Winter is, to my mind, the best time to visit Venice. Sometimes it will be misty. Sometimes it will rain or even flood. But there will also be beautiful days of pellucid blue skies and sunshine when you can appreciate the unique setting with none of the tour parties or ugly great cruise liners that block the majestic views. And the same goes for the coffee bars – you can see them in a whole new light.
My wife and I tend to stay in Sant’Elena, a quiet residential quarter adjoining the Giardini Pubblici, which is, of course, one of the locations for the Biennale. We love getting up early and taking a vaporetto up the Grand Canal – which is always teeming with commerce in the early mornings – to the atmospheric Rialto market, arriving there before 8am to admire the fresh fish, the fruit and vegetable stalls and the shops selling pasta, salami and an array of delectable cheeses.
Part of our ritual is to stop for coffee in one of the many atmospheric little cafés clustered around the narrow alleys and passageways leading from the market in the direction of the Campo San Polo. A favourite of Venetians – who come out in force between November and March, when they reclaim their city – is the diminutive Goppion Caffè on Ruga Vecchia.
The bright, bustling interior feels traditional yet also modern, adorned with gleaming Bialetti Moka coffee pots of different sizes. It’s a particularly popular stopoff for locals on their way to work, and with no more than eight or 10 seats, as per tradition, you may end up standing at the counter – but it’s no hardship in such a fabulous atmosphere.
The café is part of a small, family-owned business started by Luigi Goppion in Treviso in 1948, and which still has an outpost there. It roasts its own beans, producing a variety of enticing blends (€1 for a coffee), including a fruity Volcan de Oro and a sweet, nutty Mineiro. It also serves deliciously dark hot chocolate (€2) and excellent pastries (from 70c).
Simple pleasures these may be, but in a place that is (in winter, at least) blissfully free of touri guides and selfie sticks, they are amplified. On a recent, bitterly cold winter morning, my latte macchiato was served simply as a glass of hot frothed milk with an elegant little jug of rich espresso on the side. Pouring it slowly to savour the moment, I took a sip, followed by a bite of perfect custard-filled pasta con crema, and felt a surge of wellbeing that will bring me back again and again.