Famed for its canals, gondoliers, and beautiful buildings, the Italian city of Venice is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. As a nod to the popularity of this place, Las Vegas has even built its very own city replica, inside one of its gaudy hotels. But Britain got there first. London’s Little Venice was first named back in the late 19th century, by poet Robert Browning who lived in this area of central West London for over 20 years.
Today "Little Venice" (a pocket of Maida Vale, W9) is home to some of the richest Londoners. An Accidental colleague claims there are also a lot of arty types about, but less of the starving-in-a-garret ones, more of the exhibiting-in-galleries-in-W1 types I would imagine. Vast Victorian stucco-ed mansions, that require a pricey re-painting every three years, line wide streets down which carriages once clattered. Even one of the very first gas lampposts still stands in the grounds of a slightly dilapidated mansion near Warwick Avenue.
The star resident of the area is the winding canal. In fact, two canals meet in Little Venice; the Regents Canal and the Grand Union. Once a transport route for the city’s many heavy industries now little moves up and down except tourist barges and the odd canal-boat moving between moorings. Along its length are a number of other boats that go nowhere at all. Permanently moored, these are floating homes, and some of the most prestigious addresses in the city. (In terms of boat residences these are on a par with the luxurious floating homes of Chelsea.)
Whilst many bricks-and-mortar London properties have little or no garden or outside space, some of these houseboats have alloted gardens on the stretches of riverbank opposite where they are moored. Despite the fact these green spaces are often tiny and very narrow, with a towpath splitting each garden from its boat, the owners tend them proudly and with a certain horticultural flair. Here a gazebo draped in trailing wisteria, there a pair of deck-chairs with a recently abandoned cup of tea and paperback book.
Where once heavy horses stomped dragging laden barges, the towpaths are peaceful now. Boat pets come and go. Residents sunbathe and chat. City visitors barge noisily, and unthinking, through these properties. For the owners of these extraordinary homes, some days it really must be like living in touristy Venice.