CHIOGGIA, Italy -- On the northwest tip of the Adriatic Sea is a small city as romantic as Venice but more discreet and without the hordes of tourists. In fact, Chioggia is a miniature Venice built on the waters of the same lagoon about 10 km due south. It is one of Italy's most secret treasures -- its antique look well-preserved with centuries of appeal. Like Venice, canals with step bridges connect its narrow streets and alleyways. A large section of the city is closed to cars. The main street, Corso del Popolo, plus Vena and Lombardo canals form the old city centre. Chioggia is the perfect escape from the crowds and chaos currently in Venice for La Biennale -- 48th International Art Exhibition. If you're planning to visit La Biennale, which runs into November, it's well worth the few thousand lira (couple of bucks) you'll spend to take a vaporetto, or water taxi ride, from Venice to Chioggia. Chioggia's city centre is the focus of the people -- a close clan mixing young and old -- who gather at the bars and cafes along Corso Del Popolo to indulge in the village chatter. A romantic corner of Chioggia. The locals love to gossip and tell tales -- ciacole. People-watching is a favourite pastime, as is laughing, joking and flirting in the warm summer sunshine. But this village of no secrets brews as much small-town camaraderie as it does jealousy. In fact, its gossipy attitude has been immortalized through the work of Carlo Goldoni. This Venice-born, 18th-century playwright loved the locals and spent his time studying their moods and humour. One of his most famous works, Baruffe Chioggiotte, is a comedic portrait of the locals. In July, a street festival Le Baruffe In Calle, honours Goldoni. Chioggia has long been the Capital for fishing in the Northern Adriatic, supplying Venice and all the northeast cities, towns and villages. The wealth accumulated from the fish trade enabled locals during the golden times of the Venetian Republic to enlist the same architects that made Venice famous. The small square of Piazzetta Vigo is like the bellybutton of Chioggia and features a marble column, erected in 1786. On the top sits a sculpture of the Lion of San Marco, the symbol of Chioggia's alliance with Venice. It has been a legend of the city that this lion used to be much larger, but, because of a comedy of errors by the artist, it was downsized to the proportions of a cat. From Piazzetta Vigo begins the main walking street, Corso del Popolo, where fine examples of Venetian architecture are scattered throughout a concentration of shops and restaurants. Note the house of Goldoni, Palazzo del Granaio decorated with the Madonna and child of Sansovino, the arches of Santa Maria and San Nicolo, Chioggia's oldest church. Also along Corso del Popolo are handicraft shops such as La Satara, where the owner builds bragozzi, small models of typical fishing boats. At Pasticceria Roma, delicacies such as ciosoto, a tart made with red radicchio and carrots, are savoured. Young people in Chioggia share a laugh. If you stop for dinner, El Gato is the restaurant to try. Fish is their forte, and in October, try the soft crab, or year-round, sample any number of the regional fish and pasta specialties. Timely on the menu this visit was a delicious dish, Cappellacci di Pesce, named, not in honour of this patron, but after the hat-shaped pasta noodles. Depending on how hungry and thirsty you are, a full-course meal, from the antipasti to dolce (dessert), will range from about $35 to $50 per person. Autumn is one of the best times to experience the life and flavours of Chioggia. For many months leading into soft crab season, granchi live in baskets in the lagoon waters. Fishermen spy them daily, waiting for the precise moment they shed their shells so they can be handpicked and brought to market. Restaurants serve them fried warm and crispy as a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy available through the month of October. More food for thought is fueled through local celebrations. In July, this quaint village swells with visitors from neighbouring cities -- friends and tourists who join in the Sagra Del Pesce fish festival. It takes place the last weekend of the month when the main street is transformed by food stands in the squares and outdoor patios lining the streets. Locals prepare their most famous fish dishes with passion and painstaking precision and serve up feasts fit for a king. Chioggia's proud fishing history comes alive in the old public fish market facing Vena Canal. At the entrance is a chapel with a shrine of the faces of fishermen lost at sea. Beyond the chapel, the vast market area is animated by the screams of fish vendors peddling their catch of the day. Their voices trail off into the small confusion of colours, sounds and smells. The local fishermen are a tough, hard-working breed -- their weather-beaten skin and chiselled faces the proof. Head to the docks in the wee morning hours, and you'll see the old salts coming in from a long night out at sea. Tred and weary, they dock their boats and head into town. In the little bars or bacari, they end their day by downing equal quantities of grappa and espresso Their hearty laughter fills the silent streets as the sun rises over the lagoon. Another day begins in Little Venice.