Sipping Coffee in Venice’s Royal Gardens
Venice, La Serenissima of Italy, center of culture and tourist mecca, where bridges and colorful façades reflect in canals which are crisscrossed by leisurely gondolas and quick-moving vaporetti. Picturesque and surreal, Venice seduces you with its labyrinth of narrow alleyways, locally known as “calle” and “rame,” – a maze of turns that may lead you to a hidden courtyard, a low passageway or maybe to a grand piazza offering inspiring perspectives of centuries-old noble palaces and basilicas. Even the sounds of voices and footsteps seem to reverberate with a dream-like echo here. How easy it is to lose track of time gazing at art, visiting landmarks, learning about history and wandering in and out of tiny shops. Venezia is a singular place in this world, but when your feet are tired and your camera is full, take a pause to appreciate the people and curiosities of this unique city while sipping a coffee in its royal garden.
Coffee and Venice go hand-in-hand. In fact, Italy’s great coffee culture owes much to this lagoon-city which was one of the first European ports to bring in coffee beans back in the 16th century.
Now, the Queen of the Adriatic has a new-old place for locals and tourists alike to enjoy a coffee – the illy Caffè tucked away in the historic and picturesque Royal Gardens overlooking the Grand Canal just a short walk from the Doge’s Palace.
The Royal Gardens are an important part of the city’s history and are definitely worth a visit. Originally envisioned by Napoleon Bonaparte when Venice became a possession of France at the turn of the 19th century, the gardens later flourished under the attention of the Austrian Empress Sissi and were finally handed over to the city by the House of Savoy.
Recently restored by the Venice Gardens Foundation in collaboration with Assicurazioni Generali, the Royal Gardens are today a tranquil spot for a stroll and some respite from the commotion of Piazza San Marco. They also offer visitors another historic gem – the restored 19th century Padiglione del Caffe (coffee pavilion). Designed by architect Lorenzo Santi between 1816-1817, the aptly named building served as a “cafehaus” in the park during Venice’s time as part of the Hapsburg Empire and has now been returned to its authentic purpose with its December 2019 reopening.
The large circular space located inside the pavilion’s original conservatory, which houses the new illy Caffe flagship store, was remodeled by Italian architectural studio Locatelli Partners and offers visitors a reinterpretation of the standard style of historic conservatories of the period - highlighting the elegance of a space made luminous and light by tall windows along its front and doors opening up to gardens. Housed in a 250-square-meter space, the café’s central area has a large round bar - in case you want to blend in with the locals and stand while quickly drinking your caffè - with original details in brass paired with the unmistakable illy red used to decorate the tables. From above, a spectacular chandelier illuminates the room with its four circular rings all made of characteristic handblown Venetian glass.
Open from eight in the morning until eight in the evening, this new revival of a historic space, which is popular with both locals and tourists, offers an array of options which vary throughout the day: from little pastries and illy blend coffees in the morning, to various lunch offerings in the afternoon, and cocktails to usher in the evening. The café also has a shopping area if you’re interested in taking home illy products and accessories, such as their signature Arabica Selection coffees, iperEspresso machines or iconic illy Art Collection cups.
“Our connection with Venice is deep and lasting,” remarked Andrea Illy, President of illy Caffè, one of Italy’s most well-loved and well-known coffee brands the world over. “First of all, it’s about the coffee, because Venice, on par with Vienna, was the city through which coffee first came to Europe at the end of the 1500s. The city has had a tradition of coffee shops and historic coffee houses which are authentic references to the Italian lifestyle. Yet, it’s also about the art, thanks to our twenty years of collaboration with the Biennale. As a way to affirm our important ties with the city, illy Caffè decided to give back to the Venetians, and to the millions of visitors who come to Venice each year, a place which is a significant part of its urban and artistic heritage, and one that pays homage to the traditional warm welcome which the city is famous for.”
A spectacular view, a royal garden, a really good espresso... just the makings for a perfect moment in La Serenissima.
By Liana Bicchieri