The home of the Mekhitarist monks (an Armenian Catholic congregation) of Italy is a monastery on an island 1.2 miles from Venice. Around 30 monks live at San Lazzaro degli Armeni, which houses a vast library and sprawling gardens rich with artichokes and roses. There is only one daily tour of the island, which was formerly a leper colony and is named after St. Lazarus, patron saint of lepers.
In May, the rose gardens of San Lazzaro are in full bloom, and the monks harvest the rose petals for vartanush, Armenian rose petal jam. The petals, picked at sunrise, are first gently massaged to bring out their essential oils and perfume. Although the recipe for the jam is a secret, the monks volunteer that the petals are macerated in sugar and lemon juice and the resultant mixture boiled.
The fuchsia-colored fragrant jam is a rare commodity: Only 5,000 jars are made each year, and most are kept for the monks to eat on buttered bread for breakfast. This exceedingly rare condiment, made not of fruit, but of flowers, is well worth a vaporetto ride to the historic monastery.
Know Before You Go
You can take a vaporetto to the island from San Zaccaria in Venice.