New Venice hotels: five places making waves in the lagoon

by Anne.Hanley

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.

Palazzina Grassi

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.

Centurion Hotel

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.

AD Place

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.

Hotel Danieli

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.

Ca' Sagredo

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. 

Anne.Hanley

I have been writing about Italy for over 25 years for papers (Sunday Telegraph, Independent), magazines, news agencies and – most prolifically – travel guides, editing many editions of Time Out's Venice and Rome guides.

I pitched up in Rome in 1984, thinking of staying for a year or two; but I've never managed to drag myself away from Italy. After 20 years in the Eternal City, I'm now in the wilds of the Umbrian countryside where I continue to edit guides, and design gardens (www.laverzura.com).

Of all Italy's glorious cities, Venice is undoubtedly my favourite: I love its unique beauty and that special feeling of complicity it gives anyone who gets to know it well. I make sure I visit the lagoon city three or four times a year: sometimes for a few days, occasionally for weeks. Any excuse will do: an article to write, a garden to look at, my Time Out Venice guides to update, a new hotel to check out, or just a much-loved restaurant with a pavement table and a view I find myself hankering after. What never ceases to amaze me about the place is how, despite my constant visits and endless exploring, every time I go there, I happen across something new. There’s always a reason to return to a city that reveals its secrets so slowly but so surely.

My Venice

Where I always grab a coffee - The selection of excellent coffees at the Caffè del Doge (Calle del Cinque, San Polo 609, www.caffedeldoge.com) means that there’s always the perfect cup to match my mood.

My favourite stroll - With construction work at the Punta della Dogana finally over, I can once again do my walk; the view across to San Marco from this easternmost end of the Dorsoduro district is stunning.

Fiction for inspiration - Donna Leon’s Commissioner Brunetti crime novels show this American writer’s excellent knowledge of the city. But I have a sneaky affection for Henry James’ wordy The Wings of the Dove.

The most breathtaking view - The spectacle from the campanile (bell tower) of San Giorgio Maggiore is heart-stopping. But the view from the Molino Stucky Hilton’s Skyline bar (Giudecca 810, www.molinostuckyhilton.com) is pretty good too – and you can enjoy this one with a glass in hand.

The best spot for some peace and quiet - When busy Venice gets too much for me, I hop on a vaporetto to the Giudecca and wander through to the boatyards and echoing alleys on the southern side. So atmospheric.

Shopaholics beware! I find the purposeful bustle and real Venetian spirit of the food morning market at the north-western foot of the Rialto bridge quite wonderful, even if I’m not buying.

City soundtrack - Anything by Vivaldi is the obvious choice here in his city, but I also find the works of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli very fitting. These 16th-century composer-brothers wrote works for performance in St Mark’s basilica in the 16th century.

Don’t leave without…trying to round the column: looking at the Doge’s palace from the lagoon side, go to the third column from the right. To one side, stand with your back against it; now try to walk around it without falling off the pavement. I’ve never managed.