Every Thursday the one kilometre Corso del Popolo thoroughfare running through the centre of Chioggia hosts a sprawling and eclectic market. Fresh fruit and plants jostle for the attention of the crowds alongside women’s suede platforms shoes, fish, cheese, brightly coloured garden windmills, glass dragons and men’s jeans. As you stroll up the road from the main cathedral to the winged-lion statue on top of a column at the port, your eyes and ears feast on a constant flow of varied merchandise loaded up on the jumble of stalls. Good-natured stallholders, most of who seem to have been working here for decades, host them. Some had high-tech vans that mechanically unfolded vast awnings out of the roof to protect the shoppers and merchandise from the heat of the Italian sun, while simultaneously ejecting racks and display units pre-loaded with goods from their insides.
After strolling through the market for just over an hour, I joined my tour group off my River Countess cruise in a restaurant for the excursion’s pre-booked lunch. I stepped out of the bustling market street where I had to weave my way through the throngs, into the quiet calm of our dining venue. We were in a seafood place as Chioggia is an important fishing village at the River Po delta in the southern side of the Venice lagoon. Every morning the fish markets bursts to life. There is a wholesale one that serves retail customers, many of them in Venice just 25 kilometres away across the lagoon, and one for regular shoppers.
After my meal of mixed seafood salad, risotto with shrimp and torchetti pasta with sea bass, I was eager to get back to exploring more of Chioggia. I hurried out into the street expectantly but found that the market, crowds and cacophony of noises had completely evaporated. It was as if it had never been there at all. The street was empty, even the traditional stores were closed for siesta. A quiet hush had replaced the entire market. It had, however, exposed another side to the town. In its place was a gorgeous, charming and beautiful place, explaining why many call it “Little Venice”.
Parallel to Corso del Popolo, where the market is held, and flowing off the port is the first of the canals that make the town so reminiscent of Venice. Called the Vena Canal, it can be crossed at regular intervals on numerous attractive stone bridges that date back to the 18th Century. Huddled along the banks are fishing boats, each with unique patterns of colours or sails designed to help loved ones on land identify their family members out at sea. In the ancient buildings alongside were coffee shops, restaurants and craft shops, all sitting closed or quiet at this time of day.
I strolled along the canal, embracing the calmness and quiet. This is what Venice would be like if it was not invaded by so many tourists every day. There was space and time to slowly explore and experience the beauty of the canals and buildings. It was possible to take photographs and linger at statues and features without being jostled by other visitors eager to take theirs.
I finally left the Vena Canal to see some of the side streets and other canals, stumbling across a striking statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus along another canal in the gardens of the Cathedral of Chioggia. Inside this rather plain-looking brick church I discovered a startling all-white painted interior and behind it an impressive 64-metre high octagonal-domed clock tower.
If it had not been siesta time I would liked to visit and climb up the San Andrea bell tower further along on the Corso del Popolo. Dating back to Roman times it hosts a multi-level museum celebrating its history and the stunning blue clock that is among the oldest of its type in the world. The view of the watery city is supposed to be magnificent from up top.
I visited Chioggia as an excursion option off my Uniworld Venice and Northern Italy Gems river cruise. Most passengers had gone on the alternative tour to Ravenna (“City of Mosaics”) but I was thrilled that I chose to come here and discover this jewel of a place. Anyone visiting Venice should consider a day trip using one of the regular public ferries to experience this watery city. This is a place that is not swamped by tourists, and provides a gorgeous and surprising alternative in the region.
Watch my Tips For Travellers Chioggia city highlights video:
Disclaimer: I travelled as a guest of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Titan Travel UK on a 7-night cruise on the River Countess.