One of my vices is ice cream. I've tried sea salt ice cream, vegan ice cream, even made my own ice cream. I love the stuff. Is it a girl thing? I don't know, I don't care. In Italy, I really had the chance to indulge. Italy is famous for its gelato, particularly Venice. Here is a snapshot of some of the places and tastes I visited.
Gelato isn't merely ice cream. In Italy, handmade gelato takes precedence over industrially produced gelato. Gelato is stirred at a much slower pace than ice-cream, so less air is in the mixture, making it thicker than ice-cream. It also contains a lower percentage of fat, sometimes a higher percentage of sugar, and other sciencey details that mean nothing to me, and you just need to try it to believe me, alright? Not to mention that most gelatari take pride in how they present their dishes, and with a lot of imagination.
For me eating gelato was a rewarding experience, I'll probably never go near a "whippy cone" again, its more expensive and far inferior, and it comes out of a tap, its not scooped into a cup, with a gaily coloured spooon and presented to you. The comforting dense texture of gelato is an experience worth remembering. Have I won you over yet? Book those flights!
Gelateria Nico, Fondamenta delle Zattere
Referenced in all the guidebooks, probably the most famous gelateria in Venice. I went in here on my second day in Venice, seeking the cool comfort of ice cream and shelter from the sun. It was my first taste of gelato in Venice and it sent me on a gluttonous path! I originally wanted to have a hot chocolate gelato float (I know right?!) but I soon learnt that Venice does not serve hot chocolate until the colder weather, from mid-October onward. Founded in 1937, Gelateria Nico is a Venetian institution, and is located on Fondamenta delle Zattere, a wide waterfront promenade in Venice, and a five minute walk from the Accademia bridge and the Peggy Guggenheim museum.
If going here I'd recommend that you get a coppa or cono (cup or cone) of gelato to take away, as a sit down and glass of ice cream can vary from €4.50 to €9.50, and the interior has seen better decades. Eat it at your own pace sitting on the waterfront (or standing, as I did one day when it was raining but I needed my gelato fix!). Its extremely well priced, a coppa of ice cream with panna (cream) made inhouse cost me €2.70 (€2.20 for the two scoops & 50c for toppings). The staff on the other hand, well you'll forget about their rudeness once you tuck into your gelato, as you can see, the portions are generous! I noticed on tripadvisor that someone recommended to ask for the gianduiotto ("a paper cup filled with whipped cream and a bar of the most delicious chocolate hazelnut gelato inserted into the cream with more cream plastered on top" WOW). My "usual" from here was the chocolate and amaretto, with cream. My Roman friend informed me that you can tell a good gelateria by the quality of its chocolate ice cream, and this place passed her test! This was my favourite and most frequented gelateria.
GROM is a chain of organic, artisan gelato shops in Italy. There are 3 in Venice alone. I went to one in Padua, and the other near Campo Santa Margarita. Their prices are a wee bit higher than that of the generic gelato places, but you can truly taste the difference. They are suitable for coeliacs, and contains no nasty artificial colours. I love how the staff procure the ice cream from their sleek metal tubs, they skillfully and rapidly scrape their spatula around the tub and transfer it artfully to your cone. The first time I chose the pistachio and dark chocolate in a cone. The combination was interesting, as the chocolate was so rich and dense, which I loved, while the pistachio tasted almost savoury. The cones themselves are lovely to bite into, and of great quality, not like the foamy, cheap ones we have here, that I'd rather cast aside than eat.
My second experience at GROM was in their Santa Nuova store. I chose a Marsala wine flavour (it being a quintessentially Italian flavour) with the dark chocolate again. It was my last full day in Venice, while we were on a leisurely stroll towards the Ghetto part of the city, and I decided to go in on a whim. I wish I'd eaten more of it sooner. The marsala wine gelato was divine, not too sweet and all, wonderfully thick, and a perfect accompaniment to the dark chocolate. Yum yum yum!!
Gelateria il Doge, Campo San Margarita
I tried this place on two occasions, the first time I wasn't awed and then on a late night stop off on my second last night in Venice. Myself and two of my friends both had gelato cravings at the same time, amazing. My most uttered phrase was probably "So... gelato?" We were hanging about our favourite Campo (San Margarita) and our favourite gelato places were too far to walk, so we stopped by here, as I remembered seeing it mentioned in a guide book (gives you an idea of what sections of the guide book I prioritised). They had a generous chocolate gelato section. Around 5 different flavours of chocolate gelato! Finn got the orange chocolate, which was like Terrys Chocolate Orange in gelato form (aka heaven) and I got the chili chocolate which had an intensely chocolate flavour, with a musky aftertaste. Lovely! Pretty good value too, around €1.20 for a cone.
Gelateria Paolin, Campo San Stefano
Recommended to me by a friend initially, I soon came across this place more than once in the guide books. On our first visit, it was the evening, so we decided to be decadent and get a table. The deserts in the menu are expensive. My glass (though amply filled) was €10.50, including table charge. On my next two visits, I got a cone, which was an incredible €1! Alledgedly the best pistachio gelato in Venice, pistachio being a favourite flavour of mine, I complied and found to my pleasure, while i can't speak for all the gelateri in Venice, it was certainly the best I'd ever tasted. The right side of sweet, with a gorgeous texture created by crumbled pistachios crumbled through the mixture. On one late night visit, I went back for seconds!
You can reach Gelateria Paolin in the bustling Campo San Stefano, a ten minute walk from San Marco, and on your way to the Accademia bridge. They also serve food.
Generally, I'd recommend that you avoid the gelato places around San Marco and the well thread tourist areas. The garish colours and quantity of gelato on display should be a hint to their quality really.
Most of the photo credit for the charming Finn MacLeod!