To the Heart of Venice
“Fall under the spell of La Serenissima at the city\'s most romantic hotels. Fiona Duncan chooses the best of them”
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 15th April 2003.
The secret of a successful romantic interlude in Venice is to get lost. Leave behind the crowds around San Marco and the Rialto and wander away, along quiet canals and through dusty squares, pausing from time to time in churches to find a Bellini here, a Vivarini there, and in neighbourhood osterie and bacari for something to eat and drink.
Then back to your hotel, where, if the spell is not to be broken, atmosphere counts for everything. Much depends on your room: I would rather have a corner room overlooking the lagoon at the humble Pensione Bucintoro than a back room at the five-star Londra Palace along the street. Some Venice hotels are worth staying in only for their best bedrooms, which are exceptional, while the ten listed below have enough charm for it not to matter too much where you sleep.
Always at least try for a room with a view: you need to book well in advance for high season, and be prepared to pay extra for the privilege. Or consider a winter visit: the skies are often blue, the crowds dispersed, prices are low, and that perfect room with a view is far more likely to be yours. Prices quoted are for low-season rates. Most hotels charge higher rates for mid-season and high-season visits.
Locanda Ai Santi Apostoli. Strada Nova, Cannaregio 4391, 30131 Venice (041 521 2612; fax 041 521 2611). Doubles from £125 per night including breakfast.
Locanda Antio DogeA long peach-coloured entrance hall decorated with glitzy white Murano glass lights and garish paintings of Venice give little hint of the charm and splendour that lies one floor up. The central salone, which doubles as a breakfast room and bar, is resplendent in gold, with vases of fresh flowers. Bedrooms drip with silk, brocade and damask on walls, windows and beds. Huge chandeliers, gilt mirrors, antique furniture and fine rugs on parquet floors complete the picture. In one suite hangs a picture of a startled looking Doge Marin Falier, whose palazzo this once was.
Campo Santi Apostoli, Cannaregio 5643, 30131 Venice (041 241 1570; fax 041 244 3660; www.anticodoge.com). Doubles from £96 per night including breakfast.Locanda Leon BiancoIf windows on to the Grand Canal are your heart’s desire, but you are on a budget, then here is the answer. The locanda is hidden away in an enclosed courtyard, behind a sturdy door in the wall, and approached by stone steps rising up a cavernous brick-walled stairwell. The spacious, simple rooms have carved mahogany beds, big old cupboards, undulating floors and immense tilted wooden doors. Three look over the Grand Canal, while a fourth, though it lacks a view, is equally romantic, with a dramatic fresco of Moors and camels taken from a painting by Veronese emblazoned across one wall.
Corte Leon Bianco, Cannaregio 5629, 30131 Venice (041 523 3572; fax 041 241 6392; www.leonbianco.it). Doubles from £83 per night including breakfast.
Though by no means all the bedrooms have a view, they are all lovely. Some are also small, but once ensconced in one of these exquisite ‘Venetian Style’ rooms, you are unlikely to mind either the size or the lack of view. Of the three suites facing the Grand Canal on the first floor, the most romantic (as long as you ask them to remove the huge fax machine from the sitting room) is the pale green Hemingway Suite, all the more alluring for its timeless, slightly faded elegance. Don’t expect the latest facilities at the Gritti; instead, tranquillity and old world Italian charm. Public rooms, especially the bar, are ravishing, and the atmosphere patrician but friendly. As Somerset Maugham pointed out, there are few greater pleasures in life than taking a drink on the terrace at sunset, watching Salute church opposite bathed in evening light. Before bed, he advised, glance at the portrait of old Andrea Gritti who, after a tumultuous life, spent his last years here in peace.
Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, San Marco 2467, Venice (041 794 611; fax 041 520 0942; www.luxurycollection.com/grittipalace). Doubles from £460 per night excluding breakfast.
Just around the corner from the Gritti, the recently opened Novecento is a wonderful find: attractive, enveloping, refreshingly different and run with touching commitment by young Gioele Romanelli (whose father owns the excellent Hotel Flora) and his girlfriend, Heiby. It’s a bit like walking into a Marrakech riad, with furniture, beds and fabrics imported from Morocco, Thailand and Pakistan, and a whiff of incense in the air. There are beamed ceilings, plaster walls, stained bottle glass windows, big cushions on the sitting room floor, amusing beds, superb bathrooms. With just nine bedrooms and a little courtyard garden, the atmosphere is cosy and intimate.
Calle del Dose, San Marco 2683, 30124 Venice (041 241 3765; fax 041 521 2145; www.locandanovecento.it). Doubles from £110 per night including breakfast.
You couldn’t find a more romantic spot than the typical Venetian altana (roof terrace) perched on top of the house where Ruskin stayed. Guests of the pensione can book it for a few hours for a private meal or simply to sunbathe and enjoy the stunning views across the Giudecca canal.
Ideally situated on the sunny Zattere, La Calcina has calm, uncluttered bedrooms, priced according to size and view; best are the four corner rooms with windows on two sides. The charming young owners have held out against televisions in the bedrooms, and instead provide a fabulous outdoor floating terrace for drinks and light meals, a homely dining room and bar, and a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. There are also five suites and apartments in two pretty houses nearby – no view, but like having your own home in Venice.
Fondamente Zattere ai Gesuati, Dorsoduro 780, 30123, Venice (041 520 6466; fax 041 522 7045; www. lacalcina.com). Doubles from £65 per night including breakfast.
Of the half dozen or more hotels along the Riva degli Schiavoni, with its matchless views of the lagoon, this is my favourite. Still in private hands, it has endearing touches (the owner is a collector: everywhere you look are carved angels, lecterns, church pews, corkscrews, crucifixes, cigarette cases, fans) and a core of twinkle-eyed staff who have been there forever. It’s a canny choice in winter, when the velvet-hung salone, its table heaped with cakes at tea-time, and the intimate wood-panelled restaurant (a former chapel where Vivaldi taught singing to orphan girls), are most inviting. The generous buffet breakfast is served in a pretty room decorated with antique fans. Bedrooms vary from traditional (such as cosy no. 350 with private altana) to wildly kitsch (complete with flying cherubs in no. 251). It’s a busy tourist hotel in a bustling location, but it has character, and a warm heart.
Riva degli Schiavoni, Castello 4149, 30122 Venice (041 520 5044 fax 041 522 3679; www.hotelmetropole.com). Doubles from £110 per night including breakfast.
The recent addition of automatic sliding glass doors at the much-loved Pensione Accademia is distinctly unromantic, but all else in the gracious 18th century Villa Maravege remains unchanged. Inside, the finely furnished landing on the piano nobile makes a perfect spot for sitting and relaxing, the airy breakfast room has crisp white tablecloths and a beamed ceiling, and bedrooms are distinguished by inlaid wooden floors and chandeliers. But what seduces honeymooners into returning time and again for anniversaries are its gardens – the large canal-side patio, where tables are scattered among plants in classical urns, and the grassy rear garden where roses and fruit trees flourish.
Fondamenta Bollani, Dorsoduro 1058, 30123 Venice (041 521 0188; fax 041 523 7846; www.pensioneaccademia.it ). Doubles from £83 per night including breakfast.
The longer I linger at the Quattro Fontane, the more it grows on me. A sense of peace and timelessness pervades, enhanced by the wide tree-filled terrace that surrounds the 150 year-old mock-Tyrolean building. Inside, the sitting room and the little writing room are charmingly decorated, and mementos of the owners’ travels are dotted around the hotel on walls and shelves – carved wooden figures, painted shells, model ships, porcelain, stamps. The bedrooms in the main building, rather than the annexe, have the most character, individually decorated with an assortment of furniture, pictures and fabrics, comfortable if not luxurious. A dignified, idiosyncratic hotel which evokes memories of the days when the Lido was a fashionable place to be, and when visitors glided to Venice on gondolas by day, retreating at night.
Via Quattro Fontane 16, 30126 Lido, Venice (041 526 0227; fax 041 526 0726; www.quattrofontane.com). Doubles from £135 per night including breakfast.
The tiny lagoon island of Torcello is the cradle of the Venetian civilization, yet all that remains are two serenely beautiful religious buildings: the church of Santa Fosca, and the Byzantine cathedral. The latter has a haunting mosaic of the Madonna, and from its campanile, there is a wonderful view of the lagoon. When the tourists drift home at the end of the day, Torcello’s magic takes hold, and only the dozen or so residents, and the handful of guests at the Locanda Cipriani, are there to share the privilege. In the past, these have included Hemingway, Chaplin and Paul Newman; and the entire British Royal Family have lunched here. The inn, opened in 1934 by Giuseppe Cipriani and still in the family, has six bedrooms: simple and homely yet sophisticated, with polished wood floors, attractive pictures on white walls, writing desks, objects d’art, comfortable sofas and armchairs. Dine in the garden on warm evenings, or in the rustic dining room on cooler ones. Romance guaranteed.
Torcello, 30012 Burano, Venice (041 730150; fax 041 735 433; www.locandacipriani.com). Doubles from £148 euros per night including breakfast.
More rooms with a view
Bucintoro Rooms are basic, but every one has a lagoon view and is flooded with Venetian light. Corner rooms, with windows on to both St Mark’s basin and the Doge’s Palace, are the most sought after.
Riva San Biagio, Castello 2135, 30122 Venice (041 522 3240; fax 041 522 35224). Doubles from £100 per night including breakfast.
There’s a legendary smell of cats (or is it cabbage?) in the entrance, and bedrooms are standard, but the beautiful stuccoed hall remains a memorable setting for breakfast.
Campo Bandiera e Moro, Castello 3608, 30122 Venice (041 528 5315; fax 041 523 8859). Doubles from £99 per night including breakfast.
Grand Hotel dei Dogi
A former French embassy, this new hotel has eye-watering lapses in taste but a truly romantic location with huge garden stretching to the lagoon and free launch to San Marco. Room 211 is the best.
Madonna dell’ Orto 3500, 30121 Venice (041 220 8111; fax 041 722 278; www.boscolo.com). Doubles from £250 per night excluding breakfast.
Arrive by boat to appreciate the deep red Gothic façade of this Grand Canal palazzo. Inside, there’s a fusty feel and fairly lackadaisical staff, but also six splendid rooms facing the canal.
Calle della Rosa, Santa Croce 2232, 30135 Venice (041 524 1768; fax 041 721 1033. Doubles from £65 per night including breakfast.
Set in a peaceful backwater, with spacious reception rooms and breakfast under a pergola. Try for one of the nine canal bedrooms, especially nos 14 and 23.. Rio di San Vio, Dorsoduro 628, 30123 Venice (041 520 4733; fax 041 520 4048; www.hotelamerican.com). Doubles from £85 per night including breakfast.