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Visiting Venice on a clear winter day, after the passage of joyful Carnival crowds, is a unique but achievable experience! Having parked my car in Piazzale Roma, after less than two hours’ drive from Guastalla, I haven’t made up my mind whether to walk to the Pinault Foundation – which I haven’t seen yet - or try to track a route invisible to most, but charming, which I have heard of for some time: that of the hidden Venetian vegetable gardens… Given the sunny day, a decision is easily taken! I head for the big Campo Santa Margherita, with its fruit, vegetable and fish market, where huge seagulls try to snatch away shopping bags from unwary customers, scaring them off with their shrill cries. I cross the bridge leading to Campo San Barnaba and I bump into a boat that drops anchor there every single day to sell fruit and vegetables: a feast of colours! I immediately notice artichoke hearts, so typical of the Venetian cuisine, floating in a large bowl of water.
A few more steps and I reach Zattere, where I wait for a boat to take me across the Giudecca Canal to Zitelle (literally “spinsters”), a religious complex that owed its name to a neighbouring charitable institution for poor young women.
Peering here and there inside the Venetian palaces and houses, I can see gardens everywhere, but at Giudecca you can still find small vegetable gardens next to the houses. Here you can also see a “common vegetable garden” of about 16,146 square feet., open to residents and tourists alike. It is not an exception: Venice municipality granted the cultivation of 38 municipal gardens to pensioners also in Dorsoduro, a district which includes the entire southern area of the city. Other urban vegetable gardens are present at the Lido -Venice beach resort.
Giudecca common vegetable garden is a "synergic" one, where the soil is neither plowed nor fertilized and crops are concentrated in beds raised from the ground and a variety of plants and flowers are grown, complementing one another. I wander along the “mulched” flower beds, covered with straw and other vegetable substance, taking care not to step on cultivated land.
Heir to the medieval tradition of the hortus conclusus (enclosed vegetable garden), Venice is also dotted with orchards and vegetable gardens tended within the cloisters of its churches. Thus, at Sant’Elena’s, the monks grow exotic plants, along with pomegranates, grapes and olive trees; at Il Redentore’s (the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer) the Capuchin friars grow fruit trees, olive trees and vines, together with vegetables and herbs; at San Francesco della Vigna’s, in the district of Castello, the Friar Minors, who live in seclusion, cultivate the vine. Even in the islands of the lagoon you can find vegetable gardens. In San Lazzaro degli Armeni, for example, or in the island of San Michele. The so-called "salt gardens" are also famous. Their name is due to the high rate of salt in the soil, especially in the islands of Vignole and Sant’Erasmo in the north-eastern lagoon. Their most famous produce is the "purple artichoke", on sale on the wonderful stalls of Rialto Market. Before leaving Giudecca, I can not resist the temptation of sipping a spritz - Venice celebrated cocktail - on the roof-garden of Molino Stucky, a former mill recently turned into a Hilton hotel. From the rooftop terrace you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Venice and its lagoon!