Little Venice is one of the most attractive and picturesque parts of Mykonos Town and one of the prettiest places in the Cyclades. Its charming two and three storey houses with colourful balconies, windows and doors; built precariously right on the sea, form a unique picture. It is almost as iconic an image of the Cyclades as are Santorini’s sugar cubed houses and blue domed churches and is among the most photographed tourist destinations in the whole of Greece.
The term ‘Little Venice’ may seem a little strange because there are no canals here and certainly no gondolas either. Instead the description derives from the bright colours of the buildings that resemble the fishermen’s houses on the island of Burano, which is an island famous for lace making in the Venetian lagoon and there is a theory that houses were gaily painted like this so that the fishermen could see them from sea and use them as a point of reference.
These buildings were indeed once fishermen’s houses but all have been converted to bars to accommodate the thousands of annual visitors to the island. It is possible to rent a room in some of the buildings but to do so requires a very extravagant budget. The bars are expensive too and prices here are typically twice and even three times as much as in the streets immediately behind. The place has an ambiance of extravagance and indulgence and I did most of my drinking elsewhere.
If you like the film ‘Shirley Valentine’ you will recognise this place from a scene in the film when Shirley has a Greek salad with her friend Jane at a taverna close by next to a pebbly beach. I had a meal in the same restaurant and that was a bit expensive as well.
Other places have their own versions of ‘Little Venice’, London and Prague are two examples and Amsterdam in the Netherlands is called the ‘Venice of the North’. There is a Little Venice in Michigan USA and another in Bavaria in Germany and there is even one entire country that is called ‘Little Venice’. The name ‘Venezuela’ is believed to have originated from the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci who, together with the Spanish explorer, Alonso de Ojeda, led a 1499 naval expedition along the northwestern coast of South America. When they landed they saw Indians living in houses on stilts and using boats that were shaped like gondolas. They thought that the country resembled Venice so they named it Venezuela, which means ‘Little Venice’. That’s a bit odd I suppose when you consider that Venezuela is nearly two thousand three hundred times bigger than Venice itself!
On the subject of naming places it is another interesting fact that the name America comes itself from the latinised version of Amerigo Vespucci’s name. The airport at Florence is also named after him.
There may be a lot of places called ‘Little Venice’ but everywhere it seems just has to have a ‘Little Switzerland’. In 1992, the Swiss Tourism Federation counted more than 190 places around the world that had adopted this description. I have discovered at least five in England, in Devon, Derbyshire and Shropshire, all of which I might be able to agree with, but I am sceptical about the River Humber just outside of Hull and the Little Switzerland Caravan and Camping site at Folkestone, Kent. If I was to put a cuckoo clock in my house that would probably entitle me to call it “Little Switzerland” too.