Other than visiting Pompeii, one of my favorite Italian cities to visit is definitely Venice. It isn’t because of the canals or the gondolas—which are more of a tourist trap these days than an actual method of travel. The real reason I love Venice is the unique beauty the many islands each have to offer, and the various crafts to which each island seems to devote itself. This is why, when I discovered there were mask-making tours and demonstration tours focused on the Venetian islands, I simply had to get involved.
The Mask-Making Tour
I absolutely love the design of Venetian masks—particularly the Gatto, which looks like a cat—so I was beyond excited to learn about some of the history of those masks during my tour. It started with a simple meet-up where we all introduced ourselves; there were only seven people in this group, and most were couples and families.
Our tour guide, Sara, was a sweetheart but also a soft voice, so many of us had to huddle together to hear her over the sounds on the cobblestone streets. We were led along the alleyways of the main island in Venice until we reached a store with masks decorating the windows and looking out over us. Along the way, Sara explained how the masks became a central theme to Venice; in fact, they were outlawed multiple times for causing intermixing of social classes.
Our group was led inside and shown around the mask shop, and told to pay attention to looks we might want to replicate. We found there were different types of Venetian masks, such as the Gatto, and we could choose one of those designs to make into our own masks.
They then led us into the studio, which had far fewer masks than I expected; most of the workshop was covered in plaster, pastel colors, and paints. We sat at thick tables with newspaper laid down, and then we each chose from pre-made masks that we could paint. I of course ended up with the cat mask!
We spent a good hour decorating and painting, with an instructor helping us along the way. I chatted with the couple that joined me at the table, and I painted a gold and orange cat face with some touches of bright green—I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable crafting experiences I’ve had so far.
The Demonstration Tours
The second part of my day consisted of a visit with a tour group to two other major islands. The first was Murano, in which my other tour group, with the guide Giula, was brought to a glassblowing factory. We were led around and shown one of the artisans actually blowing through the tube to improve the glass. While the demonstrator worked, our guide explained the process of glassblowing—one volunteer even got to quickly blow through the tube! Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to, but still seeing the process had left a passion that led me to finding someone who could actually teach me how to create glass later on.
The second part of the trip was to the island of Burano, whose houses are decorated with all sorts of incredible colors—that’s probably the major show of the island; each house is painted differently, even by slight shades, though generally with bright colors. It was here that we were introduced to lace-making. This place was more personal than the factory, with people sitting in chairs actually hand crafting the lace. Just like the glass-working, we were given a history lesson of why lace-making started in Venice, how the area’s industry developed, why Burano was one of the few places that still commercially produced hand-woven lace. The tour ended with a look at nearby shops, where we were able to get discounts on anything we bought—I picked up a few glass pieces, one of which was a dolphin with a beautiful mix of colors.
That concluded my day for those crafting tours. I think because the mask-making tour was hands-on I had a lot more fun with it—plus I got to take the mask I created with me. I mean, who doesn’t want a real Venetian mask they decorated themselves?
Have you gone on any tours in Venice? What has been your favorite?
Sarah Murphy has worked in Dublin for the last two years as a blogger, web content manager, and marketing coordinator. A journalist by training and travel junkie by nature, she regularly travels to Italy for both business and to experience some of the Rome tours, where she mostly spends her time in search of the perfect gelato.
By Sarah Murphy