Burano Travel GuideIntroduction
If for whatever reason you’re feeling down while in Venice, then a trip to Burano should bring your spirits right back up with its quiet charm and its postcard-perfect scenery. Often called as “The Most Cheerful Place in Italy” by many travelers, it’s hard to stay gloomy when you’re surrounded by color and a general atmosphere of coziness.
One of the many islands that comprise the area of Venice, Burano is an ancient town that is believed to have been settled by the Romans as early as the 6th century. As for its name, it is still debated as to whether “Burano” came about because it was founded by the Buriana family, or because the early settlers of the island hail from the island of Buranello which is about five miles to the south. Although it has been around for a long time, Burano was (and still is) mainly a fishing village, and didn’t really stand out until the 16th century when the women of the island began making lace while the men were out fishing for the day.
According to local legend, this came about thanks to a fisherman and a mermaid. The fisherman was said to have been engaged to a local woman, and while he was fishing in the lagoon, a mermaid attempted to seduce him with her siren song. However, he was able to resist her charms as he wanted to be faithful to his lover. Moved by this display of loyalty, the queen of the mermaids decided to give him a reward, and she splashed her tail against the side of his boat and created foam from which a beautiful and delicate wedding veil was formed. The fisherman went back home with the queen’s gift, and when he married his fiancée, she wore the veil at her wedding. All of the island’s womenfolk saw the veil and were so enchanted by how lovely it was that they attempted to emulate it for their own wedding dresses, using fine thread and needles.
Whether or not mermaids really started the lace industry in Burano, we can never really tell. But what IS known is that the industry flourished at that time, and the handiwork of the lace-makers was exported and delivered to the homes and palaces of rich and important people all across Europe. At times, some of Burano’s lace-makers were even invited abroad, particularly France, where they continued their trade in creating finery for the French upper classes.
Unfortunately, the trade declined in the 18th century during the fall of the Venetian Republic, but it once again saw a revival in 1872 when a school for lacemaking was established (“Scuola Merletti”) thanks to the efforts of a local lace-maker, Cencia Scarpariola who introduced new patterns and techniques, and raised lace-making into an art form.
These days, visitors mainly go to Burano in order to see the colorful fishermen’s houses and for the handmade point lace which is still made in the traditional manner by the townsfolk.
For those wondering why Burano’s houses are painted the way they are, this is a local island tradition which takes after the original color schemes of fishing boats that were used a long time ago. In fact, the color scheme is a main feature of the island, and if any homeowner wanted to repaint their home, they would have to secure a permit from the local government who will then provide them with a list of colors that they may use, depending on where their house is located on the island.
What to See
Handmade Lace Products
Unless it hasn’t been made clear yet, the island’s main product is its lace handicrafts. Visitors will be encountering many shops that sell all sorts of lace products, from bookmarks to full wedding dresses, so if you’re hunting for good quality lace and fabric, prepare to spend a lot of time shopping here.
Museo del Merletto (Lace Museum)
A main landmark that celebrates the local main industry, the Lace Museum is one of Buranoi’s must-see attractions. It is a small two-level museum which contains an impressive collection of rare and valuable items that showcase historic and modern lace designs and techniques. It allows visitors to witness how the lace industry and Venetian lace-making in general has evolved over the centuries, and there are also many important documents and drawings which come from the archives of the old Scuola Merletti that can be perused. If you’re lucky, you might even encounter groups of local women seated in a sewing circle, making lace using traditional tools and methods.
The museum’s visiting hours are, from April 1 to October 31, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm; and from November 1 to March 31, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. It is closed on Mondays, and national holidays such as Christmas and New Year. Tickets cost EUR 5.00 at full price, though there are also discounted rates available, so be sure to check with your travel agent or tour organizer.
It is also possible to visit the Lace Museum after hours, but you will have to book ahead at least five business days in advance in order to confirm availability, and you must have a group of at least 15 people. For after hour tours and visits, be aware that tickets can cost up to EUR 30.00. Again, check with your tour organizer. As for the venue itself, it is fully accessible for persons with disabilities, and it has a small café and museum shop where guide books and souvenirs are sold.
Church of San Martino
One of the island’s most identifiable landmarks, the Church of San Martino can easily be seen from all around the island, thanks to its own leaning bell tower. Inside the church can also be found the painting “Crucifixion” by the famous Italian artist Giambattista Tiepolo who was known for his work in the Rococo style, and who has been called by art historians as “the greatest decorative painter of eighteenth-century Europe, as well as its most able craftsman.”
Take Postcard-Perfect Photos
Take a snap just about anywhere on the island of Burano, and you are guaranteed to come up with images that can easily be turned into postcards and posters. Thanks to the color scheme of all the homes on the island, every angle is always pretty, and this is why Burano is a favorite among photographers worldwide.
Partake of the Seafood
Remember that Burano is still a working, functioning fishing town! Because of that, you can expect to enjoy Venice’s freshest seafood here, and there is no lack of small restaurants and trattorias that serve up the day’s catch in the form of delicious traditional dishes… and all for a fraction of the cost as compared to other, more touristy places in Venice!
Side Trip: San Francesco del Deserto
For Roman Catholics or anyone who want to REALLY get away from it all for a while and get some peace and quiet, a quick trip to the tiny island monastery of San Francesco del Deserto may be in order. About 20 minutes by row boat from Burano, the monastery itself dates back to the 13th century, and currently houses a small group of Franciscan monks. Its visiting hours are from 9:00 am to 10:00 am, and from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm daily, when the monks living there can show you around. There are no entrance fees, but donations and offerings are always welcome. It is also possible to lodge at the monastery, but you will have to contact the monastery directly to check for availability and other details. This can be handled for you by your tour organizer.
Tips and Advice
- A lot of visitors just go to Burano for a quick day trip and then return to their hotels in more touristy areas of Venice. However, there are also hotels and lodging available in Burano, so if you would like to spend a few quiet days on this charming island, don’t worry because there is no lack of places to stay at.
- When shopping for lace, keep in mind that true Venetian point lace is in limited supply because they are all made by hand, and therefore take a long time to produce. Before purchasing anything, unless you actually witnessed it being crafted in front of you by a sewing circle, inspect the item thoroughly because there are also many items that are sold at shops that are actually machine-made and/or imported. Take note, however, that the real thing can cost a pretty penny, so be prepared to shell out some cash if you would like to own genuine Burano lace.