San Francesco del Deserto
The garden island of St Francis
Located south of Burano, this islet, according to tradition, is where St Francis landed when his boat ran aground on his return from the East in 1220, and where he founded a chapel. According to the story, the island's birds chirped so loudly that Francis had to ask them to be so quiet so he could pray. Not long after, the island was given to Francis’ followers, who founded a monastery.
The friars were forced out to make room for a military depot in 1806, but were welcomed back in 1856, when Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, then on his Venetian honeymoon, gave the island to the patriarch, who handed it back to the Franciscans. Today a half dozen brothers live on the island; it’s not the buildings you’ll remember (although there’s a lovely 14th-century cloister) but the love of nature evident in the beautiful gardens, with towering cypresses, olives and roses. Retreats of a few days are possible by appointment, but are expected to follow the Franciscans' routine and join in prayers seven times a day, starting at 6.45am.