Burano Like a Local
by Deborah Loeb Bohren
It had been slightly more than two years since my last international adventure when I boarded the plane to Italy last month. I felt like a novice traveler again, a bit unsure between ever-changing pandemic rules and wondering if I remembered to pack everything. Luckily traveling is just like riding a bike and almost as soon as the plane took off it was easy to get my travel groove back.
Often called one of the most colorful places on earth, Burano is a small circular island in the northern part of the Venetian lagoon. The island has a legacy of fishing and lacemaking but today tourism is the island’s mainstay, with rows of houses painted in rainbow hues of every imaginable color the main draw.
I’ve been told the tradition of painting each house a different color evolved so that fishermen could more easily find the island in the dense fog as well as that it was done to stop people from accidentally walking into their neighbors’ home. Whatever the reason, the result is energizing, uplifting, and will make you smile.
Because it’s an easy 20-minute vaporetto ride from Venice most people come from Venice for the day, something I’ve done about a dozen times over the past 14 years. This time though I wanted my visit to be different; I thought it was high time I experienced Burano like a local.
Enter Casa Burano, a hotel of sorts — its rooms spread out across five traditional Buran-ese houses. After thousands (yes thousands) of photographs of the homes’ exteriors, I was excited to see what lay behind the doors and windows. My room occupied the entire second floor of a bright yellow house with a view of blue and orange houses out my windows. The interior was sleek and contemporary in stark contrast to the traditional exterior creating a best of both worlds vibe.
With a luxurious bathroom complete with a large soaking tub, shower with multiple shower heads and jets (I think I counted six), and a steam setting, it was perfect for unwinding after hours of walking around the island.
As a photographer addicted to color, I spend virtually all of my time on Burano circumnavigating and exploring the island through my lens. At 0.13 miles it’s the perfect size for making several “loops” a day (which, even at its tiny size, easily added up to 10,000+ steps) because each house morphs from pastel to bold and back again as the sun moves through the sky. For me, taking photographs on Burano is not dissimilar to the old Lay’s potato chips tag line: Betcha’ can’t eat (or in this case take) just one.
I did need sustenance as I kept walking in circles so I headed to Trattoria Al Gatto Nero which can trace its roots back to a humble trattoria at the same location since 1945 and where I ate lunch on my very first trip to Burano in 2008. Chef Ruggero has been presiding over the kitchen with help from his wife Lucia for more than 50 years.
The restaurant focuses on fresh local flavors with an emphasis on local fish and shellfish and the traditional Burano fare. You can eat canal side, inside or, like me, under an umbrella in the back garden where I feasted on a remarkable meal of local shellfish and castraure artichokes surrounded by squash blossoms. Al Gatto Nero honors the history, culture, and tradition of Burano through its menu in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
If Al Gatto Nero is classic Burano at its best, then Venissa, a Michelin-starred restaurant just over the wooden bridge on Mazzorbo is Burano reinvented. Sitting adjacent to rows and rows of ancient Dorona grapevines, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens, it just may be the shortest distance from farm to table anywhere. Not for the faint of heart, the sumptuous 9-course tasting menu pays homage to the sea around Burano and all things local and included the likes of sea porcelain, sea asparagus, seaweed tempura, and wormwood butter ravioli.
Venissa’s wines, made from their Dorona grapes, are the perfect accompaniment to the meal. If you go, beware that even if you are eating solo, lunch will run about three-plus hours and reservations are a must.
While we’re on food, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Bussolà Buranello, or “compass of Burano”, the traditional circular or S-shaped cookie of Burano. Like so much on the island, these cookies were a staple for fishermen and designed to keep fresh for extended periods. Also, a classic Easter treat, they are ubiquitous at the shops around the island and make a great gift to bring home, that is if you don’t eat them first.
Besides simply soaking up the unique atmosphere, there are lacemaking demonstrations in many of the stores and at the Lace Museum, as well as opportunities to kayak in the canals, fish in the lagoon or indulge in a wine tasting at Venissa.
By staying on Burano for two nights I got to experience the calm and beauty of the island without the hordes of day trippers, to see the island waking up in the soft morning light, and settling in for the evening calm. But what brings me back to Burano time and time again, are the colors of the island, colors that feed my senses and simply make me happy.
Deborah Loeb Bohren is a fine art and travel photographer. Photography has been Deb’s passion since her father put a camera in her hand when she was only five years old. Today she combines that passion with her love of travel, using her camera to capture the intersection and interplay of light, line and color to create visual stories from the flea markets of Paris to the dunes of Morocco and from Machu Picchu to Havana and beyond. She lives in New York.
Go to http://www.travelinglensphoto.com/ for info about her online photo workshops.