The green island of Sant'Erasmo is one of the secrets of the Venetian lagoon. A long, thin farming island which once separated the lagoon from the sea, this is where a lot of the fruit and vegetables in the Rialto market are grown. On sunny weekends and holidays, Sant'Erasmo is also a refuge for Venetians. Arriving in their small boats, they moor next to offshore mudbanks and along Sant'Erasmo's beach. Last Sunday there were hundreds of boats bobbing about as Venetian families paddled, swam, walked their dogs in the shallow waters and set up vast picnics on trestle-tables under home-made awnings. Those in need of a shot of coffee or a pizza queued up in their swimming costumes in the bar-restaurant behind the beach. Among the convivial crowds, it was as though the whole of the population of Venice had decamped to the island to enjoy themselves.
You don't need your own boat to join in. A regular ferry, the 13, connects Sant'Erasmo with Venice, though this stops some distance from the beach and restaurant on the island. Even better is my favourite summer boat service, the number 18. This summer-only 'bathing' service connects the Lido with Murano via Sant'Erasmo - and it stops right by the action on Sant'Erasmo, at the Torre Massimiliana.
Last Sunday we took a panoramic cruise down the Grand Canal and out to the Lido on the number 1, changed to the 18, and alighted at Sant'Erasmo. After visiting a free art exhibition in the restored fortress we strolled along the lagoon shore and back, seeing wading Italians and lagoon birds foraging for lagoon delicacies. Past tomato and squash plantations and vineyards, a crowing cockerel, and picnicking Italians, the walk showed my visitors a really different side of Venice. A pizza and tiny glass of wine at the restaurant tables under trees, enjoying the sea-breeze, then it was time to catch the next 18 - its jetty being used for diving practice and fishing - on to Murano. A stroll around the touristy glass-making island and then the express ferry back to Venice ended a good day out on the lagoon.
A guide to Sant'Erasmo and the other lagoon islands can be found in the Italy Heaven Guide to Venice.
> ACTV (for ferry timetables)