Canaletto, Tintoretto and Veronese were all local boys made good. The canals and alleyways of Venice were their natural habitat and some of the best of their works is in the fantastic Accademia Gallery on the banks of the Grande Canale. This is firmly on the tourist trail and houses without doubt Venice's most astonishing works of art. We have Napoleon to inadvertantly thank for this collection. On his invasion of Venice in 1797 he gathered up all the best artwork from churches and private homes and shipped them to Paris. Venice didn't get them back until after Waterloo. Now you can enjoy it at your leisure and along with a visit to the spectacular Church of San Salute next door - it makes one of the best excursions on the western side of the Grande Canale.
But getting there is half the fun and you will be entranced by the walk from the Piazza. The Accaddemia Bridge is one of only three bridges that span the Grande Canale and the views from its heights are sublime. Vaporetto's #1 and #54 stop at the Accademia stop and my advice to you is to go to the gallery about 1.00pm in the afternoon. Every visitor to Venice heads here after the Rialto and Piazza and the crowds can be horrendous. 1.00pm is about the right time to visit as it is when they head off for lunch. But the Accademia is not jus a dry dusty gallery, it is still an art school whose pupils draw inspiration from the watery city around them. And who knows they may throw up another Canaletto or Veronese?
To reach it from the Piazza take the exit under the western colonnades. Ignore Via Valeresso where it heads down to the vaporetto stop and travel along Salizzada San Moise. The big names of fashion line this street - Versace, Gucci, Armani and Valentino and all have shopfronts which glitter and dazzle. At the same time Senegelese street-traders try and catch passers-by with fake designer bags and boots. After the over-the-top church of St Moise, and across the bridge, is the huge stone-paved Campo Santa Maria deli Giglio. This is a good place to get a gelato, and I often used to come here at night when gondoliers plied under the bridges and the whole Campo was lit with gaslamps. After another bridge, antique shops line Calle Spezier before it spills out into the massive Campo San Stefano (see photo).
This square leads to the only bridge across the Grande Canale and is one of the biggest Campo's in the city, an almost perfect medieval piazza. The tourists head for the Accademia bridge only breaking their journey to look at the statue in the centre or eat at one of the restaurants around its side. My big find on the Campo was a fabulous internet cafe on its western side. At 5,000 lira a hour it was an excellent deal.
The wooden bridge itself is in the southern side of the Campo and the views across the bridge have to be seen to be believed, especially to the east and the mouth of the Grande Canale. The Accademia gallery is directly in front of you and at 12,000 lira is one of the best sights in Venice. Due to overcrowding they only allow 300 people in at a time so you may have to queue for an hour to gain entrance.
Inside is superb - the first landing is mainly Byzantine religious icons decorated in gold leaf. Upstairs were Bellini and Carpaccio with 'Presentation of Jesus at the temple' and Veronses' 'Last Supper' which covers an entire wall. Tintoretto had 'St Mark freeing the slaves' but my favourite was Gentiles 'Procession of St Marks' with the Piazza on a huge canvas and the Basilica looking awesome in black and gold. And of course there are the Canaletto's - but the problem with these is that they are competing with the beauty of the real thing outside.
If all this dramatic art is too much for you a trip to the spectacular San Salute church is a must (see photo). You can reach it along the back alleys behind the Accademia and time your visit carefully because it is often shut between 12.00pm and 3.00pm. It is without doubt the most amazing baroque edifice in the city. And every visitor to Venice has seen it from a distance and wants to get up close. It's a good place to bring a slice of pizza, a good bottle of wine, ready to rest those aching limbs on the marble steps and enjoy amazing views of the Grande Canale.