The island of Burano: Venice's best-kept secret

As our vaporetto ends its 40-minute ride across the Venetian lagoon from St Mark's Square – past the Isle of the Dead – there's a stampede to get off.

There's nothing wrong with our water taxi, and no breach of the expensive new defences protecting Venice from the Adriatic ocean that once made it the most important trading port in the world.

So why the rush? 

Because this early evening light is exquisite. We all know it's impossible to take a bad photo on an evening as wonderful as this – especially on an island like Burano that is exquisitely beautiful even on a bad day.

Burano remains one of Venice's best kept secrets.

About 30 million tourists descend on the world's most famous aquatic city each year. All visit St Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge. Some venture as far as the Lido's beaches, or Murano, the island forever associated with Venetian glass. 

A tiny minority make it to Burano. And most of them come during the daytime. 

Why wouldn't you? By day, Burano is a multi-coloured masterpiece – a real-life canvas that might have been painted by a Fauvist. Full of interesting shops – lots of them selling trademark lace the island is famous for – Burano has some of the best/most economical fish restaurants in the city. 

There are lots of legends about why the fishermen coloured their homes so brightly. One has it that they painted the houses the same colour as their boats: if a boat befell a disaster, its hue would indicate which home would be door-knocked.


By the start of the 20th century, however, Burano had been discovered by some of the world's greatest artists and writers (Leonardo da Vinci was an early discoverer, coming in 1481 for the lace). 

On my only previous visit to Burano – by day – we'd lunched at Da Romano in the main street, Via San Martin. Da Romano is both a superb trattoria and a living art gallery, housed in what used to be a lace factory.

Its menu has drawings and messages from some of the famous people who have dined there – including artists Henry Mattise and Joan Miro, actors Katherine Hepburn and Robert De Niro, directors Charlie Chaplin and Federico Fellini, writers Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound, and rock stars such as David Bowie and Keith Richards. 

Its walls are crowded with artworks, exchanged by artists (some famous) for a free meal (the black cuttlefish risotto really is that good).

But on this Monday evening, Da Romero is closed – as is another of the island's most famous eateries, Al Gatto Nero (The Black Cat) where Jamie Oliver was taught how to cook a perfect white cuttlefish risotto in the British chef's TV series about Italian cuisine.

So, after we've exhausted all our photos in such impeccable light, we have "real Venice" to ourselves. There are no other tourists, only locals.

A few determined shoppers in our party manage to convince the shopkeepers to stay open. The rest of us are overjoyed to simply watch the nightly theatre that is Burano in relaxation mode. 

Elderly (male) shopkeepers and fishing folk swap loud stories outside every street bar. Elderly (female) residents stand outside each pasticceria (pastry shop) or macelleri (butcher's shop) discussing their best purchases, knowing their husbands won't be home for dinner for several hours yet.

After a blissful 45 minutes observing other people's lifestyles (surely, one of the principal joys of travel) we reassemble at Ristorante Ai Pescatori. Daniele, our "travelling concierge", has already apologised, explaining tonight's meal won't be up to the five-star standard we've previously enjoyed on our gourmet tour of Italy. 

Sure enough, every other diner is clearly a local. But how poor can the food be, given this "restaurant of fishermen" on "Fisherman's Island" has survived so long?

Our meal begins with the primo: an excellent fish and asparagus risotto served with jugs of local wine (either white or red: no choice). There's a pause while Daniele introduces us to Beppi, a 75-year-old fisherman who has provided much of the fare for our meal. Beppi bursts into an operatic aria worthy of Andrea Bocelli. Then (in words translated by Daniele) he tells us that only one of his several children carried on the family fishing tradition. The others, he says mournfully, are all professional singers.

After the secondo (spaghetti with local clams), it's time for the main course. Unless I'm mistaken, Beppi tells us that this is a bottom-dwelling fish that buries its head in the mud of the more shallow reaches of the Venetian lagoon, allowing its tail to be plucked by the tail. 

Served with a fresh Italian salad, it was delicious, however unsportingly it was caught.

Now comes the bad part. Beppi challenged our group to a talent contest. 

But you know what they say. 

What goes on tour, stays on tour.




Emirates/Qantas operate daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Venice via Dubai. See or


Venice is included on a 12-day Ultimate Italy trip by Luxury Gold by Insight Vacations from $7325 per person. It includes 11 nights in outstanding accommodation, six evening meals including a Michelin-starred dinner on the Isle of Capri, a Tuscan cooking demonstration, a behind the scenes visit to the Uffizi Gallery's private Vasari Corridor in Florence. 

See or phone 1800 001 778.

Steve Meacham travelled as a guest of Insight Vacations.