Bellinis and Zucchini: Skye McAlpine's Insider Guide to Venice

Venice is one of the most difficult cities in which to escape the crowds. We got the inside (gelato) scoop on where to stay, eat, drink and shop from the cookbook author who knows it like the back of her hand.

Skye McAlpine spends the majority of her time in Venice, where she writes, photographs and teaches cookery workshops.

She is the author of the blog, From My Dining Table, contributes to various international publications and brings out her second cookery book, A Table For Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty on 9 July.

We asked her to show us the secret spots in a city where it is often difficult to get off the tourist trail.

When is the best time to visit?

The depths of winter for misty romance, visiting galleries (the city is blissfully empty at this time of year) and hot chocolate. Summer for sunshine, boat rides out into the lagoon and blush-pink peach bellinis.

Describe a perfect day in Venice.

Breakfast at Rosa Salva followed by a visit to Palazzo Fortuny. Fried ham-and-cheese sandwiches washed down with martinis sitting at the bar at Harry's Bar for lunch, then a long stroll through the winding, quiet back streets. Finish with dinner at Al Covo.

Where should we wake up?

At the Palladio Hotel, with a room looking out over the water and onto Piazza San Marco in the distance. My husband and I spent our wedding night there; it has one of the most magical views in the world.

Who does the best coffee in town?

I'm not a big coffee drinker, but hands down the best hot chocolate is at Café Florian. It's like thick dark chocolate custard with whipped cream on top.

Where should we go for breakfast?

Rosa Salva; it's a charmingly old fashioned, bustling pastry shop hidden behind San Marco. Have breakfast standing at the bar and order a kiefer, a sort of almond croissant which is dowsed in icing sugar.

What about if we're hungover?

Pizza at Birreria La Corte. It's an old brewery in Campo San Polo that has been converted into a family-run pizzeria. If the sun is shining, you can sit outside in the campo and watch the world go by.

How about for a long, lazy lunch?

Locanda Cipriani. It's my favourite place for Sunday lunch in the summertime. About a 30-minute (magical) boat ride from the city centre across the lagoon, it's like stepping into another era. Sit in the shade of the pergola and tuck into classic Venetian dishes, like tagliatelle with lobster and zabaglione cake.

Romantic dinner?

Al Covo. The owners, Diane and Cesare, are so friendly that you feel like guests in their own home, and everything on the menu is heaven.

Best pizza in the city?

Acqua Pazza: a colourful and friendly restaurant halfway between the Accademia and Rialto bridges. Make sure to ask for a table outside, and order the selection of fruit sorbets - they are unbelievably delicious and each one comes as an individual fruit.

What should we order?

The ricotta- and mint-stuffed zucchini flowers are the best in Venice, while the the crema fritta Veneziana (deep-fried and sugar-dipped custard) is divine.

Where should we go for cocktails?

Harry's Bar for Hemingway-esque glamour and martinis. All'Arco for a spritz, cicchetti and a little local colour.

Where should we go for dessert?

The chocolate ice cream and the torta alla meringa (three tiers of light-as-air Genoese sponge layered with whipped cream and zabaione then the whole thing is covered in slightly caramelised Italian meringue) at Harry's Dolci on the Giudecca.

Best terrace for a drink and to enjoy the view?

The terrace at The Gritti Palace: you sit opposite the magnificent church of Santa Maria della Salute, right on the Grand Canal. I love watching the bustle of the traffic.

What shouldn't we miss while we're in town?

Take a five-minute boat to the island of San Giorgio, then climb to the top of the bell tower - the views over the city from there are incredible.

What are some of your favourite shops?

Chiarastella Cattana for impossibly chic linens and delicate glassware; Gianni Basso for beautiful, classic and bespoke stationery; Gioielleria Nardi for something very spoiling and sparkly and Pied à Terre for velvet venetian slippers in a rainbow of colours.

Where should we go to buy a present?

Buy a focaccia alla Veneziana from Pasticceria Dal Nono Colussi - it's a bit like a panettone but without the candied peel, and topped with a glistening sugar crust. This is a traditional Venetian cake that you won't find anywhere else, and Nono Colussi makes the best; it's as light as air.

For serious dolce vita mood?

Round the pool at Hotel Cipriani - it feels like you're stepping into a scene from the 1950s. I'm obsessed with their white umbrellas with a chocolate brown trim. Also a great spot for a light lunch, sitting on the water.

For the full Venetian experience?

Go to the rialto market first thing in the morning to fruit, vegetables and freshly caught fish. Stop by Aliani Casa del Parmigiano for the best cheeses and homemade pasta. Also, pop into Mascari to see their wine and liquor collection (a feat for the eyes) - then take it all home to cook for lunch.

Where is your favourite place for a stroll?

Nothing quite compares to walking through Piazza San Marco at dawn when no one else is around and you can watch the sunrise over the water.

Tell us a secret spot no one knows about.

The best ice cream in town is in a gelateria behind San Marco called Mela Verde: it's not a very fancy shopfront, but the gelato is sublime. They have a different selection of flavours each day - creamy pine nut is my favourite.

What should we pack in our SUITCASE?

Comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses for a little extra glamour and a copy of Hemingway's Across the River and into the Trees, because you will want to read it while you're there.

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