Since the aristocratic Grand Tour was invented more than three and a half centuries ago, any European itinerary is incomplete without Italy. Renaissance churches, palazzi, classic stone townscapes and Roman archaeological sites enrich this nation like no other.
Off the Beaten Track
Italy’s heritage draws more than 63 million tourists each year. The majority of those visit just a few destinations, including Venice, Rome, Milan, Naples, or Florence. This has made these cities less serene and more crowded. But numerous other beautiful places are located in Italy too. We can explore the nations’ historic depth in smaller towns such as Chioggia with more tranquility, allowing us time and space to soak up its beauty.
Our slow trip through Italy allowed us to find lots of beautiful towns a little off the beaten track. Many of these were in the south in Puglia, however, Chioggia on the north Adriatic coast was an unexpected delight whose memory is with us today.
After exploring Venice with kids and feeling a little Veniced-out we were in two minds about visiting Chioggia – dubbed “Little Venice” – the next day. Chioggia lies less than 50km by road along the Adriatic coast – in fact, it is still within the Venetian lagoon at it southern end – but it was a delight, and we are so glad we didn’t miss it.
The name Chioggia
Chioggia was first named by the Romans as Fossa Claudia and the name later underwent many changes from Clodio, Cluza, Chiozza, Clugia, before being named as Chioggia. The name means a coastal town.
Italian pronunciation can be a mystery to English speakers and this town’s name was a real puzzle for us. Did you know that the reason that the letter H is thereafter the C is to prevent the I softening the C? This is the reverse of English where CH has its own sound – in Italian the letter H does nothing but preserve the hard sound of Cs and Gs as an antidote to any I’s or Es which follow them. So CH in Italian sounds like K. But there is no H after the G so that is made to sound like an English J by the I which follows it. The doubling of that G makes it the same only more so. So Chioggia is pronounced by an Italian as a native English reader would say: Kyojjya.
Is Chioggia worth visiting?
When we were wondering whether to stop there, we read several guides which suggested it was not really worthwhile. Sure enough it is a small place and there are few grand monuments, If your tour of Italy is about collecting selfies with famous backdrops, then you may be disappointed.
We loved it though. We walked from the public car park across a bridge into the island old town and ahead of us stretched the main street, Corso Poppolo. However we decided to take a one block sidestep to the right and followed the Canal Vena which runs parallel. It was a great introduction to the town, as our path alongside the canal, took us through a small local fruit market and alongside a mixture of small shops, and interesting houses – all full of brightness and life.
Chioggia for us was a real antidote to Venice which has so few residents and little apparent community. We stopped under the shade of a verandah to enjoy a coffee while gazing into the canal. There is something particularly lively and attractive about the way that Italians seem to go about the ordinary business of life. The Italian language alone has a beautiful sound which would raise any small town above the ordinary, but this place also had just a simple colourful vibe and a quaint historical image too.
Top Attractions in Chioggia
Despite the downplayed impression I might have given you so far, there are quite a few attractions to visit in Chioggia given the small size of the town.
Just outside the city walls, the Civic Museum of the the Southern Lagoon is housed in an old monastery. The museum covers just about everything that has made Chioggia, starting with archaeological discoveries of pre-Roman and Roman-era. The exhibits sprawl up three floors to house everything from the Bronze-age to the 18th-century. It’s almost overwhelming, but if you have time before your visit to the town (it is on the way in if you park where we did) it really is a great introduction to the town. Absorbing the long history in these displays adds a richness and depth to your enjoyment of the place.
Corso del Popolo
The main street of Chioggia’s old town is bustling with life. Corso del Popolo runs the length of the rectangular island, and is the spine of the historic centre. Traditional restaurants serving authentic Italian food, and small shopping stores make the stroll fulfilling. In this easy going place a restaurant seat in the fresh air under a sunshade won’t cost extra as it does in other more crowded Italian towns.
The Duomo, the Cathedral Church
This is of course the main worship place for Chioggia, and is located beside a small square on the west of the Corso del Popolo. To give the Duomo its proper name, Il Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta is impressive for its bulk rather than being a thing of beauty from the outside. However it makes up for this with its clear light interior and the beautifully decorated 17th-century altar. The theme is engraved with scenes from Mother Mary’s life. The marble pulpit covered with gold canopy, and the rich decorations within side chapels, and the tiled floor, all combine for a beautiful but not over-elaborate whole. Outside again, and the piazza to the north of the Duomo is enriched by a bell tower on one side and another church, a beautiful Gothic church of San Martino, on the other.
Near the Cathedral is the Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra or the Diocesan Museum that houses all the historical paintings and other artifacts of all the Churches of Chioggia. But you have to check the timings of the museum as it is open only on Thursday mornings and Friday and Sunday noons.
Clock Tower Museum
Not the tower by the Duomo, but farther along the Corso del Popolo on the right, Sant Andrea Church’s bell tower houses the oldest clock in the world made by a Chioggia clock-maker, Giovanni Dondi. Now encased in a protective glass case, the museum has limited open hours for keeping the heritage clock safe. Note that the museum is open only on Sundays or holidays for visiting.
Having taken a stroll along Corso del Popolo right to the end, the Piazzetta Vigo links the main street with the parallel Canal Vena at the Ponte di Vigo. This “Little Square” is delightful with its view of the Venetian Lagoon across the town harbour. Here you will find all the bars, souvenir shops, ice-cream parlors, and hotels, you might have been missing from more commercial tourist areas.
Chiesa San Domenico
Cross the Vigo bridge to the right of Piazzetta, and then follow straight to a second bridge. Here you can cross to visit San Domenico Church which sits on a tiny island of its own facing the marina of the Sottomarina Peninsula. The church is no longer used for worship but is open for visitors and houses some dramatic art including a famous crucifix.
This Palazzo faces the Canal Vena quite close to the Vigo Bridge. The building itself is well worth a visit, built as the palace of a rich merchant family in the 18th-century, Palazzo Grassi houses Giuseppe Olivi Museum with a number of impressive displays including comprehensive documentation about marine life in Venice.
Alongside fishing, The main traditional industry of Chioggia is bobbin lacemaking. Take some time to visit local shops and see if you can pick up something you like. The tradition is at least as old as the city’s heyday in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but lace veils were part of everyday dress for women here until perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago.
The Fish Market
Chioggia is one of the main fishing ports on the Adriatic. This living traditional industry is no doubt one of the reasons that the town feels so lively. We visited (and bought stuff) from both a small side-street fruit and vegetable market and especially from the fresh fish market which sits immediately next to the canal in the middle of the old town. It is also back to back with the ancient town-centre grain store known as the Palazzo Granaio.
Ok it’s not a usual guidebook attraction, but our kids (and we) love food markets, they always seem to be populated by colourful lively stall holders. By and large, fish markets are even more so, with the added fun of those strange slimy animals of the seas. Of course in romantic, food-crazy Italy we can expect these things to be even more engaging – and the fish market at Chioggia is no disappointment.
Outside the Old Town
A different bridge over the southern Lagoon from Chioggia’s historical centre leads you via the Isola del Unione to the city’s beachlife. Sottomarina Beach faces the Adriatic. Bustling with people, especially during summers, the beach is almost 10 kilometers long and 300 meters wide. The sand can appear almost black in the evening due to its rich mineral content including quartz, augite, and silicates. The sand is said to impart miraculous healing properties which also draws crowds wanting the best of both worlds of this spa-on-sea.
Just two miles away from Chioggia is Tegnue, a diver’s paradise.. Its limestone seabed is rich with sea-squirt colonies, anemones, sponges, crabs, lobsters, and a whole range of other new sea creatures all at once, mesmerizing to see. The natural reefs here were formed by coralline algae and not by the usual corals colonies.
Events in Chioggia
As you might expect from a lively place such as Chioggia, the city showcases its specialties and hospitality to the world in several festivals and annual events. Two of the best known are:
Sagra del Pesce
This event, famously known as Chioggia Fish Festival among the tourists, has been held in July here every year since 1938. A ten-day affair, the historical town center is converted into a huge open-air restaurant with wooden benches lined up endlessly for everyone to have a taste of delicacies of the sea prepared in both new and traditional ways.
Palio della Marciliana
This is a reenactment inspired by the 14th-century history of Chioggia. Palio della Marciliana is an event where the whole town participates. Hundreds of people take over the town dressed as knights, noble lords and ladies, craftsmen, and musicians. Chioggia is painted red in the third week of June with the event’s parades, balls, and games.
Practicalities for Visiting Chioggia
How far is Chioggia from Venice?
Located around 25 kilometers away from Venice, Chioggia is situated on a small island at the southern entrance of Venice’s lagoon. The distance comes around 50 kilometers by road.
How do I get from Venice to Chioggia?
There are boats in high season from June to September and of course you can also travel by land. If you are not self driving, then there are buses and trains all year. The city is easily walkable from the railway station and the Italian railway is accessible on the www in English https://www.trenitalia.com/en.html
If you are driving we would recommend parking outside the island town and walking in, although the city is not pedestrianised, it is all easily walkable and you see much more like this. Because we were in a campervan for this trip we stayed at a camper friendly car park here
Where to Stay in Chioggia?
The town has many places for a comfortable stay and the most popular solution is stay in Sottomarina for the beachlife and modern conveniences and walk across to the Historic island centre for your culture fix.
The most popular Sottomarina hotel is perhaps Hotel Grande Italia since it always seems to be pre-booked, especially in the peak tourist season. Hotel Airone and Smart Hotel Mediterraneo are also popular. If you prefer local hospitality then why not stay on the island? There are multiple great options through Airbnb.
Best Foods in Chioggia
Chioggia has a reputation for fresh fish and local vegetable dishes. This is Italy, so of course you can take pot luck and probably enjoy a pleasant surprise, however here is a selection of highly recommended fare.
Sardele Salae – Taken as a starter, it is a plate full of raw anchovies or sardines preserved in the layers of salt and are drizzled with olive oil right before being served.
Broeto – Mostly eaten as the first course, Broeto is a plate full of slices of different varieties of cooked fish or shellfish. Sauteed in a sauce of oil, vinegar, and onion, it is best served with croutons.
Moleche Frite – A plate full of crabs fried in a generous amount of oil is best eaten as the main course.
Risi e Vuovi – Boiled eggs of cuttlefish served with a seasoning of vinegar, olive oil, and mixed spices.
Bossola – Do try, Bossola, the “‘bread of Chioggia” to supplement your main meal. It is crisp and full of flavour.
Sugoli – this must-try dessert iis a creamy confectionery of black grapes.
Little Venice – Final Words
We found this delightful living fishing port with its side streets and canals a great antidote to Venice. It is quite possible to take it as a day trip from your Venetian holiday, but we would suggest doing it the other way around. Why not make Chioggia your easy-to-live-in holiday base and dive into Venice for your culture fix?
Chioggia, Italy – Pin it
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