of the centre of Mestre mainly because of this amazing little shop I found called Caberlotto which sells everything from pistachio cream to green curry paste. Needless to say , that has done a lot to satisfy my Asian food cravings. If you’re looking to buy food souvenirs for the folks back home, Caberlotto has some great pre-packed Pasticcini at reasonable prices. Add a 3-storey H&M , a decent sized Sephora outlet and a large well-stocked Feltrinelli and there’s really no reason for me to leave Mestre to find anything that’s essential to my daily life.
What I love most are the daily markets that sell fresh vegetable & fruit, seafood and meat. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the streets around Piazza Ferretto are blocked to traffic and vendors set up their mobile stalls selling clothes, shoes, bags, household knick knacks and flowers.Thursdays are my favourite day to head out as the small organic Farmers market sets up just outside Le Barche selling fresh bread, homemade honey & wine and more fruit & vegetables, as if that were possible. Pane Pugliese which is actually a traditional , chewy crusty bread from the Puglia region is really popular here too and is sold at the bread stall at the Thursday market, so do try that if you have the chance. It goes great with some olive oil, fresh tomatoes and anchovies. Be sure to get to the markets early as the shops start to close before noon.Flower shops are everywhere here too, and they sell beautiful blooms at very reasonable prices all over the town centre, especially at the Wednesday and Friday morning markets. We always have flowers at home which I love and couldn’t always afford in other cities I’ve lived in.
Things to see
If you do decide to spend some time walking around Mestre, then you should visit the Torre Del’Orologio and the Duomo di San Lorenzo Martire , both of which are located in Piazza Ferretto. If you’re willing to head out of the centre , Forte Carpenedo , an old restored fort might be worth a visit – just remember to take along your insect repellant.
We’ll be heading to Bassano del Grappa for a few days, so do come back if you want some great travel ideas, photos & recipes from there.
Happy Traipsing !
x Anu & Suba