An ice cream guide to Venice

We have seen heaps of technicolour ice cream churned in stainless steel laboratories.

We have seen rocket, parmesan, coconut and almonds, blitzed and whipped into impossible forms. We have seen artisanal sorbets melt under the sun, leaving tears of mango down the sides of our hands. We have seen granitas topped with fragrant basil; semifreddos drowned in clouds of cream; rice cakes stuffed with espresso-flecked gelato. We have had brain freezes and sugar highs; aching teeth and sickly dreams. 

It is said that Marco Polo introduced ice cream to Venice from China, where iced puddings had been a culinary staple since 3000 BC. (The secret, the Chinese worked out, was adding rock salt to the ice.) In the following centuries, the Italians started adding dairy to the flavoured ice, creating what became known as gelato. The compositional difference between ice cream and gelato is small but Venetians insist on its importance – many gelaterias emblazon their techniques on the wall. 

Gelato is made with milk, instead of cream, giving it a low fat-content. Coupled with a whipping technique that introduces less air to the mixture, it has a higher density and, therefore, more intense flavours. As we discovered, the panoply of flavours is what Venice does best. “There is no vegetable that can’t be turned into an ice cream worth of its name,” wrote an Italian chef in 1778. 

As you’d expect from an island that has a higher number of tourists than residents during summer, there are a lot of bad ice cream shops flogging off sweet stodge to tourists. So we asked the bar staff at Generator Venice for recommendations and did a bit of research to map the best artisanal gelaterias, giving ourselves a day to try them all. We used a mixture of vaporetto boats (€7.50 for a single journey) and a lot of walking to get around. So here it is: Parallel’s Ice Cream Guide to Venice. The things we dofor you…

Gelateria Alaska



Whenever you ask a local or consult a travel guide about Venice’s best gelaterias, you’re guaranteed to hear about Alaska. Owned and staffed by the charismatic Carlo Pistacchi (an apposite name for someone in the gelato business), Alaska offers around twenty flavours including cinnamon, ginger (one of the most popular) and Kiwi. It costs €1.50 for a scoop and we went for a medley of rocket, orange and ginger. The texture was perfect and the flavours were intriguing but, the real winner wasn’t the gelato but the peach and strawberry granita – a kind of Italian slush puppy topped with a sprig of basil. 

Gelato Di Natura





 

Five minutes walk from Alaska we stumbled upon a place that wasn’t on our map. The people at Gelato Di Natura are especially proud of their mantecore: the traditional small-batch freezers with rotating paddles. Founded in 1982, they, like a few other gelaterias we encountered, like to emphasise the lack of hydrogenated fats in their gelato. All the better to erase the guilt when you consume a few of their ‘Michi’, a Japano-Italian hybrid that is basically a rice cake filled with gelato. Slightly more expensive than Alaska but with a slightly creamier finish, it was a great find. We recommend savouring your walnut and fig ice cream in the nearby square of San Giaccomo 

San Stae 







Undoubtedly one of the city’s best in terms of texture and flavour, San Stae is located a minute’s walk from the San Stae boat stop on the main canal. Mario and Camillo are the amicable owners and their house flavour (gusta del casa) is ricotta, honey and sesame. They also do homemade magnums, which we didn’t see anywhere else. Since we were already feeling sugared out, we didn’t go for their house flavour but for a single cone (€2.50) of coconut. It was amazing. With a texture like compacted snow and an intensity of flavour that could have only come from fresh coconut, it was one of the day’s highlights. 

Gelateria Ca D’Oro 



After swishing down some water to clean our palettes, we crossed the canal and walked toward Gelatera Ca D’Oro, another mainstay of the artisanal scene. They had 26 flavours on offer from tiramisu to sesame but we decided to pick up a small cone of mango sorbet for €1.80. They claim to use 100% fresh and natural ingredients and the taste of the mango, which wasn’t too sweet, proved it. 

Boutique Del Gelato



Although there’s a sign hanging above the flavours that says, "No Tasting!" – fair given that it’s so close to St. Mark’s Square and must be full of cheeky tourists who just "want a taste" of everything – the owner of Boutique Del Gelato, Alessandra, was one of the kindest we met. As well as 16 flavours, they have home-made ice lollies, cakes, and a special ice cream of gianduiotto – a chocolate from in the northern Italian state of Piedmont. Although we were tempted by the chocolate mousse, we ended up going for a chocolate semifreddo, which is a sort of frozen mousse, that was served in a plastic cup submerged in whipped cream and drizzled in melted chocolate. It sounded good and tasted even better.

La Mele Verde 



From there we went to La Mele Verde, which occupies a beautiful position on a canal sandwiched in between some touristy restaurants. With certified hazelnuts from Piedmont and pistachios from Sicily, the owners are very proud of the provenance of their ingredients. The benefits of local sourcing aside, this was one of the more gluttonous of our stops. 

The house speciality is conocrepe, which takes one of their many ice cream flavours and adds a crepe and some Nutella. We ended up going for a €7 three-scoop brioche – literally an ice cream sandwich – filled with chocolate, pistachio and vanilla; and a two-scoop cone of nougat and coffee. The brioche was a bit dry and didn’t really add much to the experience but the ice cream itself was one of the smoothest we encountered. We were buzzing. 

Caffè Florian 



Although we concentrated on artisanal and lesser-known gelaterias, we realised we couldn’t go to Venice without having at least one over-priced ice cream in St. Mark’s Square. With its crumbling, fin-de-siècle façade and rude waiters, Caffè Florian fully embraces all the stereotypes you’d expect. Opened in 1720, it’s known for having an orchestra or small band playing in the outdoor seating – a pleasure for which, you’ll discover when you get the receipt, you’ve been charged €6! 

We went for the cheapest ice cream on offer, which was three-scoops in a fancy glass for €14.50. We chose the most Italian flavours on offer: strawberry, amaretto and tiramisu. Although the experience was delightful, if slightly hectic, the ice cream was somewhat…icy. As if it’d been refrozen. 

Gelateria Il Doge





 

We then went on one of our longest walks to Gelateria il Doge, which is located at the bottom of Campo Santa Margherita – a cool square where all the cool Venetians hang out. Although the staff seemed a bit beleaguered by the American tourists – “Can you recommend me a flavour? I don’t care which one,” said one frat boy to a woman who clearly couldn’t speak English – they were more than happy to offer us a sharp and tangy chilli chocolate sorbet, one of the 23 flavours of gelato and ice cream they had. Coming in at €1.50 a cone, we also thought it’d be worth getting a mascarpone y fragolina (basically strawberries and cream) for the road. 

Gelateria Nico





We then walked down to the largest canal that divides Dorsodurro from Giudecca, the island where you’ll find Generator Venice.  This is where the mammoth cruise ships enter Venice, and it was in their shadow that we basked in the manic glory of Gelateria Nico. 



Full of white uniform-clad waiters marching from the shop to the canal-front seating, it has the performative, hectic nature of St. Mark’s Square but with better quality, and cheaper, ice cream. Out of 28 flavours we chose a simple cone of mint – to soothe the day’s excesses – for €1.80. What you didn’t see if that after the above photo was taken, we accidentally dropped it in the canal. Oh well. 



L’Isola Dei Gelati 



So we crossed the canal on our last vaporetto of the day to head back to Generator. Except, a few minutes before reaching we passed a newly opened gelateria, L’Isola Dei Gelati. An unassuming, unpretentious place, we decided to buy a final cup of ice cream – a scoop of Kiwi for €1.40. Flavoursome and refreshing, it was the perfect way to end the day. We walked up the road to Generator to put an end to the day’s gluttonous excess. Although when we realised it was happy hour at the bar, we somehow found space for a few Aperol Spritz’s.

So there it is, all the information you need to make your weekend away in Venice as sweet as possible. [Shaking hands stereotypically] When’sa your gelato day?

Photography: Lili Owen Rowlands