Enclosed between marshlands and sea, at a strategic crossway of river trade routes between the East and Northern Europe, Chioggia was erected on a cluster of islands some 16 miles south of Venice, in the Southern end of the Venetian lagoon. Its history dates to Byzantine times; its heritage is rich and time honoured, and its success is built on salt. And yet, for centuries, it dwelt in the shade of its younger, prettier sister, as Venice outshined it in charisma, commercial success, and cultural relevance.
Today, just as Venice is struggling to deal with the disproportionate number of visitors cramming its calli, Chioggia is receiving some much-deserved attention and might become part of the solution in relieving some of this pressure. Already popular with tourists from Central and Eastern Europe for its quaint centre and the close-by sandy beaches of Sottomarina, Chioggia has recently seen a surge in fame when The New York Times placed it at the top of its annual ranking of the 52 places to visit in 2022 – a list that this year focuses on sustainable destinations, away from overtourism. It is also in the run to become Italy’s 2024 Cultural Capital.
Coincidentally, Chioggia is known as la piccola Venezia – little Venice. Strolling through its calli, gazing at the colourful palazzi and canal reflections, the impression is that of a shared heritage, of a common destiny with the islands that sit on the Northern side of the lagoon. And yet Chioggia feels at once more city-like – a magic combination of primal and urban.
Visiting from Venice entails some planning and an assorted mix of means of transport, and a day trip might feel rushed. In fact, taking your time might be the best option, as the number of attractions and the quaint atmosphere Chioggia offers will make it well worth a longer escape.
I grew up in the countryside that edges the Southern Lagoon, so Chioggia has forever been a much-loved family destination for a Sunday car ride, fish lunch and lazy stroll. Now that I live in Venice, I find that an ideal (and green) way to reach Chioggia – particularly in the warm season – on two wheels, following the E5 cycling path that runs along the strip-like major islands of Lido, Pellestrina, and Ca’ Roman.
HOW TO GET TO CHIOGGIA – ISLANDING HOPPING BY BIKE
If the sound of an island-hop and bike ride sounds enticing, then start from the Lido. Rent a bike in one of the many rentals located close to the Santa Maria Elisabetta hub (average daily rates are €10 per bike) and follow the signs for Malamocco and Alberoni. Dash along pine-shaded roads and take in scenic views of Venice from the opposite side of the lagoon as you approach the southernmost tip of the islands. Wait for the Line 11 ferry, which in a chinch will take you to the next island, Pellestrina. Resume cycling without losing sight of the handy signage that marks the E5 route and you’ll soon reach the picturesque heart of this humble fishing island, which will provide plenty of options for quenching your thirst, either at a local baretto or kiosk. Keep heading south, along the murazzi that protect these islands from high tides, all the way to the natural reserve of Ca’ Roman, which, with its wild sand dunes and thick vegetation, will feel tremendously inviting as a place to rest your legs and take a sun-kissed breather.
One last waterbus ride from Ca’ Roman and you’ll quickly reach your destination. (For reference, the whole journey might take 3 to 4 hours depending on ferry connections and cycling speed. Leaving from Lido around 9, just as the rental shops open, will get you in Chioggia in time for lunch.)
WHAT TO EAT IN CHIOGGIA
Vigo and the port of Chioggia are often buzzy and will immediately feel like a welcome change of pace after hours of silent contemplation. Lock your bike and stroll along the main promenade of Corso del Popolo in search for lunch.
Chioggia’s culinary scene reverts around time-honoured fishing traditions and its vocation for vegetable farming. Because of its strategic location between lagoon and sea, and thanks to its fertile sandy and sodium-rich soils, the city is famous for its delicious seafood and for its deeply flavoursome vegetables, among which are Chioggia pumpkins, sweet and delicate onions, and the rosa di Chioggia radicchio.
You’ll find all these and more at El Gato, one of the best restaurants in town. Here, you’ll find all the great classics alongside dishes that highlight the freshness and flavour of the raw ingredients – fish and vegetables above all. Don’t miss their shellfish catalana and any dish with the local bivalve, fasolari.
After lunch, time to explore the artistic treasures of the city, which are mostly concentrated along the main road that runs down the centre, thus affording a leisurely stroll with pretty views of canals lined with old and new boats, and historical buildings with colourful facades and show-stopping architectural elements. You’ll immediately realise that the size of the town is small enough to make it enjoyable on foot. And even without an itinerary, it’s a perfectly charming place to explore at a whim.
Still, there are a few places worth a visit. Starting from the end of Corso del Popolo, you’ll find Porta Garibaldi, a freestanding arch which marks the beginning of the city centre; the imposing Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta, with paintings from Tiepolo, amongst others; and the Rifugium Peccatorum, an evocative niche placed alongside the marina promenade.
The main attraction is the bell tower of Sant’Andrea, hosting the world oldest clock, dating back to 1386. Inside, you’ll find a vertical museum that spans on seven floors and covers some key aspects of the history of Chioggia, from religious objects to cartography. The true gem, though, comes at the fifth floor, with a close-up view of the marvelous clock, and then at the very top, as you’ll reach the panoramic terrace that offers breathtaking views of Chioggia and its surroundings.
SAVE TIME FOR AN APERITIVO
By the time you descend it might be time for aperitivo. No place beats the sundown drinks and snacks you get at Osteria Fronte del Porto, right at the end of the Corso, past Piazzetta Vigo, which, with its beautiful bridge and lion-topped column, deserves a quick stop.
Grab a chair facing the port and enjoy the sight of the sun dipping in the water of the lagoon as you sip one of Fronte del Porto’s well-made spritzes or a glass of local wine. And although their cicchetti selection might be tempting enough to turn an aperitivo into a snacking dinner, the best move would be to peek at their menu, as their seasonal offering – particularly their seafood pasta dishes – never disappoints.
GRAB BREAKFAST AND CHECK OUT THE FISH MARKET RIGHT BEFORE LUNCH
On the second day, the temptation to hit the beach might be strong, but not before breakfast and a visit to the pescheria. Pasticceria Flora, strategically located along the corso, has good cornetti and cappuccini and even better people watching.
Visiting the retail fish market is an unmissable experience for anyone visiting Chioggia regardless of whether you’ll be able to buy any seafood. The atmosphere alone – colourful, chatty and a little bit rowdy – will make it worth an hour of your time. Peak at the stalls and at the wide displays of fish and seafood at their freshest, many of which are from the Adriatic Sea. Chat with the stall owners and get their tips on how to best prepare this or that catch. It’ll be one of the most authentic experiences you’ll have in town – and a glimpse into the local culture at its realest.
After the visit, it might be time for lunch. If you’re not fished out yet, or better still, if the fish market had you hungry for some sea and lagoon delights, then snatch one of the few tables at Al Ghebo, where chef Federico Penzo, only 25, will treat you with his inventive cuisine inspired by local flavours and the freshest ingredients.
In the afternoon, after picking up a bag or two of the traditional bussolà (ring-shaped sweet or savoury biscuits) at Manfredi e Bullo Bakery, head to Sottomarina and relax on the sandy beach or take a walk all the way to and along the dam, where you’ll see the traditional buildings devoted to fish farming.
In season, Le Tegnue is a hotspot for a beach-side meal featuring – once more – deliciously home-grown vegetables and fish. If you haven’t had a fritto misto, yet, then don’t hesitate to grab one here. It’ll mark one of the best ways to end your stay in this charming Southern lagoon gem of a place.
WHERE TO STAY
Check out Casa San Cristoforo with rooms and studios decorated in a contemporary, slightly quirky fashion using sustainably sourced materials.