CANOEING IN ITALY
If your ideal vacation combines canoeing with big-city sightseeing, Venice is for you. The city is built on a marsh bordering a lagoon, and daily transportation relies on an extensive system of canals. Paddling along the Grand Canal, Venice's bustling Main Street, you can glimpse the soaring Byzantine architecture of St. Mark's Basilica and admire the ornamentation of the Rialto Bridge up close. Keep an eye out for the vaporetti (water buses), delivery boats and other motorized traffic, however. You can easily get drenched by their wakes, and the water is far from pristine.
If you feel especially daring, book your trip for May or June, when you can join the motley flotilla in the Vogalonga. This 18.5-mile (30-kilometer) race in and around Venice is open to all paddled craft, including canoes. The atmosphere is decidedly noncompetitive; think of it as a street party on the water.
If you prefer a more relaxing experience, take to the Grand Canal after business hours. It's calmer then, and the lights reflect off the water, creating a silvery shimmer. You'll probably cross paths with tourists on romantic cruises aboard Venice's iconic gondolas. And you'll still have time to tie up along the bank for a late dinner of pasta, seafood and vegetables, all incredibly fresh and varied. Many restaurants serve until late in the evening.
For a rustic adventure, row across the lagoon to the farming island of Sant'Erasmo and on to Burano, a fishing community famed for its colorfully painted houses.
Gondola rowing lessons
Ever wanted to take the stick and learn how to steer a gondola around the canals of Venice? Several tour services teach you do just that: spend the afternoon taking gondola driving lessons. (Or at least Venetian-style rowing lessons.)
The easiest to use is Row Venice (tel. +39-345-241-5266, www.rowvenice.com), which will teach you the Voga Veneta, the traditional Venetian rowing style, in an open, canoe-like boat called a sandolo (think of it as the gondola's less stylish cousin). Lessons last two hours and cost €50 (or €40 per person for two).
If only a full-fledged gondola will do, ArtViva tours (tel. +39-055-264-5033; www.italy.artviva.com) offers a two-hour "Learn to be a Gondolier" tour for €80 (min. 1 person, max. 4; tours at 9am, 11am, 2pm, and 4pm Mon–Sat).
You can also try contacting the local canoeing club Canottieri Giudecca (tel. 041-528-7409, www.canottierigiudecca.com), which claims to offer lessons for just €6 per hour.