Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lido di Jesolo: a day by the seaside

On a hot day in last week I decided to take a day trip from Venice to Lido di Jesolo. I caught the motonave (a double-decker passenger ferry) from Riva degli Schiavoni, and enjoyed a pleasant journey cruising over the waters of the lagoon, with a very welcome breeze.

The ferry's terminus at Punta Sabbioni was packed with day-trippers travelling in the other direction, heading from Lido di Jesolo into Venice. There wasn't anything to see near the ferry stops, just a car park, a newspaper/tobbacco shop, a small bar, a souvenir stand (lots of shells), loos and a row of bus stops. I bought my bus ticket at the newspaper/tobacco shop and joined the smattering of people – including some Italian children who seemed to be making the journey unattended – waiting for the Jesolo bus, number 5 as the tobaccanist had helpfully informed me. Other buses seemed to be heading off for nearby beaches. The bus arrived; the Venice-bound crowds surged off, we took our seats and headed for Jesolo. It was a comfortable air-conditioned ride and an interesting chance to see this long peninsula, the Litorale di Cavallino. I had read that it was popular with German campers, and I saw plenty of evidence. Men getting on the bus sweaty and topless, shops and businesses with advertising signs only in German ('free wine tasting' seemed the most common).

I hopped off the bus in Lido di Jesolo after spotting a big tourist office (later on I was glad I hadn't waited until the bus station). I made my way back to this 'Palazzo del Turismo' and collected maps and information.

On a hot summer day there was something rather unreal about Jesolo. Like an episode of The Prisoner, but without the interesting architecture. Everything was sheltered, safe, 'nice' and repetitive. Later I tried to 'escape' a few streets inland to reach the bus station. But like Number Six's attempts, mine failed. A couple of minutes after I'd left the tourist shops behind, the pavements ran out. I was following streets marked on my little tourist map, but they simply weren't manageable on foot. Surrounded by construction sites and dual carriageways, I was forced to retrace my steps. I did find the bus station, but it seemed that tourists are simply not expected to stray that far from the beach.

My main impression of the beach was 'niceness'. The manicured sand, the neat rows of sunbeds and uniformly-coloured parasols, the little chalet-style changing rooms, the regular cafes, lifeguard towers, play areas. Jolly, sandy and worryingly tanned children and adults showering the sand from their brown bodies before heading the few yards to their accommodation. Everything seemed so safe and controlled it was hard to imagine anything bad could happen. True, when I arrived at the beach I came across a woman who was injured or ill. But she was already lying down, surrounded by helpful attendants and receiving first aid, while more uniformed first-aiders jogged towards the site from their stations along the beach. No panic, no fear, no pain, just a calm hush and prompt action.

I saw the beach in the middle of the day, so I didn't see any of Jesolo's famous nightlife. I did see a marvellous exhibition in a pavilion on the beach though: this year's sand sculptures festival. The theme was the Far West, and sculptors from all around the world had created large evocations of the Wild West, from dime novels to historical characters. There was even the Battle of Little Bighorn recreated in sand.

Although Jesolo is popular for its nightlife and organises lots of events for summer visitors, I can't say I was impressed with the calibre of these entertainments (sand sculptures excepted of course!). I don't think that 'Sexy wrestling'(accompanied by photographs of sweaty nearly-nude women) should have a place in modern society, and certainly not in a family holiday resort. Jesolo is keen to boast in its tourist leaflets that it hosts a regional beauty competition each year – and also considers it worth advertising the fact that a former Miss Italy came from the town. I opened the website to the local water fun park – very much a family attraction – and found myself confronted with more pictures of women clad only in pants. Why a theme park for children should consider it appropriate to host a 'pants' catwalk parade I have no idea. If you're taking your little ones, you might want to check their calendar first. I suppose these are only manifestations of common Italian cultural attitudes, though. Women may be 'equal' - and many of them extremely businesslike and successful – but every time you turn on the TV you'll see showgirls simpering in bikinis and wagging flirtatious fingers at viewing families. And I suspect that a holiday resort like Lido di Jesolo is exactly the sort of destination where those uncritical TV viewers spend their summer.

Despite my doubts about its feminist credentials, I didn't find Jesolo as unpleasant as I expected. It wasn't as crowded, for a start. I suppose ten miles of beach is enough for all the visitors. And perhaps I had been expecting the kind of faintly threatening atmosphere you find at seaside resorts in Britain.

I enjoyed a good lunch at Il Fagiolo (via Bafile 203), a friendly restaurant with a rustic-style interior and tables on a shady terrace by the road. They had pizzas at cheap prices, seafood and pasta. I chose a large and healthy salad, accompanied by the lightly sparkling house wine and lovely warm bread and followed by some decadently rich chocolate mousse. Definitely a place to recommend.

The boat trip back to Venice was enlivened by a big cruise ship, the Emerald Princess, which entered the narrow lagoon entrance just as our ferry approached. The big ships dwarf the lagoon and are always a surreal sight, with their little passengers lining sundecks high above the islands and buildings.

In conclusion: Jesolo seemed a safe and sheltered place to satisfy all the desires of a beach holiday. If you like that sort of thing. Personally I prefer sightseeing and culture, and found the niceness of Jesolo rather eerie. But I could see its appeal, particularly to families with children who want to relax for a week. It would also make a good sun-sea-and-sand stopover at the end of a sightseeing tour of the Veneto.

> Jesolo tourist guide