Where in the World: Burano, Island of Whimsy

In each issue, we challenge you to guess where in the world the photos were taken. Sometimes it will be easy and other times not so easy. In every case, though, we bet that you will learn something about the place being featured.

Remember NO PEEKING until you make your guess. Oh, you want a clue or two?

What’s green and blue and red all over?

Well, that little riddle probably isn’t enough to guess this very special destination, so here are some more clues.

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Think of an island in Italy where transportation takes place on canals. Cobblestone alleys lead you through colorful shops and houses where you can shop for hand-crafted masks, hand-blown glass and artisan lace. Or, you can sit in a piazza and enjoy a glass of vino or some gelato. Thinking Venice? Uh uh. But you’re not far off!

So, Where in the World are we?

If Venice is a watercolor, then Burano is a box of crayons.Situated four miles across the Northern Venetian Lagoon from Venice is the captivating little island of Burano, arguably one of the most colorful locales in the world. During my stay in Venice I knew I had to hop over the lagoon and see this island I had heard about that is notable for its lace and for its colorful architecture. It was the morning before my last day in Venice. Bright and early I headed to the waterfront and found a kiosk where I would buy my ticket for the vaporetto (water bus) that motors to Burano.

How dismayed I was to find that there was a strike in progress and all vaporetti transports to Murano and Burano were canceled until further notice. Confused tourists began to leave and no one around me spoke English. What little I could make out from the people selling tickets prompted my intuition to tell me to stick around for a while and see what happens.

Shortly, the strike came to a sudden halt (apparently this happens fairly often). I happily boarded the
vaporetto along with a crowd of people and stood for the 45-minute crossing over the lagoon to Burano. As we pulled away from Venice, I admired how the aged watercolor hues on houses seemed to melt into the sea.


A quick forty-five minutes later I was in Burano. Stepping off the boat, I felt like I had just stepped into a fairytale. Strolling along Via Galuppi, the island’s main street, I wandered into a few of the lace shops where ladies of a certain age craft and sell their beautiful wares: scarves, tablecloths, ladies’ dainties.

Burano is famous for its artisan lace that has been hand-tatted there since the 16th century. Shops also offer the coveted Murano glass and Venetian masks that you can buy in Venice. But I ventured on, seeking something else. Where Venice is an enchanting but intricate spaghetti maze of narrow alleys and congested streets and crowded campos, Burano is simple, coastal, more open.

The pace is slower and gentler on the cobblestoned walkways of Burano; there are not the hurried locals zigzagging their way through throngs of harried tourists as in Venice. Like Venice there are no cars on Burano. The only things on wheels are well-worn bicycles.

Unlike Venice, you can walk around the whole sun-washed island and not get lost. Pretty little arched woodand-brook footbridges cross the quiet narrow canals. You feel a sense of simplicity of life and that all the locals must surely know one another. Stay on the island through the late afternoon and you will see fishermen bringing in their catch, their boats sidling up in front of houses like cars parked out on a street…only here, the streets are made of water. Burano is just as colorful as Venice, but the colors of Burano houses are more saturated and jewel-toned.

The vibrant colors are what I had come to see and what my camera hungered for. The legend goes that fishermen used to paint their houses bright colors so that they could recognize them when they were far out to sea. Another reason—far less romantic—is that people want to distinguish their house from their neighbors since most of them are essentially the same shape and connected like a rainbow. Mission accomplished. No two are alike.

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However, locals are required to get permission from the government to paint their houses in acceptable colors. The result is an island that is a striking and whimsical work of art. Playful crayon-box hues splashed on aged plaster mask imperfections. Vibrant striped awnings and window shutters in greens and blues surround swirly wrought-iron window boxes filled with flowers stubbornly holding onto their petals even in late October.

Fresh laundry drapes on balconies and hangs on clotheslines stretched across terra cotta roofs. Multi-colored umbrellas dangle, mushroom-like, from windowsills to dry from the recent rain. There is even a leaning tower on the tiny island that stands guard over the gemstone houses. The 15th -century bell tower of San MartinoChurch located in the Piazza Galuppi– the main plaza where there are lots of restaurants and shops.

To experience Burano is to truly experience a fairytale setting. The magic of it captured my imagination as I wandered, wide-eyed, about this color-drenched little island. If you travel to Venice, you mustn’t miss a quick but unforgettable jaunt to Burano. Or, maybe not so quick.

Article & Photos by Dedra Montoya

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