Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO ITALY, part 4, Venice

Continuing his Italian journey to romantic and glittering Venice, Product Director Neil Bedford reviews some spectacular hotels - Gritti Palace, Hotel Danieli, Aman Canal Grande Venice, and The Cipriani. He is (like most of us) captivated by Venice, and here shares his enthusiasm and advice...

Venice

My first visit to Venice and I loved it! It is like nothing else and has to be on everyone’s to-do list at least once in their life. Arriving in to your hotel on a private water taxi feels very special but this is just the start of the Venice experience with Select Collection….

Waterborne on the glittering canals of Venice
seen from the Bridge of Sighs

Unforgettable arrival by water taxi

Best restaurants

  • Roof terrace at Hotel Danieli (best to go at lunch, or before sunset, as the view is best in daylight)
  • Waterfront terrace at Gritti Palace (restaurant and bar terraces next to each other). I enjoyed morning tea, a pre-dinner drink, a nightcap, and breakfast here: and can say it is the best spot in town. 
  • Japanese at the waterfront garden restaurant at Aman Canal Grande Venice (or Italian inside the hotel - no views but two amazing dining rooms)
  • Cip's Club overwater terrace or the Michelin star Oro Restaurant at The Cipriani.
View from Danieli rooftop restaurant

Coffee break with a difference -
Gritti Palace waterside terrace

All need reservations.

Things to do in Venice


The Doges Palace - just off St Mark's Square

St Mark’s Square is great to see but extremely busy during the day so wait until after dinner and have a nightcap when it is all lit up, classical music or mini-operas are performed from the front of the cafes and couples waltz in the square.

I couldn’t find any way to get tickets to q-jump for the tower despite asking each hotel concierge so unless you pay for someone to queue for you then be prepared for a long queue if you want to go to the top….but when there you will enjoy sensational views.

Day trip to Burana NOT Murano. Its about 30 mins boat ride away and really cute colourful local houses just for a wander round and lunch or a coffee stop. Murano is the famous glass-making area of Venice and just full of group tours.

Gondola tours don’t cover much ground, though you do get romantic photos of yourselves and the curved prow against the glossy water. Personally I thought that the private water taxi was much better in terms of sightseeing, and felt a lot more exclusive. So I suggest hiring your own water taxi for a longer time and discover Venice's hidden corners from the water.

Discovering Venice's hidden corners

Do aperitivo at Venice’s best cicchetti bars (cicchetti are like Spanish tapas). The few locals you see in Venice will be doing this.

Arrival practicalities

It is 100% worth it to arrive by private water taxi and is a vital part of your Venice experience. If you make your own way to the waiting taxis then you have a set fee of €130. (Half these prices from the train station.) If a hotel arranges in advance you pay around double. The walk from the airport arrival to the boats is around 15 mins –  if you want full porterage you need to arrange with the hotel in advance. The option of taking the shared boat should not be considered - long queue, crowded and no view.

Getting around Venice

Seeing Venice from a water taxi
The best way around is by water taxi but be aware that as soon as you step on board it costs you €60 and a 10 min journey will then add another €30 or so. The public boats go up and down the canals regularly and are easy to hop on and off but can be extremely busy so you might be waiting a while. Distances aren’t far if you walk but Venice is like a giant maze so be prepared to get lost.

Local life in Venice around the Cathedral of St Marks

Where to stay in Venice


Gritti Palace

Stunning. That is what a €50 million and 15 month refurb gets you. From their small riverside terrace, to the Venetian style rooms and suites overflowing with gorgeous fabrics, marble bathrooms and more modern touches it is magnificent. Service is impeccable; and it would be a discerning romanticist's choice for a return visit.

By the Grand Canal - the magnificent Gritti Palace
The colourful view from Gritti Palace
Perfect moments - breakfast at Gritti Palace

At both Gritti Palace and Hotel Danieli a suite with balcony overlooking the canal is unbeatable, but be prepared ot pay a premium - it is often double the price of the same room with "no view".

Somerset Maugham Royal Suite
at Gritti Palace

With freshly restored grandeur

Venetian Room

Another luscious Venetian Room

With the opulence and romance of Venice

And (of course) Italian marble
Tip: The Aqua di Parma Spa is only open a few hours of the day so if your holiday isn’t complete without a spa treatment then book in advance.

Hotel Danieli
Hotel Danieli is Gritti Palace’s older Starwood sister. Still  it offers a superb level of service and is redolent with history.  

Historical Venice in every ornate detail -
Presidential suite above

Presidential suite lounge 

Presidential bed

You get a real sense of history at the Danieli as well the rooftop terrace, which is arguably the best in Venice


Aman Canal Grande Venice
The size of the property amazes. Just 24 suites spread over five floors and two buildings means that space (normally at a premium in Venice) is found everywhere. The two gardens were created back in the 19th century when the owners bought two neighbouring buildings just so they could knock them down to create a green haven.

The building Aman calls home is Palazzo Papadopoli; it was built in the 16th century and the entire place does feel like a home. In fact the owners still live in the top two floors of one wing and are often seen around the hotel.

You will find frescos and ancient furnishings throughout and just wandering around the building would be an art/history lover's dream. I counted no less than six rooms that were essentially just left as spaces to enjoy – Aman did want these to be suites but the d├ęcor was so valuable that they were not granted permission to touch them. Instead they are reading rooms, piano rooms, libraries, have afternoon tea served in them….

The salon with canal views

All of this space means that you don’t really see anyone else, offering the serene privacy one connects with Aman.

A highlight for me was enjoying a drink on the Altana rooftop terrace. A tiny little space of maybe 20 sqm with a couple of sofas and the most perfect view over the Venice rooftops. It is a real escape from the noise and hustle of Venice. You can take the terrace on private basis for breakfast, a sunset drink or whatever else you and the Aman team conjure up.

Private space overlooking the rooftops
Most rooms boast fabulous canal views

The canal front garden is home to the Japanese restaurant May-Oct (which resides at Amanpuri Nov–Apr) and lunch in this setting is really magical. The Italian restaurant has a beautiful indoor setting.

Magical setting at Aman Canal Grande
in the canal front garden
View from the first floor terrace at Aman Canal Grande, Venice
If you are looking for something very special in Venice then I think Aman’s five Signature Suites would be very hard to beat, just the original friezes and frescos they contain must make them some of the most valuable rooms in Italy. Of the lower categories all are beautiful interiors and all rooms have some form of view because of the hotel gardens.

Palazzo Chamber

Round trip private boat transfers are now included in the rate and you will travel (normally) on board one of Aman’s two private boats. This hotel is ideal for those with an appreciation of art, history and quietness in which to enjoy it.

The Cipriani
The Cipriani was really impressive and families in particular would be very appreciative of the space and facilities.

Swimming pool at Cipriani
Green haven 

With the swimming pool, gardens, multiple bars/restaurants and large spa it has a resort feel to it. A complimentary boat goes every 20 mins or so straight to St Mark’s Square (10 mins journey);  you are then in the heart of Venice but can easily escape back to the peace of the hotel. It is hard to describe just how busy Venice can get, so it is very restful to lounge around the hotel for the day before going in to Venice when it gets much quieter in the evening.

The service in all the hotels I visited was excellent but at The Cipriani it was faultless. You can absolutely see that the Belmond (formerly Orient Express) hotels have prioritised this for many years as I found the same experience on previous stays at Hotel Splendido (Portofino), Villa San Michele (Florence) and Hotel Caruso (Amalfi Coast).


Palladio Suite - also known as the George Clooney Suite

Its private bar area

Lagoon View with Balcony would be my suggestion but the garden view rooms with balcony are also very sought after.

Lagoon view room

I ate at Cip’s Club which was the best meal of my time in Italy and probably the best view as well. The Michelin starred Oro Restaurant also looked superb.

Probably the best corner table in Venice
(at Cip's Club, The Cipriani)


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