Last weekend, in search of spruce needles for our upcoming Fragrance Supper Club, we walked to the Eastern end of Lido, where this narrow tongue of island meets the Adriatic. Behind the beaches and the cabins, still boarded up before the season begins is a wilderness of pine trees and shore grasses where a path of worn duckboards leads through a landscape which feels more Scandinavia than Serenissima. Venetians in the know come here to walk or cycle, or perhaps to enjoy the incongruous sight of a prop plane rising out of the arena.
Nicelli airport has a lot to be proud of-the story of Italian aviation begins here and moreover it came third in a BBC survey of the world’s most beautiful airports (pipped the post by Hong Kong and Montevideo). That Venice still exists at all is arguably thanks to the Nicelli, as in 1915 when the city was threatened with bombing a French air squadron, the 36-man Neuport was gifted to the Italian government to defend its architectural heritage. Operations were established around a fifteenth century fort behind the San Nicola church, whilst the officers were quartered at the Albergo Paradiso ( no longer standing but comemorated in the nearby Paradise Beach). The French being the French, they brought four cooks with them, and the Venetians being the Venetians the new airfield soon became the smartest place to be seen, attracting Venice’s high society who came to dine and admire the planes. The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII dropped by, as did another famous visitor, that terrible old windbag Gabriele d’Annunzio, who remains (entirely inexplicably), one of Italy’s most legendary poets. D’Annunzio was very keen on posing as an aviation hero and the French politely named one of their planes after his poem Forse che se fore che no/ Maybe, maybe not. Given the amount of meddling and generally throwing his weight about D’Annunzio got up to one might imagine which side of the statement their hopes lay.
After the war, Nicelli was converted into Italy’s first civilian airport, with Transadriatica offering a non-stop flight to Vienna in 1926, and the popularity of the Lido as a smart holiday destination soon meant that as many as 1000 passengers per day were passing through Nicelli. The present Rationalist-Deco building was constructed in 1935 by Umberto Klinger, with the arrivals hall featuring murals by the Futurist artist Tato. Sadly, the site went into decline for much of the late twentieth century, but in 2007 Nicelli was restored and reopened and still receives private planes, becoming a paparazzi hot-spot for movie stars arriving for the August cinema festival.
Nicelli has also continued its gastronomic traditions. The airport restaurant is run by a lovely man called Enzo, who offers a menu of mostly fish-based Venetian classics with a Neapolitan twist provided by his wife. It’s open to the public for lunch and dinner for anyone who fancies a bit of Deco-glam planespotting and rather wonderfully provides an annual English style Christmas lunch. Arriving there by boat- naturally the Nicelli has its own canal- feels fabulously Fellini; Nicelli should be on the list for anyone who is curious about Venice’s lesser known but nonetheless remarkable twentieth- century past.
The pasta dish below is a nod to Mrs Enzo but it might be just the thing for supper after a dashing night flight, and whilst they probably didn’t serve a Venetian 75 at the Albergo Paradiso, we thought the famous French cocktail, named for the 75mm mortar shell used by French forces in WW1, might do very well with Prosecco. If you make both these things together, you’ve frankly got a party.
FUSILI WITH SAUSAGE AND OLIVES
1 jar pitted black olives, rinsed and drained
1 large yellow and 1 large red pepper, de-seeded and halved
4 fat Italian sausages
large handful fresh basil
2 small mozzarella di buffala (smoked is wonderful if you can find it)
500g fusili or other short pasta
Heat the oven to 180 and put the pepper halves in a roasting tray with a tbsp oil and a dash of water. Roast in the oven for approx 20 mins until softened and with the edges beginning to char. While the peppers are roasting, blend the basil with 2tbsp olive oil and slice the olives. Over a large pan set on a medium heat squeeze the meat from the sausage casings and break up as it cooks. Slice the peppers and add them to the pan along with the basil mixture and the olives. Cook the pasta for the essential 1 minute less than the packet instructions, then quickly mix with the sausage sauce. Tear the mozzarella with your hands over the hot pasta before serving.
1tps lemon juice, 1 tbsp sugar syrup per person, gin, Prosecco, fresh lemon slices. A white wine glass is better than a flute for this. Put a good slug of gin with the sugar syrup and the lemon in the bottom of the glass and mix well with a teaspoon. Drop in the lemon slice and fill with Prosecco.
(NB “simple syrup” is just equal parts sugar and water heated in a saucepan until the sugar dissolved and it thickens. If you want to make it, just don’t let it burn, but frankly mixing it in the glass is fine, especially on a Friday).
Definitely want to see this place. Will bring my flying goggles.