Destinations

Love and luxury in Venice

Venice is a city as desired as it is derided, a destination that merits every superlative and every sneer. It can be mysterious and it can be tourist-choked, its beauty is surreal yet gritty, its romance edges on sinister and it is luxurious yet sinking. 

Venice is the lover who hints at the prospect of departure on every decaying avenue. The city subsides naturally at a rate of around one millimetre annually however human development is pushing it down by between two and 10 millimetres per year. 

And yet as you cruise down the Grand Canal the scaffolding is hard to miss, despite its camouflage of fake architecture on plastic. The canals may be imitated and compared the world over but Venice is still a surprise.

Mayor of Venice Giorgio Orsoni told the BBC last year that he wants to preserve Venice as a living city rather than a theme park. And so the city is being revived, particularly in the hotel sector. The renowned Gritti Palace reopened in May last year after a $US55 million ($59 million) renovation while the Aman Canal Grande is the newest hotel to open.

Aman have opened a 16th century palazzo that was painstakingly restored by the same talents who resuscitated Venetian landmarks such as Punta della Dodgna, Palazzo Grassi and St Mark’s Tower.

Palazzo Papadopoli is the family name of the Aman Canal Grande and it is lapped by water stirred by gondola strokes and vaporetto motors, making it impossible to divorce the property from the city. Given its water-bound location, it’s only natural that you arrive by private water taxi. A few steps along the deck and you enter a high-ceilinged marble reception without the paraphernalia of other hotels, such as a reception desk, making it appear as grand as a cathedral.

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This entry point marks the start of a stay as extraordinary as the city. Cherubs brandishing ivy flutter nonchalantly above doorways, 16th century pastoral scenes greet you at breakfast, celestial designs adorn the ceiling and centuries old leather has been stitched to line the walls of the library.

Nothing you see in this hotel can be taken at face value. Every furnishing should come with a historical plaque but as it doesn’t the hotel staff are more than happy to share the tales. A looming metal cage in the lobby turns out to be a lantern from a ship that set sail for war many hundreds of years ago. 

The adornment of frescoes, stuccoes and Murano glass chandeliers could overwhelm but it is balanced by the space afforded to each room, from the library to the dining area, which allows a freedom that is a luxury in land-limited Venice. 

But that’s the not-so-common common areas. The rooms are a different style entirely and yet remain in keeping with the property thanks to their generous proportions. The suites are streamlined, minimalist and modern.

 It is the perfect calm in which to absorb the charisma of the city and canal.

That charisma doesn’t end with aesthetics either. The Aman Canal Grande has unscheduled open-air opera performances throughout the day. This hotel is located at the point in the canal where gondoliers pause for opera singers to perform.

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As for the calm, it extends to the existence of a garden, an opulent addition that is one of a handful of private arboreal spaces in Venice and was achieved by the wealthy Count’s ancestors procuring the neighbouring palazzo and razing it to the ground to create an enclave of green. 

You buzz into that garden through ten metre high metal gates and once granted entry you are guaranteed to feel like the most privileged of estate guests. The service is impeccable and there are none of the common hotel accoutrements such as signing a bill for room service or drinks. That would be too invasive, destroying the impression that you are lord or lady of the estate.

 It is as if staff have an Identikit of guest’s faces so they know you by name. That family feel comes from being a family property, for Count Gilberto Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga resides on the upper levels, while family heirlooms are exhibited throughout the hotel. 

This is topped off by the Aman Canal Grande leaving a carefully thought out, intrinsically Venetian gift on the bed each night. As a trading port since the days of antiquity, ceramics, glass, leather and wood artisans thrived in Venice and continue to do so.

Sure, in the main shopping alleys you will find products that are mass produced, but wander off the strips and accept the inevitability of getting lost to find boutiques with bells that announce your arrival, with artists crafting as you browse and where the chance to buy a freshly wrought item is irresistible. 

Even better, the artists will cease what they are working on to wrap your purchase in gift paper. A leather and paper marbling shop uses kitten and puppy wrap while a glassworker turns off the flames to wrap jewellery in red and gold striped wrap.

They don’t go as far as a bow and ribbon, but a day of shopping is enough to make you feel like it’s your birthday. 

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Venice by day can be bright and boisterous while by night it can be anonymous and alienating. It is perplexingly easy to lose your bearings after dark as soon as you step away from the tourist-worn alleys. Blackness fills damp air until dispersed by a solitary and murky street lamp. 

It remains endlessly romantic and like all great love stories this city has its own tragic element. The fact Venice is sinking makes it all the more seductive, a city slipping away from our grasp. Venice has many idiosyncrasies, and just like the waves and bubbles that define its Murano glass, it is the imperfections that make it beautiful.

The merchants of Venice

For Italian scents distilled into crystal bottles with free samples before you buy, make your way to perfumery boutique The Merchant of Venice.

For luxury design and art books that will undoubtedly threaten your luggage allowance, head to Assouline bookshop in the Bauer Hotel.

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