The motorboat left the Fondamenta Nove with an ample U-turn that unsettled the standers. It gained velocity as it passed the monumental cemetery of S. Michele, stretched its legs in the open water. Sitting by the window, I watched the lagoon sprawling and splashing down below, deep green and mirror-like, impenetrable to my eyes. A fable breeze came in through the open windows, pleasant though unable to relieve the passengers from the tiring heat of an unseasonably warm spring day.
A couple of ladies in front of me pulled out a pair of embroidered fans. They spreaded them open in perfect unison with a wrist jerk and began the fanning – a vain attempt to dry the drops of sweat on their neck. I could feel my white linen pants getting dangerously stuck to my legs and to the seat underneath. I tried to chase the unpleasant feeling by closing my eyes and immersing myself in the thought of my upcoming destination.
We stopped in Murano first, where much of the crowd abandoned the boat, and quickly resumed our journey north. Half an hour went by – a time that felt stretched to its limit – before my stop was finally announced: Mazzorbo. Unsurprisingly, I was the only person to get down. The island is hardly a tourist hotspot ––the local population as thin as child's hair. There is one place, however, that has slowly been gaining people's attention; a place that makes heads turn when you stumble upon it, as charming and subtle as a well-placed flattery. The sort of place that has you aching for a second date. The place I was headed: Venissa.
Venissa is a wine resort cum-restaurant enclosed within a cloistered garden. From the vaporetto stop, you walk along the wide, paved bank of Mazzorbo until you see, on your right, a gate. You walk through the threshold and are welcomed by a stretch of greenery that immediately feels novel for Venice – a welcome change, not just of scenery, but of pace. Following the tiled pathway, I caught sight of lavender and roses, cherries, and tiny pears dangling from scattered trees. I saw lines of vines with grapes as small as a flax seed. A crooked bell tower loomed over the garden like a quiet blessing, its shadow a sundial that sets the rhythm of life on the property.
I have visited a few times since that hot day in May. Once in June, then in August and then again in September. I saw the garden change its palette under the spell of the hot Venetian sun, the saline water condensing in a cloak of humidity as thick as icing, the grapes of Dorona swollen with golden juice, ready for harvest. I saw the roses gone on a summer siesta, the stone fruits disappearing from the branches, one after the other.
And then, I saw the seasons turn via the food coming out of the restaurant's kitchen, every dish a beautiful orchestration of visual and textural elements, every bite a joyful fanfare of bold flavours that swell and intensify and change and grow, month after month, at the edge of the lagoon. You taste the season and you taste the place, and you see both unfolding before your eyes, before your table, in the orchard, as you do so.
There are many ways in which you can enjoy this enchanting place, and regardless of which one you choose, it'll be a pleasant break from the business of Venice. You can, if you like, take a stroll through the garden and the vineyard, admire the installations that are part of the Biennale, peek at the grapes that are as precious as jewels, and enjoy the view and the silence, for free. You can then stop for a casual meal and a glass of prosecco at the Osteria Contemporanea. Or you can choose to sit at one of the Michelin-starred restaurant's tables and let the chef and sommelier treat you to something special, including, if you wish, to a taste of the golden wine that is produced on the estate. Finally, you can decide to spend the night on the property, wake up to the peace of the garden, and enjoy a beautiful breakfast on the waterfront. Best of all, you can do all of the above.
On that first visit on that warm May day, I met with Matteo Bisol, the estate manager, for lunch. I was late and dishevelled, my linen pants a pattern of wrinkles on the wrong side of crisp, my hair a tangle of curls made indomitable by the journey at sea. We sat in the shade of the restaurant porch. Matteo quickly summoned glasses of sparkling wine to quench the thirst. The fine, cool bubbles felt pleasantly ticklish. I quickly perked up.
At lunch, the chef tried us with a series of new dishes. Among many, it's the watermelon carpaccio that I recall with much vividness. The thin, tawny strips on the plate bore no resemblance with the fruit, but then the flavour of watermelon, enhanced through concentration, would push across a layer of quaint smokiness like a mole through fresh dirt, blindly and powerfully in all its exploding freshness. Matteo convened that it was mind-blowing. The dish went on the snacks' menu and stayed there throughout the summer.
In the end, in lieu of petits fours, came the Lippia Dulcis: a tiny flower bud on a dessert plate. Picked moments before from a large vat hosting a small jungle or aromatic herbs, it looked very much like a joke. And so I laughed. But then I put it in my mouth. And I was flabbergasted by the flavour bomb that exploded on my taste buds – lemony and herbal and fresh and sweet and lingering and digestive. I almost cried, Matteo giggled. He knew all too well.
I haven't tasted anything like it since.