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Venice - La bella Serenissima

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Regata Storica di Venezia, courtesy Paul Allen 2012

We visited Venice this autumn, to see the architecture biennale, not that we ever need an excuse to go to our favourite European city. By happy coincidence, the biennale overlapped with the Venice film festival so our trip was a visual feast with a few excellent parties thrown in. We were fortunate to see Faith, the award-winning second part of Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy about three women from the same family on different quests. Paradise: Faith will be released in the UK next year, along with the first part of the trilogy -Paradise: Love (just shown at the London Film festival).
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Venice Film festival party on the Lido, courtesy Paul Allen 2012

The architecture biennale runs until 25 November so there's still time to see this edition of the best in world architecture. Like the art biennale which will open again next June, the architecture exhibition is in two main venues - the Giardini, the gardens in the eastern part of the city housing the country pavilions and the massive Arsenale, a former shipyard. Highlights this year came from Japan, the UK, Russia, Brazil and Spain.
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Inside the Russian Pavilion in the Giardini, courtesy Paul Allen, 2012

With plenty of serious work to engage with, it was good to have fun as well - from pointing an ipad at the floor to ceiling tiles of QR codes in the Russian pavilion to bouncing on a trampoline in the Spanish pavilion to peering through peepholes in the Brazilian exhibition.

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La Casa dei Tre Oci, Guidecca, courtesy Paul Allen, 2012

Outside of the two main venues of the biennale are plenty of free and often excellent exhibitions. The Taiwanese exhibition on the Grand Canal is definitely worth a look. A large corrugated cardboard construction of a typical Taiwanese apartment with ceiling hangings meant to look like glass noodles make for a powerful walk-in installation. A short vaporetto ride to Guidecca Island took us to the fantastic La Casa dei Tre Oci (house of three eyes) recently reopened by Fondazione di Venezia to show contemporary art. The current show, The Way of Enthusiasts, a Russian group show looking at failed architectural experiments, is interesting but the real reason to visit is to see the neo-Gothic building, once the home of Renzo Piano (the architect of London's Shard).

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Taiwanese Pavilion, Grand Canal, courtesy Paul Allen 2012

We stayed at two five star hotels and one mid-range hotel - and we'd recommend each for different reasons. The Charming House on the Querini Stampalia square behind Piazza San Marco has only 4 rooms but each chic suite has contemporary artwork by local artists on the walls and all the modern conveniences you'd expect in a boutique hotel. On the other side of the grand canal is the luxurious Ca Maria Adele, with its lush decor, pretty terrace overlooking the canal, and excellent location beside the Salute cathedral and vaporetto stop. And in the same area, we also stayed in the Hotel Agli Alboretti, behind the Accademia galleries. The hotel decorated in a 19th century nautical theme is a good budget choice.
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Entrance to The Charming House, courtesy Paul Allen 2012

Film festival parties provided much of our food and drink but a trip to Venice wouldn't be complete without a visit to our favourite restaurant - the Osteria Oliva Nera in the Castello area not too far from St Mark's Square but miles apart from the usual fare you'd find there. Owners Isabella and Dino make everyone feel welcome while serving up delicious Venetian dishes like Sarde in soar (Sardines), stuffed Zucchini flowers and a wide range of local fish and seafood.

Watch this space for more tips on our favourite hotels and restaurants on our next trip to Venice for the art biennale in June 2013.