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Explore Venice Aboard a Houseboat

If you're thinking of visiting Venice on your next vacation, consider renting a private houseboat.

With its scenic location on the Adriatic Sea and a history that stretches back nearly 2,000 years, Venice, Italy, is one of Europe's most beautiful cities. If you're thinking of visiting the City of Bridges on your next


, try exploring it aboard a private houseboat.

You can rent luxurious two- to 12-passenger houseboats from several companies in Chioggia, a historic fishing port on the southern edge of the Venetian Lagoon. From there, you can spend two days to two weeks touring Venice and the surrounding area. No prior experience is required to rent or operate a boat.

Houseboats offer a unique vacation experience.

You won't be able to take your boat into the Grand Canal or any of the canals that run through the city's center. But you can moor it on the outskirts and take a water taxi to the must-see sights. At the end of the day, return to your houseboat for a good night's sleep. Check out these two rental companies:

Locaboat Holidays:

This company, which has locations throughout Europe, designed and built its own houseboats, called Peninchettes. The 30-foot, 27-horsepower Classic 935 model is equipped with a double bed in the forward cabin, a single bed in the corridor and a fold-out dinette. The kitchen, located in the rear of the boat, is furnished with a refrigerator, an oven with an electric stovetop and a sink with hot and cold water. The bathroom has a hot-water shower. Other amenities include a heater, sunroof, deck and a 12-volt socket to charge your cell phone or camera.

If you're traveling in a group, opt for the 50-foot-long, 50-horsepower Flying Bridge 1500 model, which has four cabins, each with a twin bed and attached bathroom. It offers central heating, a second helm position for navigating in nice weather and a rack for storing rented bicycles. Locaboat charges $2,100 to $5,800 to rent a vessel for a week, depending on the boat's size and the season.

Cardinal Boating Holidays:

Cardinal, which also operates fleets throughout Europe, offers three houseboat models. Each sleeping cabin has its own bathroom and hot-water shower. All the houseboats have indoor and outdoor helms. The split-level kitchens are furnished with refrigerators, coffee makers, ovens and gas stoves. If you take a break from sightseeing, you can watch satellite channels or DVDs on the boat's flatscreen TV or relax on the sundeck. Depending on the size of the boat and the season, a week aboard a Europa houseboat can cost $1,900 to $5,000.

Cruising the lagoon:

There's a lot to see beyond Venice. A houseboat would enable you to check out nearby small islands. An excursion to the northern part of the Venetian Lagoon could include a visit to the island of Burano, which is known for its lace and painted houses. You could also spend an evening on Murano, an island that's famous for its blown-glass artwork.

On the following day, you could cruise to Torcello, the home of an ancient basilica and bell tower. From the top of the tower, you can watch the sun set over the lagoon. Ask your rental company for a map that includes nearby lakes, rivers and canals that allow swimming.

Harper Willis graduated from the Gallatin School of Individualized Studies at New York University with a concentration in ancient theater and jazz guitar. He is a musician and writer, and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.