“At the edge of the water he remained, drawing figures into the sand with his toes, his gaze fixed at the ground. Then he crossed the shallow sea that reached up to his knees in its deepest parts and arrived at the sandbank.”

Death in Venice, Thomas Mann


In 1911, in a moment of deep existential and professional crisis, Thomas Mann checked into the Hotel des Bains on the Venice Lido in search of inspiration.  He found it and it was at that hotel that the novel Death in Venice was written and Luciano Visconti’s film of the book is set. Tourism came relatively late to the Lido and the only occasion that eighteenth-century grand tourists would visit was for the annual festival of the Wedding of the Sea a recorded in a spirited drawing by Canaletto.  The rest of the year the Lido was largely deserted, though Byron rode his horses there, Richard Wagner used to be rowed out to the Lido, and Effie Ruskin went there for a picnic and to gather sea-shells with John Ruskin and wrote to tell the man who was to become her future husband, Millais, about the expedition.  In 1857 the first bathing establishment was opened there and by the early twentieth century the Lido was on the way to becoming the most fashionable sea-side resort in Italy.   Shortly after the building of the Grand Hotel des Bains in 1905, Diaghilev and Nijinsky stayed there and a trolley-bus was installed linking the beach and the vaporetto stop which Helen Frick took on her visit in 1912.  Later fashionable visitors included the Shah of Persia, Ingrid Bergman, Maria Callas, Winston Churchill and Orson Welles, who recorded meeting Churchill on the beach: