x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The trick is finding fun in fine art

If the seven-year-old twins had been appointed our tour leaders, we'd have spent the whole weekend cruising up and down the Canal Grande.

I admit that it was difficult to get the kids off the bus. Of course, the buses in Venice are particularly appealing because they're on the water, trundling slowly along the canals and over to the outlying islands. If the seven-year-old twins had been appointed our tour leaders, we'd have spent the whole weekend cruising up and down the Canal Grande and across the lagoon, while admiring the city from afar.

I've written about my family's love of transport before. We're never happier than when sitting on a rattling tram or scrunched up in a tuk-tuk - but at some point you have to disembark. And when you're leaving "the bus" in Venice, the place to go is usually inside a museum. The problem is convincing my three kids that going to see Canaletto's paintings of the canals at Ca' Rezzonico is a more attractive option than returning to our hotel via canal and watching Ratatouille.

It's easy if the museum has dinosaur skeletons, ancient Egyptian mummies or rows of computer games with flashing lights - none of which are options in Venice's stately galleries. But high art and small children is not an impossible combination and I like to think that I've cracked it - well, almost. On a museum visit, rather than diving straight into an intimidating gallery, the first place we visit is the shop. Each kid is allowed to buy one postcard of the picture they like best. The deal is they then have to hunt for that picture in the gallery. I just have to keep my fingers crossed that it isn't in the first room we enter. Once their favourite image is found, they need to either write a few words about it or draw a picture of it on the back of the postcard. That forces them to stop and stare. Their reward being that once they're done we head to the cafe for cake. My reward is feeling somewhat smug for introducing my young children to at least one piece of fine art.

Of course if there's no shop and no cafe, my crafty plans don't work. Thankfully, there were both at the Guggenheim in Venice, an imposing waterfront palazzo and Peggy Guggenheim's former home. Her private collection includes paintings by her husband, Max Ernst, Picasso, Braque and Chagall. I've always found that starting with the 20th century and working backwards to earlier eras works best. Somehow, modern art isn't quite as intimidating as the broad brushstrokes of the 17th century. My kids like to think they could draw a one-eyed Picasso person all by themselves.

So we managed to do a reasonable survey of Venice's finer artistic establishments, from the Titians at the Accademia to the Tintorettos at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. And the kids barely complained. Not only did they get to take their postcards to the hotel to remind them of their brush with high art but they also took a water bus back. The Birkett family stayed at the new Hilton Molino Stucky, www.molinostuckyhilton.com.

Do you have family travel tips you'd like to share? Email Dea at dbirkett@thenational.ae