This tiny island in the north of the Venetian lagoon once had a population of 20,000, now it has a permanent population of just 10 people. Apparently these were the only ones left that could afford the prices at the island’s famous inn and restaurant, the Locanda Cipriani. The rest of them starved once the price of a small lasagne topped 500 Euros.

It was the first inhabited island of the lagoon, indeed this was way before Venice itself. The settlers settled there, as settlers do, after being chased off the mainland by the Visigoths. If you want to know who the Visigoths were then check it out on Wikipedia, and if you can make any sense of it then you have more patience than I do. It’s all rather complicated but it has something to do with hostile Germanics going on a bit of a rampage through Europe. Sounds familiar.

Anyway, as I say, the refugees settled in Torcello and amongst other things they built the oldest cathedral in the lagoon. The cathedral has some wonderful mosaics which include The Last Judgement. It’s one for the kids as it features gory eternal punishments that mostly revolve around pitchforks in the rectum. I’m going to have a precautionary colonoscopy soon (the joy of reaching a certain age), the mosaic brought the prospect hurtling right back to the holiday I’d taken to forget all about it.

torcello travel guide islandAlthough I’d like to think that over-priced pasta forced the Torcello residents out, in reality the lagoon silted up, ships couldn’t get there and the island became mosquito-infested. Hence they were chased all the way to Venice by bloodthirsty mozzies and thus they set up camp there instead and founded Venice.

The Locanda Cipriani restaurant also has a famous history. It was founded by the owner of Harry’s Bar, Giuseppe Cipriani, in 1935. Its many notable diners have included Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth (II, not I) and Elton John. I did think about booking a table for lunch, however they are a little coy about the menu prices on their website so I made do with some cheese rolls that I’d liberated from our hotel’s breakfast buffet. I’d already worked out that the Locanda may have been just a little bit out of my price range.

Ernest Hemingway stayed at the Locanda Cipriani for a couple of months in 1950. If lunch is going to set you back 160 Euros for two (many thanks to those sneaky Tripadvisor reviews for pre-warning me) then God knows how much a room costs, and for two months no less. However I fear Hemingway had no comprehension of the better value to be had from a stolen breakfast, as I’ve just found out from reading one of his books.

Whilst staying at the inn he finished off writing a book called ‘Across the River and into the Trees’. As I knew I was going to Torcello I thought I’d give it a read. I won’t spoil the ending for you, in fact I can’t because I haven’t finished it yet. It’s about a US Army Colonel, aged 55, who is courting (a polite term) a girl of 19 who he keeps referring to as ‘Daughter’. Nothing at all weird there then.

It is set in Venice and it’s not so much the affair that is unsettling but the man’s proclivity to spend money on her. I’ve just been to Venice and I know what things cost. Bear in mind the current pay rate for a US Army Colonel is around £60,000 per year. Not a bad salary, but we’re not talking the annual remuneration of Bill Gates. So far in the book the Colonel has stayed at the Gritti Palace Hotel for a week which is currently £500 per night, although these days that does include a buffet breakfast and free wi-fi (whoopie-doo). He’s also had numerous meals brought up to his room, he’s gone duck-shooting, had several drinks in Harry’s Bar (£25 for a Bellini!) and he’s taken the floozy on at least four gondola rides at £90 a pop.

I should add that the book is also semi-autobiographical as Hemingway did indeed fall in love with a 19 year old girl in Venice.

The Colonel also waxes lyrical about the joys of a local wine, Valpolicella, and up to now he’s consumed several bottles of it….and all on room service again. I’ve never had Valpolicella so I thought I’d try some, seeing as Hemingway’s hero thought it was so wonderful. I bought a bottle from Tesco’s this very evening for £5.99. I’m drinking it now, it’s not that great. Although my palette is somewhat jaded after years of nicotine and Lidl’s premium lager, I’d describe it as ‘insipid’. There are better wines in the world out there, you should travel more Mr Hemingway.

Admittedly the hero of the book (for that read Hemingway himself) hasn’t actually got his leg over yet, so there’s no danger of retrospective naming and shaming at the moment, but he’s certainly put some financial investment into the prospect. Indeed I make it around £5,325.27.

Where I come from a couple of vodkas and a bag of chips is usually all it takes, perhaps he should write his next book in Cleethorpes.

Note: I have since found out that this Ernest Hemingway fellow is dead. So there’s bugger all point in finishing the book now, if there’s no sequel. Anybody know if he got there in the end? When I left it he was on tops.

For other Italian japes with Johnny click here