CaorleHistoric fishing town and pleasant seaside resort, with interesting lagoon excursions
Caorle is a pleasant and popular seaside resort in the Veneto region of Italy, north of Venice. It has large beaches on the Adriatic, a pretty and colourful historic centre, and fascinating fishing traditions which can be glimpsed on an excursion along the waterways of Caorle's lagoon.
Caorle is very much geared up for summer beach tourism; with a population of 12,000, the town boasts 50,000 beds for holidaymakers. Many of these come from Austria and Germany, so German as well as English is widely used in local tourist businesses. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, late spring or early summer (May-June) is the ideal time. Autumn is quieter too, though you may find the lagoon's mosquitos out in force. Caorle is pronounced with the stress on the first of three syllables. It is not far from the modern, better-known resort Lido di Jesolo.
Caorle doesn't have any great tourist sights or itineraries; this is the kind of resort where visitors can concentrate on the important holiday activities of strolling, relaxing on the beach and whiling away the time at cafe tables. That's not to say that Caorle is a bland modern resort, though. The historic centre, just behind the seafront, is charming and full of character, with colourful painted houses and picturesque little squares and alleyways. There is a central shopping street, Via Rio Terrą (a former canal), which is largely pedestrianised, where you can find everyday shops as well as beachwear, postcards and ice creams. Hidden away in little courtyards are pretty cafes and restaurants; glancing through gaps in brightly-painted houses you'll see comfortable scenes such as couples eating at a pizzeria, comfortable outdoor bar tables under vine-covered trellises, a local leaning a bicycle against a painted wall.
Before it was a holiday resort, Caorle was a fishing port, and although tourism is now the most visible business here, fishing is still important. The fishermen's port, Porto Peschereccio, behind the town centre, is lined with working sea-going fishing boats. Caorle sits between the mouth of the river Livenza, a network of inland canals (draining the formerly marshy Veneto) and a wide area of water, mud and small islands known as the Caorle lagoon (Laguna di Caorle). Surrounded by waterways, Caorle is effectively an island, though connected by bridges. Porto Santa Margherita, a seaside suburb just the other side of the Livenza, is connected to the centre of Caorle by a ferry (traghetto). Along the lagoon shore are some examples of an unusual kind of local dwelling, seasonal fishermen's huts called casoni, made of reeds.
Caorle's historic centre is clustered on a small bulging promontory, with long wide beaches either side. The heart of town is Piazza Vescovado, site of the town's cathedral, the Duomo or Cattedrale di Santo Stefano. The cathedral is a fine ancient building dating from the eleventh century, though heavily restored. Inside the church is a calm aura of antiquity. Stone and brick columns alternate either side of the nave, and a fragment of early-Christian sculpted marble is incorporated into the modern pulpit. Don't miss the rather endearing fresco of Santa Lucia, presenting her eyes on a plate, surrounded by quaintly-painted scenes from the saint's life. An equally charming wooden statue of San Rocco stands near the door, proudly displaying his own saintly attributes of a plague sore on the thigh and a little dog. The cathedral's other precious art includes a fifteenth-century wooden crucifix and a 'Pala d'Oro' screen of silver and gold displayed behind the altar. Alongside the building is one of the town's symbols, its remarkable campanile (belltower). This tall, round, thin tower was possibly built as a watchtower; the views from the top must be tremendous. The upper part of the tower seems to be supported miraculously by a fine, delicate arched loggia.
Not content with the historic cathedral, Caorle has another, even more photogenic church. The eighteenth-century Santuario della Madonna dell'Angelo sits right on the tip of the promontory with a campanile that doubles as a lighthouse, looking masterfully out over the Adriatic and seeming to hover between the sea and the fishing boats, the lines of beach sunloungers and row of hotels along the beach beyond. The church commemorates a miracle; the wooden statue of the Virgin Mary preserved inside was said to have been found by local fishermen as it floated in the sea on top of the marble well also displayed in the church. The church and story are important to the caorlotti, people of Caorle, and there are processions at sea every five years in honour of this event (the next is due to be held in 2015). The promenade approaching the church, the Lungomare Petronia, is separated from the sea by boulders which have been sculpted by artists into a permanent art show.
The historic centre and seafront promenade are lovely places to stroll, or sit and rest with a drink or ice cream. There's a good choice of places to do this; although it can be hard choosing between the charm of the inland streets, and a balcony seat overlooking the sea.
Things to do
Caorle is a seaside resort, so for many visitors, the main thing to do is to enjoy the beaches and the sea. This, along with pottering around the centre, is the principal activity of Caorle. However, if you are feeling active, there is more to do. To explore further afield, it's a nice idea to hire bicycles - the area is very level, with some good cycle paths and interesting routes. There is more information below on cycling around Caorle. If you have small children, or aren't keen on the effort of cycling, you could catch the 'Orient Express', a little tourist train which runs about the town in the morning and the evening. At the time of writing this departs from the roundabout in the town centre, Piazza Papa Giovanni. Once a day this little train trundles as far as the fishermen's casoni. Inland, behind the bus station, are family attractions; the Lunapark and a water park. Adventurous travellers can also hire boats or go on diving excursions. There's an 18-hole golf-course, Golf Pra' delle Torri, five miles away beside the sea.
There are wide sandy beaches on either side of the historic centre of Caorle, linked by a charming seafront promenade. The beaches are very well-equipped, lined with row upon row of sunloungers and parasols for hire. There are children's play areas on the sands, and also fitness areas. Behind the beaches are rows of hotels and holiday rental apartments, along with all the normal seaside businesses: gelaterie, cafes, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops and so on. The town doesn't extend far inland from the sea, so wherever you are in Caorle, the beach is never far away.
If you are visiting Caorle in the summer months, a boat excursion is a must-do activity. Daily trips take holidaymakers into Venice, but you shouldn't miss the opportunity to explore the waterways and lagoon of Caorle itself. Two or three boats, including a small traditional bragozzo, operate trips lasting a couple of hours which explore the waterways and lagoon of Caorle. There are also romantic evening boat trips.
Boat trips start running regularly around the middle of May, but it is always a good idea to check and perhaps book in advance, by telephoning ahead, or asking your hotel or the tourist office. Trips to Venice run Monday-Friday, departing at 8am and leaving Venice at 4pm.
There are a number of different bicycle itineraries in and around Caorle; ask at the tourist information office or your hotel for more information - or plan your own route on a map. On the map below I've marked the cycle route I followed to see the casoni by the lagoon. The landscape is flat and divided by canals which frequently have paths alongside them, so it is a good area for cycling. Although not dramatic, the rural scenery is attractive and interesting. In Caorle you can hire bicycles (normal bikes as well as the multi-rider 'jaunting' kind) on Via Istria, at a reasonable hourly rate. I'd suggest taking sunscreen and water as well as, perhaps, a picnic on your excursion.
The fishermen's casoni of Caorle
Even if you are only visiting Caorle for one day, I'd recommend you make the effort to discover some of the Veneto's unique traditions, and visit the truly atmospheric fishermen's settlement on the lagoon shore. Just a couple of miles outside the lively tourist centre of Caorle, you find yourself in a peaceful green spot alongside the lapping water, where time seems to be standing still. Here, fishermen who worked in the lagoon built houses made of reeds and rushes which served as bases for their fishing expeditions. These unusual buildings are like tall thatched cottages with high pointed roofs. Inside there is usually a central fireplace for cooking the catch, and long tables where groups of friends ('friends, not family' I was told) come to enjoy long convivial fish suppers. Boats are moored alongside in their own little shelters, and several of the casoni have little vegetable patches alongside.
Although this traditional way of living and working may be dying out, there are still fishermen who maintain their traditional casone and spend time by the lagoon every day. Tourists can visit the casoni on boat trips from Caorle, or on the once-daily extended tour of the little tourist train. These modes of visiting, of course, have the disadvantage that you'll be with a group of other visitors. Walking or cycling to the lagoon allows for a more leisurely and atmospheric visit. There is a cycle and footpath along the lagoon shore (see map below) which passes by a number of picturesque fishermen's huts, some smartened up like holiday homes and one or two falling into sad disrepair. As well as the casoni, walkers and cyclists can admire the vegetation, scenery and birdlife of the lagoon. I saw huge numbers of swans as well as wading birds. Where the footpath reaches another canal, and a road, there is a car parking space and a cycle rack. From here a pedestrian footpath hugs the shore and crosses a long bridge to the Isola dei Pescatori, 'fishermen's island', a tiny 'village' made up of casoni, decorated with painted entrances and kept in good repair. If you are lucky, you may be invited to see inside one of the buildings; the local fishermen are proud of their traditions and may welcome your interest.
You can return to Caorle following the recommended cycle itinerary along the canalside road, or by retracing your route along the lagoon. If you choose the latter option, note that the roads leading out of Caorle are part of a one-way system and you'll be cycling into any traffic (generally very little). A pleasant leisurely cycle ride can be accomplished in under a couple of hours, including a wander around the casoni. You could probably manage to make the tour in an hour.
Getting to Caorle
Getting to Caorle is straightforward, thanks to regular bus connections with Venice and its airport. However, Caorle's geographical position out on a coastline interrupted by rivers, canals and lagoons prevents it from being a good base for an exploring holiday. You can visit one or two places by public transport or driving, but if you want to take in a larger variety of destinations, I'd recommend moving on from Caorle to an inland hub like the town of Treviso.
By air: The main airport for Venice, Marco Polo Airport, is very convenient for Caorle, as the ATVO bus from Venice to Caorle (see below) stops in the airport forecourt (buy your ticket in advance at the ticket desk inside the arrivals hall). The buses run roughly hourly, and the journey takes just under an hour and a half. There's luggage space in the hold.
Treviso Airport, served by Ryanair (as 'Venice Treviso'), is also near Caorle. A third option, also with budget flights, is Trieste Airport. From here you would need to take a bus to Monfalcone station, a train to Portogruaro and then another bus to Caorle.
By train: Caorle doesn't have a railway station. The most convenient station to use is Portogruaro, on the Venice - Trieste railway line. Hourly buses connect Portogruaro station with Caorle. If you are keen to see more sights while visiting Caorle, you could take an early bus to Portogruaro and then use the train to visit destinations such as Trieste or Aquileia - but do check the latest timetables first.
By bus: Caorle bus station (autostazione) is a short walk from the centre of town (see my map below). ATVO services connect Caorle and neighbouring Porto Santa Margherita with the rest of the Veneto and with the railway network. You can view the latest timetables on the ATVO website (see links panel on the right). Venice is two hours away by bus; a long but scenic journey over the reclaimed wetlands of the Veneto plain. The bus stops in Piazzale Roma in Venice, and after reaching Caorle it continues over the canal to Porto Santa Margherita. Other destinations which can be reached by bus from Caorle, although with limited journeys per day, include Treviso and Oderzo (changing at San Dona' di Piave, a bustling inland town), the seaside resort of Eraclea Mare and Udine (a couple of services a day, changing in Portogruaro).
A day trip from Caorle to Venice (and vice versa)
In the summer season there are boat trips to Venice from Caorle. If you prefer to make the trip independently, the ATVO bus is the most simple way to travel between Caorle and Venice. Although the total travelling time, there and back, will be four hours, it is a reasonably comfortable and scenic journey and this is a feasible option for a day trip. You should check the ATVO timetables when planning your trip as there are some gaps between their services, and variations on Sundays and public holidays (festivi). Note the time of the last bus back, which is generally between 6pm and 7pm.
I visited Caorle as a day trip from Venice, and had time for a very enjoyable day out. In Venice you can buy bus tickets at the ATVO office in Piazzale Roma. The bus was scheduled to depart from bay B16, but went from the neighbouring space, so I'd advise keeping alert or asking a driver.
Caorle is packed with seaside hotels and holiday apartments. Alloggi Taverna Caorlina offers affordable lodging in the old town above a taverna, close to the beach. For a more traditional seaside hotel, try the three-star Hotel Astoria on the beach west of the historic centre. For an independent stay, the Aparthotel Gioia offers accommodation with kitchenettes and free bike hire.
Map of Caorle
View Caorle in a larger map
> Caorle photo gallery - see more photographs of the seaside town and of the casoni by the lagoon.