Venice is renowned for its beauty, history, and art. No wonder that many visitors want to bring home a memory of this magical city, along with original souvenirs for family and friends. Gifts are a wonderful way to show loved ones that you care, even when you are far away from home, and they’re also an excellent way to express the beauty of a place to someone who has never visited it.
Fortunately, Venice offers many gift choices to travelers looking for unique and beautiful gifts to take home. Our recommendations center around traditional artisan goods that have been crafted in Venice for centuries using original techniques and that embody the true spirit and beauty of Venice.
Venetian Carnival Masks
Carnivals are a longstanding tradition in many cities and towns throughout Italy, but Venetian Carnival is the most famous and revered of them all. For ten days each February or early March, Venice transforms into a heaven of revelry and partying, the extraordinary ‘Carnevale’. During this time millions of tourists descend upon the city, clamouring for a chance to experience lavish decadence of another era. The masks are seen everywhere – on the streets, in cafes, at parades, in gondolas, at the balls, and range from basic to extremely elaborate.
Venetian masks are often colorful, with intricate detail and rich decoration of beads, plumes, fabrics, or even small paintings. Authentic Venetian masks are made by hand from papier-mâché, designed in baroque style and often hail from Italian Commedia Del Arte, impersonating its various characters, such as Colombina, Arlecchino or Pulcinella.
When buying a mask in Venice, find the type of design that you like, then seek out a real Venetian mask atelier, where oftentimes the artisans will work in the back while the finished masks will be sold out front. These places are usually not found in big tourist spots, but mostly tucked away on white canals, back lanes, or small piazzas. Never fall for low prices and places with rows of similar cheap-looking masks. Those are most likely fakes made in China. The real Venetian masks are relatively heavy, perfectly crafted, and not cheap.
Where to Buy Venetian Masks?
Here are some places selling gorgeous expertly crafted authentic Venetian masks that we can recommend:
- L’Arlecchino at Ruga Vecchia S. Giovanni, number 789 in sestiere San Polo.
This shop full of colorful masks of all types, shapes, and designs is sure to please. Its owner, Marilisa, is a true Venetian with a passion for ancient Venetian mask-making craft. In this store you are sure to find what you are looking for and leave with a real Venetian treasure.
- La Bottega Dei Mascareri is near Rialto Bridge at number 80 in sestiere San Polo.
The shop’s owner, Sergio, is a great artisan working in the masks craft since the mid-eighties and something of a local celebrity, as his masks are often used in films and high profile masked balls, as well as exhibited in galleries worldwide. No matter how elaborate or simple your dream mask is, Sergio will have it in his store, expertly designed and perfectly executed.
- Ca’ Macana Atelier is in the back alleys of Cannaregio at Cannaregio 1374.
Carlos is the real pioneer who championed the rebirth of Venetian glass-making when the first Carnival in modern age kicked off in 1979. Having made masks for decades, Carlos still manages to surprise with unexpected designs and non-traditional materials, but he also has beautiful classic masks that appeal to the lovers of old Venetian tradition.
- Il Canovaccio is at Calle delle Bande, sestiere Castello 5369/70.
This shop owned by Franco and Francesca Cecamore showcases a large variety of very high quality masks. Despite what many stores around Venice claim, this truly IS the one that supplied the now-famous masks used by director Stanley Kubrick in his box-office hit “Eyes Wide Shut”. And after all, who doesn’t want to wear the mask worn by handsome and famous Tom Cruise?
Murano Glass Gifts
The island of Murano is noted for its glassmaking tradition, that dates back to 1291. Thanks to a thriving passion for glass, and a sense of familial loyalty, the glass masters have passed their skills onto the next generation for centuries – creating the unique local industry that continues today. While Murano glass isn’t as widespread as it once was, it’s still as precious today as it was centuries ago. For this reason, bringing home Murano glass gifts is the perfect way to cherish memories of Venice and its artisanal traditions long after your trip. You can absolutely find a piece you’ll love in Venice and bring it home, however, you need to do some research prior to purchasing to make sure you are buying the real thing.
While Venice is full of stores selling Murano Glass, anyone wishing to buy anything, big or small, should be very careful. By conservative estimates of Venetian Murano Glass consortium, over 60% of glassware sold in Venice is counterfeit – touted as handmade Murano Glass, but really made quickly and cheaply in Chinese factories. Here the story is the same as with masks – if something seems too cheap to be authentic, it probably is fake.
Never buy from shops advertising ridiculous deals such as “everything under 10 euro” or similar, or having huge “Sale” posters all over their windows. Look for a nice-looking place where everything is arranged cleanly with a variety of expertly crafted pieces that have labels and certificates of authenticity. Ask the salesperson questions about the pieces, the workshops that make them, and Murano Glass history. Ask how you can be sure that the piece is authentic.
We also suggest avoiding any prearranged “free” trips to Murano factories where you will be whisked to a certain Murano factory to see a small touristic demo and then be led into the showroom with the expectation of buying right there and then. You might even be told that this is your only opportunity to buy real Murano-made glass. This is simply not true. Murano island has lots of factories and workshops, big and small, that each proudly create beautiful Murano Glass pieces of different kinds, using well-kept family secrets and ancient glass-making techniques. Better take a public vaporetto to Murano island yourself and browse the stores and factory showrooms at your leisure, comparison shopping and taking your time to understand your options.
If you are going to ship the item(s) home rather than take them with you, be sure you know how they will be shipped, how to get the tracking number, and know what recourse you’ll have should the items not arrive or arrive damaged. Take the business card of the shop and the name of the owner. Because of the complexities related to shipping fragile glassware from Venice to your home, we always advise taking the purchase with you rather than getting it shipped from Venice.
There are more specific things you can do to make sure you are buying real Murano-made glass that we describe in this popular blog article. We authored it back in 2010 but is just as relevant, if not more so, today. Hundreds of people have since wrote to us to express their gratitude and say that they perused our advice and tips and found them extremely helpful. We hope you will join their ranks!
While the island of Murano is famously known for its glassmaking tradition, another Venetian island, Burano, has its own claim to fame – exquisite lace-making. Though many legends exist, it is not known exactly how or why lace-making became Murano’s main craft, but historians do know that since the early 15th century, residents of Burano have produced some of the finest and most intricate lace in the world. In the 16th century, as lace became increasingly more fashionable both as ornamental part of clothing for high society members in Europe, and as decorative element for the nobility’s homes, demand for Burano lace grew, and its fame as the best lace money could buy spread far and wide.
Unfortunately, after a long period of decline and economic stagnation in the region the art of Burano lace-making was slowly dying in the 20th century. Thankfully Burano’s lace trade consortium and Venetian government made a deliberate effort to revive the art of Burano lace in the 1970’s to increase employment on the island, attract tourism, and save the local knowledge and expertise of the craft. This is when the old archives were brought back to light, Burano Glass museum (Museo del Merletto) was created, and local craft was slowly revived.
Yet, even after all these efforts, Burano lace crafting is in no way a booming business and true mastery is quite rare. The traditional 16th century process of making lace consists of five stages, and each one traditionally requires a different craftsman, making it a labor-intensive and logistically difficult craft. Few craftsmen are participating in the production of lace today, but there are still beautiful Burano lace items to be found if you know where to look.
If you are shopping for Murano lace, or just need a break from the tourist crowds of Venice, we highly recommend that you visit Burano island with its colorful ancient houses and palazzos, beautiful quaint canals, amazing restaurants, and a quiet authentic pace of life that instantly transports you centuries back, to the way Venice must have been before the onslaught of mass tourism.
Where to Buy Burano Lace?
One great place to shop for authentic traditionally-crafted Burano lace is the store and atelier of Martina Vidal located in the Palazzo dei Pittori in Burano (its address is Sotoportego dei Preti 3600/A). This beautiful store offers a large variety of top-quality lace crafted by the skilled artisans the same way it was made five hundred years ago. This unique store has everything you may desire, from special-occasion table cloths to dressy centerpieces, from fine clothing adornments such as cuffs and collars to ever-so-popular wedding veils (what bride doesn’t want to have something traditional, Venetian, and beautiful as part of her wedding dress?).
Venice has great gifts for everyone: go on a treasure hunt but be careful!
Venice is an excellent city for fans of unique travel souvenirs and artisanal products. There are so many beautiful, traditional gifts for you to choose from that buying t-shirts or industrially manufactured presents with no personality would really be a shame here. However, oftentimes, it can prove difficult distinguishing between genuine gifts and counterfeits that have been flooding Venice in recent years.
There are many sellers who will attempt to sell you knockoffs, and for this reason, it’s important that you do your research ahead of time, consult reputable sources, and know what to look for once you are in Venice. It is hard to not get dazzled by all the variety of gorgeous glassware, masks, lace, and other designer pieces around you once you are in Venice, but with our help we hope you will get your bearings very quickly and leave with gorgeous unique handcrafted gifts that will remind you of Venetian artistry and traditions for years to come.
And if you are like many of our customers who fell in love with Murano Glass after visiting Venice and felt very sorry that they did not bring home more Murano Glass gifts, despair not: GlassOfVenice.com was created with you in mind! On our website you will find the assortment of Murano Glass gifts rivaling most Venetian stores (over 2,500 unique designs, to be more exact!) – all guaranteed 100% authentic Murano Glass of the highest quality crafted by family workshops and Murano-based artisans that we know personally. We look forward to bringing all your Murano Glass dreams to life!