Shopping in Venice: More than Glass and Masks:
Italy is a great place to shop for quality food and great style. And shopping in Venice is no exception. But this time in Venice, on my first trip for nearly a year, I wanted to see sights, visit restaurants, and shop things that cannot easily be bought online after a year of basically commuting between work and home.
I had only two full days and, with some larger financial commitments taking most of my income, a somewhat limited budget. However… you can have a lot of fun spending relatively little
Every time, without fail, I bring local food from Italy. Whether that be spices and capers from Sicily, wine, chocolate or my staple sun-dried tomatoes – Italian food is wonderful for food shopping. Not only are food souvenirs authentic and relatively sustainable, but you run also little risk of collecting up a huge amount of tchotchkes gathering dust in your home. Food Shopping in Venice is fun, although not quite the same as Rome of Palermo, as it is a much smaller city. I bought most of what you see here in Rialto Market which, although touristy in places, primarily serves as a fresh food market to locals.
Dried Porcini Mushrooms
It depends what you use at home. I am a fan of dried mushrooms, especially porcini mushrooms. No place in Europe is better for dried porcini mushrooms than Italy. Okay, perhaps Poland or Russia or Belarus if you happen to travel there.
At home, I spend 5 Euro on a tiny bag of mushrooms in my local supermarket, and prices do not get much better online. So I stock up in Italy, and I mean, really stock up. These dried porcini mushrooms are light, can be squashed into any luggage and last for ages. I paid approximately 10 Euro for 80grams of these large sliced good quality mushrooms. I turn mine almost exclusively into risotto.
These may not be super local, but they come from Italy – the wooded hills of Northern Italy down to Latium.
Similarly to porcini mushrooms, Italian sun-dried tomatoes are the best, and although they are usually a product of Southern Italy, you can buy great quality sun-dried tomatoes anywhere in Italy. I bought some in Turkey, I bought some in Greece, I bought some at local organic shops – but nothing beats Italian sun-dried tomatoes.
You can buy them in many different qualities, from large ones for about 5-8 Euro per kilo to tiny organic tomatoes for 30 Euro per kilogram. If freshly dried, they last at least a year in a dark dry container. Normally I avoid buying tomatoes pre-packaged in plastic bags, but these looked good so I gave them a try.
The second lot of sun-dried tomatoes were the fabled small and expensive tomatoes – some organic tomatoes for about 16 Euros, and then the super-expensive organic datterino tomatoes at 30 Euros per Kilogram. To be completely, honest I cannot taste the difference other than both types or small sun-dried tomatoes were really good. I mostly use mine for sandwiches or just with a bit of butter. When I make chickpea salad, I always throw a few in. Sometimes, when I am short of fresh tomatoes, a few go in sauces, too.
I bought all my dried food supplies at Rialto Market. Despite being a bit touristy nowadays, the tomatoes where some of the best I ever ate. The mushrooms must have been a bad batch and were mostly eaten by food moths who came along in the bag.
Northern Italy, especially is prime growing area for the types of rice you make risotto with, arborio and carnaroli. The irrigation conditions, soil and climate in the region between Turin and the river Po estuary are particularly conductive to rice growing, and Italy is Europe’s largest producer of rice – but only exports less than half of it. Meaning: the best rice probably stays in Italy. Piedmont around Novara and Vercelli is a large rice-growing region, as well as the Po estuary.
Hunting somewhat unsuccessfully for organic rice, I just went to the biggest supermarket on the island ( Coop on the Piazzale Roma Vaporetto stop) and bought the most expensive packet of rice for 4 Euro. This one here comes from the Po plains of Grumolo delle Abbadesse near Vicenza, so not far from Venice. It was pretty good, on par with rice from an organic store back home but at a third of the price.
Also while in COOP, I picked up this fun non-alcoholic aperitivo. I really love the classic Sanbitter, which they only had in huge 12-packs unsuitable for taking on Ryanair hand luggage. This one is a bit like Campari soda but without the alcohol. A great aperitivo if you are driving- but not beating Sanbitter. In fact, Non-alcoholic “fancy drinks” have a long tradition in Italy and I find them a 1000x better than any fancy of the fancy non-alcoholic destillates (Seedlip, non-alcoholic gin) I have tasted in the past couple years.
I would have brought more food and produce home, but I could not be bothered to pay for luggage… most budget airlines changes their policies now and you have to pay even for a carry-on. This entire trip was done with a 35l backpack in order to save money.
Tip: If you want to shop in a supermarket worth of Venice’s grand architecture, try the Despar Teatro Italia in Cannaregio, located in a restored cinema.
Jewellery, Beads and Glass
Confession: Two nice hair pins have to substitute for jewellery here as I did not buy anything else on this trip. And they’re French. I bought them on a whim when walking from the Rialto Bridge to San Giovanni Christosomo Church. The Shop is opposite the Pasticcheria Ballarin (great for an authentic coffee stop, no rip-off prices) and has a lot of high quality costume jewellery, shaving implements and hair brushes.
The hair pins are made from Rhodoid which is basically Cotton Cellulose, and are both hand made. Given the price of 11 Euro apiece these are some luxury hair clip, but both are smooth and look great. Makes a difference to picking up whatever plastic tortoiseshell clip is for sale in my local drugstore.
I did visit an antique shop or two selling antique and vintage Murano beads, but none of them were like “wow!” this shop is outstanding great. Shopping in Venice does put a special emphasis on glass, though, so I did a bit of online research on affordable yet stylish glass.
I do have a thing for glass and in particular Murano glass. But with an apartment full of stuff already, and not really into the coloured glass of doubtful provenance that’s for sale everywhere in Venice, I have no advice for serious glass souvenir-hunters. I am planning a trip to a Murano furnace or two in Murano, so I might update.
What I do have so far is from flea market and online auction, usually in 1960’s to 1970’s Sommerso (“submerged”) chunky layered glass style. For a genuine top maker glass vessel a like Seguso or Venini you pay upwards of 1000Euro.
If you are genuinely interested in Murano Glass, you cannot avoid a trip to Murano. Best done on the public boat, get off, and head for the glass museum. Then select a few of the numerous glass shops in Murano.
Here are a few suggestions. Behold, I have not been there but if all goes well, I will update soon.
Once not exactly striking (tons of vintage glassware sitting around on online auction sites tell the tale), Carlo Moretti has made leaps in design and has some quality glass pieces at entry level prices. Their “Bora” water glasses, made for the super luxury La Sirenuse Hotel in Positano, are truly beautiful at around 100 Euro.
Store: Fondamenta Manin (the main Murano shop street) as well as in San Marco in Calle de le Botthege (near Campo di San Stefano)
The grand daddy of reputable Murano furnaces that survived into the present day, Venini has the famous designers and the show pieces. You’ll pay upwards of 1500 Euro for an iconic vase by Ettore Sotsass or Carlo Scarpa.
Store: Fondamenta dei Vetrai 82, opposite Carlo Moretti, and in
Zafferano tableware (not Murano, strictly speaking)
Not strictly Murano, although this tableware company started out in a Murano glass workshop. You will certainly get some great quality hand made quality glasses not dissimilar to Murano glasses (for example, the “Perle” series) for 100 Euro for 6 glasses.
They don’t even have a store in Venice – the nearest on is in Treviso, but you may find Zafferano glass ware in Venice in upmarket stores like the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (it is worth a look how Benetton converted this historic warehouse into a luxury department store – and the view from its roof terrace is said to be really good too)
Perfume and Cosmetics
Inexpensive Italian cosmetics you don’t find anywhere else are a great buy. Manetti &. Roberts Rose Water is my staple facial cleanser and toner, and it’s ultra cheap. Erbario Toscano (bath and body), Nesti Dante (soap) and Breeze (Deodorant) are some other quintessentially Italian brands to look out for. As far as I know, all of them are cruelty-free, none are organic.
I also like many of the Eau de Cologne and perfume created and produced in Italy. Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Eau d’Italie, Farmacia SS. Annunziata 1561 and Gritti Parfums are all great (and cruelty-free) bets for relatively light, often monolinear Italian scents, perfect for warmer weather or wearing to work.
I added to my collection of citrus scent with this relatively simple but zingy lemony “Mediterraneo” Eau de Parfum which, at 80 Euro for a 100ml bottle of Eau de Parfum was not bad – usually costs more online, and in Venice, I could at least sniff my way through ten fragrances in searing summer heat and eventually settled for the freshest. I went to Profumeria Muschieri just off the Piazza di San Marco in Calle Frezzaria. A tiny shop with a very knowledgeable owner who produced a battery of bottles at my request for a “lemony fresh” scent.
Fabric and Home Decor
If you have ever stayed in an upmarket traditional hotel, you may have admired the rich brocade fabrics a lot of these places are decked out in. You see even hints of them in the cushions of thes gondolas.
The best of these fabrics are still made in Venice to traditional methods by a few manufacturers.
The more famous one, Fortuny, has a large factory and showroom on the Giudecca. Another reason to visit other than to enjoy really great food and drink. The Fortuny Showroom and gardens have a reputation for really high class stylish retail. They were being renovated when I visited but have re-opened. Online reviews of the rejuvenated showroom are very mixed, but I will probably pay a visit anyway because I love Fortuny and I am very curious – even if the high-luxury fabric won’t really fit my home decor where it’s all rustic linen and cotton that isn;t easily destroyed by the cats.
Another traditional manufacturer of that high-sheen-high cold count brocade in rich jewel colours is Bevilaqua. I actually visited their small showroom close to the Gritti Palace. It’s a bit of a windy walk from San Marco where you will pass another Haute Tchoktche Shop, Venetia Studium and Decor. The easiest way to find it is just walk up 100metres from the Giglio Vaporetto Stop.
Beware this is a shop for interior fabric only – unless you fancy dressing up as a Patrician Merchant or princess. I was quite tempted to purchase a metre of silk and cotton brocade to make a few luxurious cushions regardless of what the cats might think and do, but they require about 48hours from purchase to deliver the goods from their supersecret factory at an undisclosed location.
Comparing the style of both, I am somewhat more drawn to Fortuny, because of the stunning looks of their show room. However, even when it became apparaent that I was not able tp purchase, the shop manage at Bevilaqua was super friendly and let me browse all the gorgeous samples. The shop is a bit fusty looking, but the textiles on their website are equally gorgeous, and at 200-300Euro a metre, cost significantly less than Fortuny.
But, in the end, no Venetian fabrics for me!! What is one to do?
Well. I was returning from Milan Malpensa, and Milan is a fashion capital, right? So I looked for some suitable fabric shops not far from Milano Centrale, where I could make a comfortable pizza and ice cream stop before moving on to Malpensa Airport. With flight connections still far and few in between, I felt somewhat anxious to get to the airport well in time, so I sett off from Venice before noon, and was in Milan quite early.
I had planned to visit the Etro Outlet in Via Spartaco, but not knowing whether they’s actually have fabric,s I just walked to a small fabric shop 10 minutes from Stazione Centrale called Gloriatex (Via Settembrini 30) . It turned out to be one of my shopping highlights on this trip.
At first glance, it did not look promising, An old spacious shop, with pretty much everything behind an ancient counter. The owners did not speak much English, but when I blurted out my wishes in garbled Italian, they sprung to life and started pulling out bolts and pre-cuts from the stuffed shelves.
So I shopped. A lot. I bought about two or three metres of each fabric, enough to make a dress. All fabrics are made in Italy.
First up, the parrot silk. 100% silk, Made in Italy, probably just round the corner in Como, drapes wonderfully and is a opaque, medium weight fabric.
Underneath is a no-name silk chiffon, very fine and light and not so opaque. The price? 15 Euro per metre. Crazy. I first thought it was 50 Euro, which would have led to more restraint, but no. Shopping galore!
Looking for something more simple for a summer dress, I bought this cheap dark blue cotton for 3 Euro as well as “Dolce &. Gabbana” black cotton , also for 3 Euro. Both are medium weight drapey cotton, nice for a summer dress.
Altogether, I paid 85 Euro for about nine metres of quality fabric, which left me very satisfied but hungry. Pretty much every pizza place I wanted to grace with my presence shut between 14.00 and 18.00. The ice cream place I wanted to visit had an extracurricular closure that day. So what was I to do? I took the bus to Malpensa, showed my vaccination certificate at check-in and went to an airport restaurant! Rossopomodoro, which is a chain and actually not that bad.
And the masks???
Oh dear. This post is consciously mask-free. Maybe I will buy one if and when I ever go to the carnevale. Other than that, no Venetian mask may make it into my house.
The Small Print
This Shopping in Venice post was written following a June 2021 trip to Venice with Italy coming fresh out of a lockdown. Although most services were running, some, especially smaller shop, operated under restrictions. This trip was organised and paid for by myself. I run this blog as a hobby, so I could not care less about affiliate marketing, and didn’t see it fit to squeeze a hotel booking link in here, but feel free to visit my previous Venice post for hotel recommendations.
Not recommending to travel if you are not healthy, vaccinated or in other way worried about COVID-19. Coming from a country with a high vaccination rate going to another country with a high vaccination rate, both being in the EU, I felt fine to visit and pretty safe, especially since the mask wearing was enforced in most places, even outside. At present, I feel that visiting a country where the vaccine is available to anyone who wants it is fine, especially in view that Venice is a city that does depend on tourism, especially those who spend a few nights in the city and spend a bit of money in local businesses.