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I spent a week in Venice, and wish I’d stayed a month. A weekend seems awfully short.

That said (and isn’t it something we say about every spectacular destination?), I’m going to dial in the focus on what I recommend for you, the Venetian traveler in town for only a couple of days.

(If you’d like a peek at sights I saw and loved in Venice, have a look at “Postcards from Venice,” my recent post.)

I’m having a rough time distilling all that I saw, so I’m going to show you one place I visited, the one that stays with me the most.


The Weaving Workshop of Bevilacqua has been weaving velvet since 1499. How could I possibly miss a place like this, one that has a workshop still doing the thing it has done for 500 years?

This was an early visit—tours book up, and I was lucky to get an appointment. I did this thing with no caffeine in my system, yet I could not have been more electrified by all that I saw.

It was a classic Venetian door that hides incredible things inside.

Anna—28, cheerful, her English better than my (nonexistent) Italian—greeted me and took me into a space that felt ancient, wooden, and utterly lacking in USB drives or, indeed, electricity.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a tutorial in 18th-century cut-velvet making. Just know that if you are in Venice, this is a place that captures the essence of Venice—great beauty that comes despite extreme difficulty.

The machinery is very old, yet it makes fabrics that are at once very old and very modern.

An aid in times of trouble, for sure.

This giant set of punch cards equals the pattern for one design. It’s all very beautiful and mysterious. To me. These artisans have it all firmly in hand. Literally.

The strands of silk on the loom were lustrous, sometimes 1,600 bobbins at a time.

This is weaving at its most extraordinary. It takes five years for the weavers to learn this skill. I saw two weavers at work, and it is very physical—pulling ropes to throw the shuttle, using foot pedals. It looked a lot like a Nordic Track workout, loud and clacking, with constant stops to cut the loops of silk.

The average amount of velvet woven each day is aroud 30 centimeters.

The cut velvet is quite dimensional, and the designs make the most of the varied heights. It boggles my mind to see these fabrics.

At the end of my tour, we arrived at the showroom, filled with bolts of this fabric, astonishing to see in quantity, having just seen what it takes to make an inch of it.

A brilliant cacophony of color and texture and pattern, each length of fabric more fantastical than the next.

I looked up from all this dreaminess and caught a glimpse of the view out the window.

Only in Venice, I thought.

The Best Guides to Textiles

I found Bevilacqua thanks to Textile Travels: Venice, a small and scrumptious insider’s guide by Rebecca Devaney and Jo Andrews. Ten Euros, a bargain download for all the juicy places they know about. This series includes other European cities, so I’ll be back for more.

A Yarn Shop? Of Course

Lellabella is the jewel box of a shop I found after going up and down four impossibly narrow streets three times like a dork. It was absolutely pouring rain, but I would not be deterred, and finally discovered a wee shop for those of us who can never have enough yarn. I beelined for a basket of Lellabella’s own house yarn, made in the famous northern Italian mill town of Bialla.

I’d expected to bring home something that looked like Carnivale, or the crazy glass of Murano.

But on the way, I had passed a woman with a perfect trenchcoat, so chic and so Italian. In honor of her fabulous plainness in a land of extravagance, I went with a creamy neutral cashmere. Laceweight, to hold with a laceweight cashmere and silk blend.

I wound my yarn the minute I got home.

Miscellaneous Venice Things I Noticed

Walking. Do as much of this as you possibly can. You don’t have much choice, actually—no cars, buses, bicycles are allowed. Relish the fact that you are in one of the world’s most pedestrian-friendly destinations, and those 20,000 steps a day will take you on a tour of wonders great and small.

The city is an endless maze, and for me, a large part of the experience was the surprise around every corner: a canal, a plaza, an extremely old building. My Google Maps blue dot was drunk or lost or terrible in equal measure, so my old-timey laminated National Geographic paper map ended up working the best if I had a destination in mind.

Canal life. The canal thing is real: on an early morning, you’ll see the postal barge stacked with deliveries, the trash boat making its rounds (tourists get different trash instructions from locals!), the fruit boat docked and stacked to the gunwales, construction boats with cranes, and burly dudes navigating narrow canals with ease. Private water taxis are long, low, and glamorous with gleaming teak. Passengers inevitably stand up in the back to feel like movie stars, wind in their hair. With no cars, buses, or bicycles, the vaporetto—the public water bus—is useful, especially for getting to outlying islands, where there’s more to discover.

Tours? Context Travel is my pick for several cities I’ve visited. Their guides are smart and nuanced in the way they explain a place. Our food tour guide almost got me to eat a cichetti (the classic Venetian small bites that go perfectly with a spritz) with a tiny octopus on it. Almost.

Museums? After decades of museum going, I find my focus narrowing. My pick among a sumptuous array of Venice’s museums? The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Maybe it’s because the woman who did the collecting captured my imagination—a big personality who had the means to collect art in a grand way. Her memoir Out of This Century is a breathless tale that sometimes seems impossible.


  • Ann,
    As always your words enchant and educate me! But, Venice…well….just the mention of the word brings a sigh and tears to my eyes. My husband and I did some traveling. But, a place that I dearly wanted to see was Venice and he promised me Venice when we retired. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to keep that promise. As much as I really loved your entire piece, I especially cherished your words on Canal Life. For one brief paragraph, I felt transported there. Thank you for that! I really hope you write another book someday!

    • Maggie.. if you can go by yourself..go. Venice really is the most magical city. I’ve been 3 times and will go again… maybe even alone (I do travel alone sometimes).
      All the best – Susan

      Chloe – thank you. I have added this to my travel journal of 2 places to visit. Grazi! X

  • Beautifully written as always, Ann. What a stunning tour!.

  • I visited Venice a few weeks before you. Yes, the walking, the rain, the beauty. I took the same picture as you did of the canal view at the gondola repair shop. The city’s crafts exceed the number of tourists.

  • I tell everyone who is going to Italy to go to Venice and visit the Peggy Gugge. I love that museum. Finding textile shops didn’t even occur to me when I was there and now I feel a little dumb. lol. I was also only there for 2 days and I need to go back.

  • My husband gets lost in his hometown but somehow remembered how to go back to anywhere in Venice. “Cross the bridge with the pineapples and turn left” or something similar.

    The plaza was thigh deep in water when we arrived but that city is magical.

  • Great article! The

  • Silk velvet is the most scrumptious fabric I have ever felt.
    Those looms!

  • Thank you for sharing the woven velvet story – made my morning

  • I spent three days in Venice and I just scratched the surface. The light in Venice is different, more gold. You can see how it inspired the mosaics of St Marks. I loved sitting by the Grand Canal at sunset.
    And to think, I spent so many years not wanting to go after being terrified by Don’t Look Now with Donald Sutherland.
    It’s now high on my list of places to return to.

    • OMG – I couldn’t stop thinking about Don’t Look Now when I was in Venice – the little raincoat “man” – scariest movie ever.
      And yes I need to go back too!

  • What a great essay. Fascinating in every detail.

  • I loved this article; our world is filled with such a lot of updated everything that it was so nice to enter the quiet of an expert artisan. Thank you!

  • Lovely descriptions of one of my favorite places. A magical city. And yes, WALK! Explore.

    • Lovely imagery, both in words and pictures. I was there decades ago (4!) and loved it. Wish I had your suggestions at the time. Thank you Anne!

  • Jo Andrews does a wonderful podcast called “Haptic and Hue” all about textiles! It’s fascinating!

  • Magical. And inspiring. Encountering master artisans anywhere is like a spiritual experience for me. Thank you.

  • I’ve fallen down a Venice rabbit hole reading Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series that is set in Venice (about 30 books!). She does a great job of evoking the place so it is a vicarious visit each time. I certainly hope to actually visit someday.

    • I have also read Donna Leon’s Brunetti books – not all of them but when I read them I do feel like I’m in Venice!!! Thanks for the pictures of the velvet factory- it was amazing- no electronics or anything else!!! True “handwork”

    • I love Donna Leon’s wonderful detective too! I’ve been lucky enough to visit the wonderful city of Venice a number of times, as we have friends there, but I don’t know about the magical velvet workshop, what a find! Thank you for this evocative piece – I need to go again!

  • All I can say is I wish I was there.
    Venice is one of my favorite places

  • You have blown my mind, seeing those ancient looms still being used today. Making unbelievably gorgeous fabric. Incredible! Of all the things one learns about Venice history and arts, that was something I didn’t know anything about. Even if your trip was too short, what a memorable experience you had!

  • THIS was an article that inspired me to log in and save it. With hopes of returning to Venice some day, for many reasons, but now, the velvet.

    • Also, here I am half an hour later, still poking around on the Bevilacqua site. Magic — thank you.

  • Velvet dreams. What an inspired trip. I must go back!

  • Thanks for this charming travelog! I enjoy all your posts, but this one was especially fine. I like to organize my tours around something specific; your tour reminded me of many I have taken.

  • Wonderful article, I felt like I was there. I visited a similar weaving establishment, the Silk Museum in Macclesfield England. It was mind blowing to see the amount of work that goes into just setting up the looms. I found the use of punch cards so fascinating, it was the first example of computer punch cards. I hope this and other hand arts continue into the future, it’s so important to keep them alive.

  • Great travelogue Ann, thank you!
    I was in Venice too, mid May for 3 weekdays, which I recommend vs the weekend. It was so fantastic, unlike anyplace else in the world as we all know. The Biennale was amazing, so much textile art, so inspiring, I was in awe.
    I also had with me Textile Travels Venice by Jo Andrews (host of the wonderful podcast Haptic and Hue) and Rebecca Devaney, a comprehensive guide that sent me to the LYS Lellabella also. I bought a cotton/bamboo blend yarn there. We even enjoyed a restaurant recommended by this guide. Its a good one.

  • Wow, velvet art – who knew?! Thanks for sharing!

  • Was in Venice for the first time in March, a few days with my husband and 14-year-old grandson. Even if I had known about these places , it wouldn’t have been the time to go to them. Venice caught me with its magic and I am grateful for you reminding me of it, and sharing your discoveries in your post. They are going on my “Venice Next” list!

  • Thanks for sharing your visit. I was lucky to be able to visit Venice twice in the early 80s. And yes, walking and the vaporetto are the best ways to get around. So glad it still seemed magical there since I’ve read so much about the crush of tourists there that the locals are frustrated by.
    The textile tour idea is very appealing!

  • If only you had written this a year ago I would have had this for our 5 days in Venice last fall. A wonderful trip filled with glass and lace making but sadly zero yarn. We will definitely go back and I’m thrilled I’ll have your article and links bookmarked for the next trip. We’ll be in Spain this fall? Any suggestions?

  • I’ve been to Venice many ,many times. It stays in your heart forever.

  • Oh yes, I, too, have been to the Lellabella shop, slightly larger than a big closet, but full of knitting and yarny wonders. The unique knitted sweaters and dresses hanging on display are not to be believed. Both mother and daughter were there and actually let me try on some of them. Gorgeous works of art. I came home with some of their yarn … how could I not? I have yet to land on a project that will live up to the joyful experience of just being in that beautiful shop in that beautiful setting with such beautiful people on that special day.

  • Mmm, your tour sounds delicious. Including the tiny octopus.

  • I visited Bevilaqua last April. I also know very well the wool shop.
    Very nice photos. Thanks.

  • Wonderfully informative article. I was just in Venice and had no idea that this workshop existed.. thanks!

  • Thank you for this lovely article. I was in Venice for 3 days about a year and a half ago and found a couple of yarn shops but didn’t think of a textile tour! A huge thanks for the textile travels link! I’m ordering a booklet now for a trip to Lyon on the fall. Can’t wait to see what it has in there.

  • Returning to Venice this fall for the Biennale and this gives me some great ideas to explore for a diversion and to see a “new” part of Venice- thanks!

  • I took a group tour to Italy and Greece this April and talked our tour manager into ushering me to Lellabella during one of our brief “on your own” times in Venice. I would never have found it in the maze of streets on my own. I would have liked to spend at least an hour or more in this lovely yarn shop, but felt pretty rushed due to the tour manager waiting outside. I managed to pick out 3 colors of a luscious suri alpaca/wool/polyamide/cashmere blend (black, gray, and teal). Now I just need to find the perfect pattern…

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