To earn (or self-impose) the title of most beautiful bookstore in the world is either quite the feat or you’ve got some major cojones.
After all, you’re in some serious company here: there’s the super-touristy-yet-still-super-charming-on-the-right-day Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, the famous Strand Bookstore in NYC and the art nouveau gem Livraria Lello e Iramo in Porto- the list goes on. Suffice to say, that’s saying a lot.
So, during out last trip to Venice we made a point to pay a visit to Libreria Acqua Alta and see if it truly lived up to all that hype.
Acqua Alta, which translates to ‘high water,’ refers to the period of time, usually the winter months, when low parts of the city are flooded. Typically this occurs during November and December when the astrological tide, the scirocco (warm, south east wind that pushes water toward Venice) and the seiche (periodic movement of sea water) combine to create a huge influx of water into the Venetian Lagoon (knowledge = dropped). So, Libreria Acqua Alta literally means library of high water- which is a good thing, as it turns out.
Just steps away from the bustling Piazza San Marco is a tiny shop with their claim to fame, “Welcome to the Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World,” handwritten on white poster board out front. Walk passed the post cards and vintage posters and enter the world of owner Luigi Frizzo, who decided to stop travelling the world and put down some roots in Venice by way of a book store . That was 15 years ago.
Since then his little shop has swiftly risen in popularity, topping guide book and fancy internet lists everywhere. And it’s easy to see why the instant you step into Acqua Alta. Books are piled high from floor to ceiling, creating a labirynth of rooms guiding you from one space to the next. Friendly cats roam freely and, along with some impeccably dressed mannequins, greet guests at every turn. Bathtubs, row boats, canoes and yes, gondolas serve as shelves and pull double duty as safe keepers when acqua alta does occur and the small shop floods.
Wander around and you’ll eventually arrive outside where old books and huge encyclopedias are transformed into stairs for a gorgeous view over the canal. You know, just Venice being Venice.
Even their fire escape is charming as hell- with a front row seat to watch gondoliers float right by.
Visitors can find everything they need in this beautiful chaos- anything from travel to literature, new and used, French and English- it’s all there. Even some seriously cheeky products (Casanova condoms? Some one is now a millionaire thanks to alliteration. All it takes is one idea folks!).
So is it the most beautiful bookshop in the world? Possibly. It sure feels like it when you’re wandering through stacks of vintage Italian novellas and a man in a carnevale mask darts by. Like something out of a fairy tale except better because you get to wear an awesome mask too and that mask has feathers. And really, what more could you possibly need out of Venice? Besides this, of course.
It’s fairly easy to get to Libreria Acqua Alta and if you’re in the general vicinity, locals (and tourists too) will be able to direct you where you need to go.
The particulars: Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa in Sestiere Castello.