What to see and do for visitors to the island of Giudecca in Venice

"Forget carnival, forget New Year's Eve. The biennale is the event for Venice," Paolo Morra says. As general manager of the Sina Centurion Palace hotel, a stylish bolthole in the arts-centric district of Dorsoduro, Morra walks the walk.

His hotel offers exhibition space to artists during each biennale; among this year's works are eye-catching sculptures by Bruno Catalano, life-size humans with their middles missing that are as much feats of engineering as they are works of art. "It is nice to be able to bring our guests something extra," Morro says.

Morra is not the only Venetian to embrace the biennale. Few cities showcase contemporary art as enthusiastically as Venice does during its semi-annual celebration.

The official event takes place over two key venues – the Arsenale, the city's vast former shipyards, and the Giardini Biennale, home to a number of permanent pavilions – each of which takes several hours to explore.

Beyond that lie countless collateral events and exhibitions scattered around town, giving visitors the perfect excuse to discover new corners of the city.

I start my exploration on the island of Giudecca, a place I have previously visited only briefly. Once home to some of the city's heavy industry, Giudecca's huge former factories and warehouses make excellent exhibition spaces.

Poking my head into various open doors, I discover behind one an installation that evokes a refugee-filled lifeboat; behind another is a furry technicolour cave (no surprise that that one stems from Iceland) and delicate, Turner-inspired images of Venice behind a third. Intriguingly, another open doorway reveals men armed with canisters moving through a carefully choreographed routine. It turns out I have walked into a boatbuilding workshop.

From Giudecca it is a short walk to the magnificent basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, its Renaissance interiors currently livened up by a seven-metre, 10-tonne technicolour sculpture by Sean Scully. Staff direct visitors through the back of the church into the cathedral complex, where more of Scully's works are on display. The usually hidden complex of buildings is almost as intriguing as Scully's striking canvases.

Some of my best biennale discoveries happen by chance, such as an exhibition at Palazzo Mora that I stumble across one rainy afternoon. The eye-catching works, by artists from as far afield as Kiribati and the Philippines, range from striking canvases to huge woven tapestries.

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On other occasions, finding a particular artwork turns into something of a quest. The search for one of this year's most talked about installations, the national entry from Lithuania, takes me into the quiet backstreets hidden beyond the Arsenale.

In no great hurry, I allow myself to wander the maze-like streets, occasionally doubling back as I hit a dead end. Locals greet me cheerfully, pleasantly surprised to find a visitor exploring their quiet corner of the city.

After six action-packed days, I haven't even come close to seeing all the works on display. What I have done, however, is explored parts of the city that I've never seen before – and I'm already excited about doing it again in two years' time.

TRIP NOTES

Ute Junker was a guest of Sina Centurion Palace Hotel.

MORE

traveller.com.au/venice

venice-tourism.com/en

labiennale.org/en

FLY

A number of airlines fly to Marco Polo International Airport including Emirates. See emirates.com

STAY

Rooms at the Sina Centurion Palace start from €224 for a superior room. See sinahotels.com

EXPLORE

A Tourist Travel Card gives you unlimited access to the city's fleet of vaporetti. Passes range in duration from 12 hours to seven days and are available at the airport and at major vaporetto stops.

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