If there is one city in the world which is made for the big screen it has to be Venice. The city has starred in so many movies - we can all name a few - "Summertime" with Katherine Hepburn, two James Bond films, and enough Merchant-Ivory productions to keep the residents of Cheltenham happy for years (''The Wings of A Dove'' is truly exceptional). But if there is one film which encapsulates the haunting melancholic beauty of the city it has to be Visconti''s "Death in Venice". The location for this masterpiece is the Lido (Beach) which is a short vaporetto trip across the lagoon from the Piazza. Here golden beaches look out over the Adriatic fronted by grand luxury hotels. It may not be as fashionable as it once was but the chicness of it''s belle epoque heyday is still in evidence. And after the claustrophobia of the city''s narrow alleyways and canals a stroll on the beach is most welcome.
The Lido is a sandspit protecting the lagoon from the Adriatic and at its narrowest point is only 500m wide. Golden beaches line its eastern side and the west has fabulous views towards the city and opulent hotels where people stay for the famous Venice film festival. Byron used to ride his horse along the beaches but it was only in the late nineteen century that it became the most fashionable resort in Italy. It was amongs bathing huts and drawing rooms of this era that Thomas Mann set his masterpiece "Death in Venice" which was made into a film. Dirk Bogarde played Gustav Von Aschenbach the aging composer, whose death scenes on the beach were accompanied by streaking hair dye and the stains of Mahlers ninth sympthony - death, indecision, obcession and voyeurism - they don''t make ''em like that anymore.
To get there is easy and half the fun. Vaporetto #1 stops there when it finishes San Marco and the Grande Canale. A return ticket to the Lido costs 10,000 lira but even quicker is the bus to Piazza Roma which takes about 30 minutes for half the price. You can also reach the Lido from other islands in the lagoon. Vaporetto #12 runs from Burano and #20 comes up from Chioggia. But part of the fun is the vaporetto ride. And on a sunny day the views of a retreating/arriving Venice with its Campaniles and domes is spectacular. The lagoon is onl 1.5 metres deep in places and is lined with wooden buoys to shepherd vessels through its shallows. After a while you may think it is the ultimate lifestyle - travelling everywhere by boat with glittering water and seagulls wheeling overhead.
After disembarking at the Lido stop it might be a good idea to hire a bicycle. There is a healthy Teutonic presence on the sandspit made obvious by the hundreds of bicycles by the vaporetto stop. Across the way is a bicycle hire shop which can let you have one for a couple of hours for about 90,000 lira. The town itself is rather posh and the abode of wealthy Italians and Germans, the main street which leads from the stop to the beach is Via Maria Elisabetta. This sunkissed street is full of gelataria''s, baracho''s, restaurants, newstands and very expensive hotels. The Hotel Pannonia looked like it had stepped out of the pages of an Agatha Christie novel with art deco frescoes in mauve tortoiseshell. The Lido is rather smug in a way that all wealthy European resorts are - but it is irredeemably classy.
At the end of Maria Elisabetta is the famous Beach. A promenade stretches along its length and the actual beach itself is cut off from the road by a tall fence. The best parts of the beach have been snapped up by the luxury hotels where in season non-guests have to pay a fee. The public beaches are at the northern and southern end of the promenade but if you are canny you can sneak into the middle section without paying. The first part of the beach is covered in fin-de-circle bathing huts (see photo) which you have to thread your way through to get to the sea. The sands are golden and when I was there at the end of September the water was too cold for swimming. But a good walk along the shore is mandatory and it is a good place to calm your soul and be alone with the world.
Back on the promenade is the enormous Hotel Salle des Baines setting for "Death in Venice"(see photo) If you can climb its steps to have a look inside where the dining room is beautifully art-deco. The hotel is part of the Sheraton group and is very expensive (up to 1,100,000 lira/www.sheraton.com/desbains) but what do you expect from a hotel which used to house the aristocracy of Europe.
All in all, the Lido is a wonderful place to relax after the rigours of tourist Venice. End of summer Venice has that beautiful bleakness that Thomas Mann captured and is a wonderful place to let stress drop away and enjoy your own thoughts. It maybe the highlight of the holiday.