During the planning of our Northern Italy trip, when it came to booking Venice, Kent shared with me two of his main concerns: 1) Where to go to find relief from Venice’s shoulder-to-shoulder crowds should they prove too much? 2) Where to go to enjoy good food and authentic Venetian cuisine? Then he ‘discovered’ the Venissa Wine Resort which, from our research, seemed to solve both of Kent’s concerns. But I had questions about this too: ‘Why would we want to travel to a remote lagoon island instead of staying in Venice?’ ‘How far is Mazzorbo from Venice?’ and ‘What else can we do on Mazzorbo?’
Well now we’ve been there, stayed there and eaten there… So, ‘is it worth dodging Venice’s main game?’ Read on to learn more about our Venissa journey.
Where Is Venissa Wine Resort And How To Get There?
The resort is located on a northern Venetian lagoon island called Mazzorbo. With a small population of around 350, this largely rural island, yes rural; has long been outshone by the famous vivid-coloured charms of Burano literally a stone’s throw away. For me, being less known is part of Mazzorbo’s beauty.
How did we get there? Kent and I spent a few nights on Lido island beforehand, so we went from Lido. We took ACTV vaporetto (Venetian water bus) Line14 to Punta Sabbioni, from there we changed to Line12 water bus to Burano. Because Burano and Murano sound very similar, I asked twice to make sure we were getting on the right boat. The whole cross lagoon journey took us around one and a half hours. We alighted at the Burano terminal for Mazzorbo as these two islands are connected by a wooden footbridge (see picture above). From Burano’s ferry stop to this connecting bridge is about two minutes walk. Simply turn right and keep walking, once you cross the bridge, you will see the medieval walls of the vineyard and the Venissa Wine Resort lies within.
Departing from Venice: at Fondamente Nove ferry stop you can make the 90-minute trip on Line12 direct to Mazzorbo.
The Concept Of Venissa Wine Resort
Venissa has deep roots connecting it to the farming and wine industry of Venice and Veneto. This story starts with Dorona the golden grapes…
Dorona di Venezia, a grape native to the island, has a unique ability to grow in the salty lagoon water environment. Known for its golden colour, it is one of the rarest varieties in the world. Sadly, in 1966 a massive flood wiped out most of Mazzorbo’s agriculture including the indigenous Dorona grape. For many years the golden grape was considered lost to history. Then in 2002, a Venetian winemaker discovered it again…
It seems to have been Gianluca Bisol‘s destiny to rediscover the Dorona on the nearby lagoon island of Torcello. The Bisol family has been producing award-winning Prosecco in Veneto since the 16th-century so Gianluca knew a thing or two about vines and grapes. Having spotted an unusual variety on Torcello, he clipped some samples of these golden grapes and sent them for DNA testing. Once their identity was confirmed, his mission began; a mission to bring the Dorona and it’s wine back to it’s golden glory.
In 2010, Venissa Wine Resort opened its door to epicureans and travellers. Growing out of two hectares farm land – an abandoned Benedictine Monastery; today we see a picturesque walled vineyard, a slightly leaning 14th-century bell tower, a boutique hotel with five guest rooms and two culinary establishments. Bistro Osteria Contemporanea and the eponymous Ristorante Venissa which has been sporting a Michelin star since 2012.
L’Osteria Contemporanea – Our First Dining Experience At Venissa
Venissa prides itself on being a gourmet wine resort and they have two restaurants to showcase their skills: the one-Michelin-starred Ristorante Venissa, situated on the edge of the vineyard in a modern purpose built structure taking full advantage of the unique setting. And L’Osteria Contemporanea nestled in the original re-purposed monastery building. Our first dinner in Mazzorbo was at the Osteria Contemporanea (Bistro Contemporary Osteria).
Like its name suggests, Contemporary Osteria is simple casual dining with a modern twist. Although it’s less expensive and more relaxed than its sister restaurant Venissa, the food is prepared in the same kitchen by the same chefs. There were three groups including us that night, a Swiss couple at our left hand side and a Chinese couple in our far right sitting opposite from us. It was quiet, cosy and intimate, so as you sometimes do, between dishes we started chatting with one another exchanging food and travel tales.
How was the food? Kent and I decided on three courses with a Starter and a First Course to share. Our starter was Crunchy Sardines with Raspberry Saor and we were very impressed by it. Crunchy, tick, freshness of the sardines, tick; sweet and sour saor, tick! Having enjoyed our shared starter so much, I was tempted to order one more! The first course Pescatora – Potato Gnocchi and Parsley, also shared was equally delicious. For our Second Course, I chose Monkfish with a seasonal vegetable which was pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. My fish was cooked to perfection, so moist and fresh! Kent’s second course was Barbeque Ribs with Roasted Potatoes. It looked good so I tried one piece of the ribs, Kent clearly enjoyed it, another good dish.
For each course we chose to go with the suggested wine pairing, I will have a detailed review later on regarding this dining experience. Contemporary Osteria set the bar high from the very first sardine.
Ristorante Venissa: One-Michelin-Starred Destination
Unlike the Contemporary Osteria which is open year-round; Ristorante Venissa is seasonal and opens from March to November. This 18-seat one-Michelin-starred restaurant is often fully booked with foodies coming from Venice’s main island by water taxi or private boat just to experience dining at Venissa. Our table was available on our very last night staying at the wine resort. Well it was a good build up of more curiosity and desire!
Illuminated outside by large egg-shape lanterns across its verandah; Venissa’s intimate dining rooms’ glass walls face its lush vineyard and garden. The restaurant opened in 2010 and in 2012 it was awarded one Michelin star. According to the Michelin Guide, Venissa ‘uses top quality ingredients, dishes with distinct flavours are carefully prepared to a consistently high standard’.
Gianluca’s son Matteo is the director of Venissa. Matteo and his wife Veronica have worked closely on this culinary project. The current head chef is young talent Chiara Pavan, Chiara started working at Venissa in 2016 alongside Chef Francesco Brutto, who later relocated to his own restaurant in Treviso. My first impression of Chiara was that ‘this petite, pretty young chef has a self-assured aura’; she greeted us with a sweet Italian smile that made us feel most welcomed! Chiara was crowned Chef of the Year by Le Guide de L’Espresso in 2018, I only found out about this after we left Italy. So here’s my belated congratulations to you Chiara! Saluti!
How’s the Venissa ‘house’ wine?
Kent and I finally had a taste of Bianco da uve Dorona 2014 thanks to one of our tasting dishes. And how was it??
‘It’s not like any white wine I have tried before.’ ‘To tell the truth, it reminds me of whisky!’ As I said to Kent after my very first sip. On the palate, it has good interaction between the acidity, saltiness and spice. Kent said it reminded him of muscat grapes and fortified wines, something he enjoys, and the comment seemed to receive a nod of agreement from our sommelier. Until today I’m still not sure if I like it or not. Would I go back for more? Most definitely!
Once you learn of the Dorona the rare wine, the next thing you learn is that the bottle for Dorona reflects that rarity and is rather special too…
Designed by the Bisol family, the wine bottles are made by Murano glassmaker Carlo Moretti, then artisan Berta Battiloro crafted paper-thin gold leaf as the label, a complete Venissa Wine was reborn.
Our Itinerary 5 tasting menu of five courses with matching wine showcased fresh, seasonal and high quality local ingredients which included seafood from Venetian lagoon, vegetables and herbs from Venissa’s own garden. And of course, a variety of Veneto wines. Looking into the open kitchen, we enjoyed the theatre of the chefs’ performances, those people work very hard indeed. Amuse bouche, cuttlefish; red mullet, chard ravioli; albacore tuna, lemon sponge and petit fours all presented in a sophisticated manner. Although it’s a fine dining venue, the atmosphere was unpretentious, very warm and friendly. Around half-way through our meal we started chatting with four American ladies who travelled to Mazzorbo specially for the dinner! You will read about this dining episode in details in my soon coming post.
Overall, Kent and I had a fun and unforgettable time dining at Venissa. We thought our dishes were fresh, innovative and delicious. Would I recommend Venissa for foodies? I think after trying both restaurants in Venissa Wine Resort, I can pretty confidently suggest this destination to food and wine lovers alike.
Escape To A Lagoon Dream
Before our visit, I was amazed to learn about the rediscovery of Dorona vine, the rare Venetian grape, and was excited to visit the place of such a mythical rebirth. When I was actually touching some of these grapes in the middle of this gorgeous vineyard, I knew it had taken a visionary in the person of Gianluca Bisol to make this happen. This winery, gourmet food; a hospitality and tourism attractions all combined in a microcosm called Venissa. From the golden wine to the natural beauty of the lagoon, world class food crafted from local produce, all of these creations build to a quiet crescendo culminating in an authentic and unique Venetian experience.
Since White Caviar Life was born I often talk about the gem quality destinations for travellers. For me, Venissa Wine Resort is definitely one of the rare gems we happily found (thank you Kent) and adored. Its uniqueness is the wow factor for me. During our four-night stay in Venissa we did not have a dull moment, between indulging in gourmet food, wine tasting; exploring Mazzorbo, Burano and Torcello, we ran out of time to smell the rose-scented vineyard…
This post is an introduction of Venissa Wine Resort and Mazzorbo, stay tuned for more stories, each from a different angle through my Venetian coloured looking glass.