Lido di Pellestrina is a long thin island, forming a barrier or “lidi”; between the southern Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea.
To the north-west is the popular seaside resort of Lido di Venezia, separated by the Malamocco inlet to the lagoon. To the south is the city of Chioggia, separated from Pellestrina by the Chioggia inlet. The flow through all three inlets to the lagoon during exceptional tidal surges, can now hopefully be controlled by the MOSE barrier system.
The island has an area of only 2 square kilometres, being 11 kilometres (7 miles) long and on average only 150-200 metres wide; with a population of around 4500 inhabitants.
The main industries of the island are market gardening, fishing, tourism and lace making.
You can reach Lido di Pellestrina in two ways:
By the Line 11 motorboat from Chioggia, which also stops at the Ca’ Roman Nature Reserve.
The journey time about 25 minutes. This ferry only takes pedestrians and bicycles (no cars). On Pellestria Island, the boat stops south of the main town of Pellestrina, at the ferry dock next to the “Cimitero” (cemetery).
From Venice, you can get frequent waterbus services to the Lido and from the disembarkation point, take the bus no. 11 to Alberoni; where a ferry-boat will take you to Santa Maria del Mare, at the northern end of Pellestrina. (Below: ferry arriving from the Lido at Santa Maria del Mare),
Cars, motorbikes, lorries and even buses can also use these small ferry boats. The crossing time is about 10 minutes. In good weather there are often more cyclists, than bus passengers on the ferry.
Santa Maria del Mare, is a green area in the north of the island; rich in tamarisk, poplar and fruit trees.
The No 11 bus runs the whole length of Pellestrina, along the road close to the sea wall and ends at the ferry port in Pellestrina, where a passenger boat to Chioggia is waiting. The pier is called Cimitero (cemetery). Journey time across Pellestrina is about 20 minutes.
If you want to look around Pellestrina Island, (and perhaps walk back through the villages); this final terminus alongside the ferry stop is probably the best place to descend.
So, expect the total journey time from the Lido to Chioggia to take about 1½ hours or more.
There are plenty of bus stops all over Lido and Pellestrina, so you can easily switch between walking and the bus; when you get tired. The public buses are always orange in colour.
Above: Aerial photograph cross section, with Adriatic Sea at the top and the lagoon at the bottom, clearly demonstrating the structural features of the island – sea, breakwaters, sandy beeches with scrubby vegetation, sea wall, main road, housing and agricultural strip, fishing boat docks and lagoon coastal pathway.
It is a relatively quiet island, with much less tourism compared to many other regions of Venice. Pellestrina is very popular with cyclists and day-trippers, arriving by bus. Bikes can be rented on the Lido. There are only a few hotels, shops and restaurants. Those who want to flee from the mass tourism of Venice for a while, will find Pellestrina to their liking.
Since the 18th century, it has been bounded to its seaward side by large embankments or “Murazzi”; along its entire length. The sea-wall is perhaps the biggest attraction on the island. It was built in the 18th century, mainly of kart marble that came from Istria.
If you clamber down the steps which appear at intervals along the sea-wall, you can make your way down through a band of scrubby vegetation; to the sandy beaches. Covered in washed-up flotsam, jetsam and seaweed, they are not the most picturesque; but local people set themselves up here in the summer, with parasols, awnings and even chairs and tables.
Directly behind the protective sea-wall, a road runs almost along the whole island; except the extremely narrow south of the island. On the other side of the road are the villages and houses.
Above: the sea-wall, looking towards Chioggia, demonstrating the massive structure of marble. Here, there is no road.
The Murazzi Story. In 1716, Father Vincenzo Coronelli came up with the idea to replace the previous ‘palade’ with a more sustainable solution. The construction works started in 1744 and were completed in 1782. Engineer Bernardino Zendrini, coordinated the innovative construction techniques.
Unfortunately in 1966, Pellestrina was severely hit by the “acqua granda” The huge Murazzi were not strong enough to resist the surge of the water and were damaged. More than 4,000 inhabitants had to be evacuated. Hence, the island could no longer protect Venice from the exceptional and devastating high water. The Murazzi have been partially restored, after this disaster. In 1996, beaches with strong break-waters, have been added as an additional protection.
The Museo della Laguna Sud, now open in the former Goldoni school in San Pietro in Volta (booked visits only); tells the story of the Murazzi and the flooding of 1966.
Website: Little Museum of the Southern Lagoon
On the lagoon side of Pellestrina, no huge protective wall is required. A pedestrian/cycling path runs just close to the waterfront. Following the path, you will see plenty of fishing boats moored-up and those characteristic fishing huts on the water.
Cars are allowed in Pellestrina, as in Lido; but there is not much traffic.
It is perhaps not an amazingly picturesque place, but not unattractive either. Some of the painted buildings are clean and cheerful, others are appealingly faded. One of the most interesting aspects, is probably the general atmosphere – a kind of settled workaday calm; quite different from the neighbouring Lido or Chioggia.
There are four main villages after disembarking from the Lido ferry boat, at Santa Maria del Mare: San Pietro in Volta, Porto Secco, Sant’ Antonio di Pellestrina and Pellestrina; known for their colourfully-painted houses, gardens, fishing fleets and lace-makers.
Pellestrina, is the principal town in the central-southern part of the island, with its houses dating back to the XVI-XVII century. The names of its four sestieri – Scarpa, Zennari, Vianelli and Busetti; derive from the names of four families. They were sent here by the mayor of Chioggia to repopulate it, after it was destroyed by Genoa; during the war against Venice, towards the end of the 1300’s.
You will also pass 5 churches: Chiesa di San Pietro, Chiesa di Santo Stefano, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio, Santuario Madonna dell’Apparizione and Chiesa di Ognissanti,
The Santuario Madonna dell’Apparizione is however the best known, as it is dedicated to an apparition of the Madonna to a local teenager in the 18th century. You can see a memorial plaque in the church on the exact spot where the Madonna appeared. Natalino Scarpa, the teenage boy, is buried in the choir.
The interior of the Chiesa di Ognissanti, is also worth visiting.
Left: The interior of the Chiesa di Ognissanti, Right: Santuario Madonna dell’Apparizione
The Story of the Madonna dell’Apparizione
The apparition of the Madonna to a local boy, took place on Tuesday August 4, 1716 around six o’clock in the morning. The 14 year-old boy, Natalino Scarpa Di Giovanni “the Muto”, saw an unknown woman on his way to the parish church of Ognissanti. She was short in stature, rather old, dressed in a blue dress quilted with red stars and had a white veil on her head. She called him and told him to go to Piovan and tell people to celebrate Mass for the souls of Purgatorio, if they wanted victory. She then touched his left wrist and held it with affection for a few moments. The next day, the battle of Petervaradino (which is now Serbia), was fought out in the war against the Turks. A terrible storm devastated the Turkish camp and many ships broke their moorings and crashed into each other. At dawn, the remaining Turks decided to remove the camp and fled.
Since then, Pellestrina celebrates the apparition every year to remember their faith and history. The festivities are organised in the first week of August and also includes the traditional Pellestrina regatta.
Pellestrina island is renowned for its seafood dishes. A variety of restaurants and taverns prepare the famous cicheti of the lagoon. Many of the delicacies are made with freshly caught fish and sea-food – schie (local shrimp), shrimp, eel or cuttlefish, mantis shrimp and scallop starters. This is typically followed by fish lasagne, fried squid, cuttlefish in a tomato sauce or grilled, served with local vegetables.
Lace has been produced in Venice since ancient times: bobbin lace, typical of Pellestrina, is made by weaving cotton threads that unroll from special spools called “fuselli” (bobbins) on a round cushion called a “tombolo” (balòn in Venice).
CA’ ROMAN NATURE RESERVE
It is a separate island, facing the Chioggia inlet; with only a sea-wall with no road, linking it to Pellestrina. So, the reserve cannot be reached, other than by the Chioggia ferry to or from Pellestrina.
It really is worth visiting the Ca’ Roman – 40 hectares of protected nature reserve on the southern end of the island. An unspoilt beach awaits you, surrounded by dunes that separate it from the pine woods, in which many protected species of birds live.
Chioggia and its port can be seen from the end of the path that crosses the woods, towards the jetty and the lighthouse.
EVENTS AND CELEBRATIONS
Check all the details and dates, because of any resheduling or Covid-19 restrictions.
To better savour local hospitality and immerse yourself in a real town feast, just visit the island during the following events:
Saint Peter’s Festival. 25th June – 2nd July. San Pietro in Volta, Piazza San Pietro Apostolo.
Saint Anthony’s Festival. 7th – 9th July. Pellestrina, S. Antonio Parish Church.
The Redentore (Redeemer) Festival: fireworks show. 15th July.
Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Day. 3rd – 6th August. Pellestrina, Piazzale Ognissanti.
Saint Stephen’s Festival. 11th – 15th August. Pellestrina, Piazza di Portosecco.
Traditional Pellestrina Regatta. The first Sunday of August. A well awaited event that the island’s hundreds of rowing enthusiasts participate in.
Find out about the events on social media or through the Pellestrina Tourism website: www.pellestrinaturismo.it
PELLESTRINA IN FICTION
Donna Leon’s crime fiction novel “A Sea of Troubles” (2001), takes place on Pellestrina. The protagonist, Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice police; must solve the murders of two clam fishermen off the shore of Pellestrina. Great difficulty is met when conducting an investigation, faced with the island’s close-knit community and bound together by a code of loyalty and a suspicion of outsiders. Though a native of Venice, which is a short boat ride away; to the islanders he is a foreigner.
Cenzo Vianelli, the hero of “The Girl from Venice” (2016), a novel written by Martin Cruz Smith, lives and works as a fisherman in Pellestrina in 1945.
Please see my other posts in the series “Islands of the Lagoon”: HERE
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