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Talking Location With … Cerrie Burnell – VENICE

12th June 2024

#TalkingLocationWith… Cerrie Burnell, author of The Night of the Unicorn Dance – VENICE

Cerrie Burnell discusses how the magic of Venice inspired her new children’s book The Night of the Unicorn Dance, a magical adventure story for children, with excitement, friendship and unicorns!

The Magic of Venice

There is a magic in Venice just waiting to be found. From the moment you arrive, you can sense it. A city steeped in history and splendour, reminiscent of a long-gone decadence, with art and beauty at its heart.

The magic is there in the winding alley ways where washing billows on balconies and Cerrie Burnellpeople – honestly – lean from their windows to sing. It glitters on the criss-crossing, gondola filled canals, where doorways seem to float, by enchantment upon the water. You can feel it in the little twisting streets and myriad of bridges that whisper of midnight adventures and secret love stories of times long past. You might glimpse it in the artistry of a theatrical mask, crafted from a dream of masquerade balls.  Or spy it in the ever-present sea-light that colours the city, in blue and gold.

It is somewhere that captures your breath at first sight.

I had only ever swept through Venice as a teen, and remembered its romantic, watery grandeur like a scene from a film. Full of breathtaking architecture, endless pizza, and thick, stifling heat.

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Whilst It was charming, it was overwhelmed with tourists, and was not somewhere I’d considered as a holiday spot. But a few summers back my daughter and I picked a random destination. Her only wish was that it had to be somewhere in Italy, mine – that it had to be somewhere near the blue summery sea.

Everywhere in Italy is wonderful, but the Italian seaside in high summer, did not quite fall with our budget. So, we landed upon, quite by chance, Venice.

“Where can we swim?” I pleaded with the travel agent, imagining us melting into the canals in the heat. “Is there a local lido?”

That was when he said the unforgettable words: “There’s an island of beaches, only the locals really know about.”

‘A secret island of beaches,’ I thought as he continued, “The Lido Island, has a huge outdoor pool, and is lined with beaches. It’s where the Venetians go in summer.”

I was sold.

Arriving at the airport we found it wildly uplifting to step from a plane to a boat, the water and sky both the kind of brilliant blue that makes you instantly smile. Then we were whisked past landmarks so dramatic in their artistry it was impossible not to be stunned. Stone angels with ethereal wings, rising spires of ancient churches, domed rooftops of opera houses cast in gold and the watchful eyes of winged lions that prowl the horizon.

Cerrie Burnell

At once it felt like a place where mythical creatures might roam, and before we even arrived at the Lido Island, I was imagining unicorns, prancing through the city.

When we reached the ‘Secret Island of Beaches’ we dashed straight from the ferry port into the first restaurant we saw, a very simple, fairly run down hotel. Obviously, we ordered pasta. I’m not sure what I was expecting, certainly not the most amazing meal of my wild, precious life. But that’s what we were served, a lunch that felt like a hug for the soul.

I had forgotten the soft magic of Italian food, the way it’s not particularly fancy, but is entirely delightful. The pasta, the ice cream, the wine, the cheese, a celebration of sense at every meal, sprinkled with joy.

After lunch we set off to get a bus (which I was not greatly looking forward to with the suitcases), but it could not have been easier – like catching a bus in Wes Anderson film.

As we were transported through Lido Island, it completely charmed me. A place made of summer, dotted with fabulous hotels, lovely pastel-coloured villas and windswept fisherman’s huts. The home of the Venice film festival, it’s timelessly classical, and very laid back. Everywhere you look you are greeted by the sea, glimpsing the gentle waves at the end of every street. And I knew then, this was where my unicorns would come to ‘hide’.

Cerrie BurnellThroughout the holiday it truly felt like we’d found a hidden gem, spending our days by the huge pool or on white sand beaches, wandering through wide streets blooming with hydrangeas, and then – once the heat of the day had past – we’d catch the ferry into Venice, to be enchanted by all of its romance, gliding along fabled streets by gondola.

Sometimes we’d head off by sunset. Avoiding the crowds and stepping into Venice by twilight to wander through a venetian fairytale. Pausing on bridges to listen to opera, savouring a late night ice cream, taking in canals lit by moonlight. Knowing we’d discovered something so truly special, an adventure just waiting to happen, in a city that steals your heart.

It was delightfully easy to write about in my new children’s book The Night of the Unicorn Dance, because Venice sets the scene so well – you could just imagine a sea-bound unicorn casually riding a gondola. But it was important to me to include the soft sandy joy of the lido island too, so that’s where my unicorns live, when they need both ice cream and salt-white beaches. And perhaps if you visit there, between the hydrangeas and lemon trees, by the light of the moon, you might just glimpse one too.

Cerrie Burnell

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Catch the author on Twitter X @cerrieburnell

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