Venice's accommodation scene is changing fast: check out these stylish new hotels
Until recently, the Venice hotel scene was dominated by the cut-price Casanova style: acres of red and gold brocade on the walls with perhaps a made-in-China chandelier or two to evoke the city’s glory days of gondola assignations and decadent masked balls. In the last few years, though, spurred by increased competition for high-end clients, by Venice’s burgeoning contemporary art scene, and by a new breed of design-aware hoteliers, things have got a lot more interesting. La Serenissima’s new offerings are as chic and slick as you could wish for.
Philippe Starck’s first one-man-show in Italy, Palazzina Grassi (San Marco 3247, calle Grassi; doubles from €320), opened in autumn 2009. In the shadow of its imposing Grand Canal neighbour, the Palazzo Grassi contemporary art gallery, the compact Palazzina has just 21 rooms and five suites. The ambience in the public areas here is intimate and – oddly for Starck – decidedly warm. The long, low, ground-floor salon-bar with its towering columns and open-to-view kitchen which dispenses breakfast is dispensed at any time of day is a comfy (if uber-stylish) retreat which feels like Starck’s take on Harry’s Bar – though huge custom-made Murano glass chandeliers and wall-fittings like crystal explosions of wildly waving seaweed ensure you don’t forget that the exuberant Frenchman was behind the décor.
Another smaller canal-side room, reserved for hotel guests and selected VIP membership card holders, is more elegantly cosy. In contrast, the all-mod-cons bedrooms are pale, and with the exception of the five Grand-Canal-facing suites and five rooftop-view junior suites, smaller than you would expect. Perhaps by way of compensation, they’re full of huge mirrors: be prepared to see a lot of yourself. Terrazzo flooring throughout grounds the place in the Venetian tradition. Value for money this is not – but you’re paying for the fashionista cachet.
Further downstream, the SINA group’s Centurion Hotel (Dorsoduro 172, campo San Gregorio; doubles from €240) opened at the same time as the Palazzina, and with just as much of a splash. This is design with a vengeance, with edgy colours – purples and reds are much in evidence – and a massive keel-shaped chandelier in the lobby which draws passers-by in just to stand and gawp. Housed in a former convent, facing across the Grand Canal towards St Mark’s, the Centurion offers fifty rooms with dizzyingly high ceilings, burnished gold bathrooms and electronically operated drapes that you can open and close on spectacular views by pressing a switch beside your bed. Yet despite its lofty proportions and its uncluttered décor, the hotel achieves an unexpectedly welcoming feel, helped by staff with the perfect mix of friendliness and discretion.
On a quiet fondamenta (canal-side walk) right by the Fenice opera house, boutique AD Place (San Marco 2557a, campiello Marinoni; doubles from €170) is another 2009 arrival. If the lobby, glimpsed from outside, looks more like an ethno-chic designer furniture shop than a hotel reception, the impression changes as you enter. There’s a sumptuous colour palette on the walls of the 12 rooms, from lavender violet and Granny Smith green to deep pomegranate red, and the nod to the excesses of the Venetian baroque is done with a playful touch. All in all this is a great new addition to the city’s mid-range options, and the location is perfect – five minutes’ walk from Piazza San Marco and yet utterly secluded.
One of the grande dames of the Venice hotel scene, the venerable Hotel Danieli (Castello 4196, riva degli Schiavoni; doubles from €300) is currently in the middle of a thorough revamp. The undistinguished post-war building which houses the once unexciting ‘Danielino’ annexe was the first part to be camped up in lush neo-Baroque style by Parisian designer Jacques Garcia of Hotel Costes fame. Quality rather than quantity is the new mantra: suites are grander, and the few pokey singles are being done away with altogether. What has emerged is an elegant space of deep greens and reds, with a slightly Moorish feel entirely in keeping with the deliciously exotic, theatrical atmosphere that has reigned in this hotel’s main reception area since it first opened its doors in 1822.
As much a museum as a hotel, 15th-century Ca' Sagredo (Cannaregio 4198, campo Santa Sofia; doubles from €210) is designated a national monument, and retained much of the Sagredo family art collection when it opened its doors to paying guests in 2008 after extensive restoration. Frescoes by Gianbattista Tiepolo dominate the hall, and some of the rooms are adorned with delicate stuccowork decoration. The marble double staircase that leads up past Pietro Longhi’s ‘Fall of the Giants’ frescoes to the piano nobile is magnificent, as is the ground-floor Sala della Musica, a vast trompe l’oeil ballroom where you half expect to see counts and courtesans throwing formal 18th-century shapes. But to really enter into the spirit of the place you need to stay in one of the four challengingly-priced historical suites – like the book-lined Library Suite where Galileo (a friend of the Sagredo family) liked to study. The classic Premier or Prestige doubles are done out in standard-issue Venetian five-star style; angle for one of the fourth-floor rooftop-view rooms that come complete with terraces. An elegant, upmarket restaurant with adjoining bar gives onto a Grand Canal terrace: perfect for watching the gondolas glide by and playing at lords and ladies (if you can block out the waterbuses and the Coca Cola delivery barges, that is). Note that out of season, Ca’ Sagredo offers some fairly substantial discounts for online bookers.