Escape To Venice By Fiona Sanderson
“Aman Canal Grande Venice is a hotel, it is a Palazzo, and it is also a home, a very grand one, but still a home…”
Venice is undoubtedly one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in the world. Built on water and steeped in history, Venice is a fabled destination with a glorious past. Once a major power and flourishing trade centre in the Mediterranean, Venice today is known for its architecture and its artworks. The city plays host to several internationally-renowned events including the annual Carnival, the Venice Film Festival and the Art and Architectural Biennales.
The flow of life and history in the city, for both visitors and Venetians, is measured out by the Torre Dell ‘Orologio – the Clock Tower and its large astronomical clock, masterpieces of technology and engineering that date from 1499. Venice is also home to the Piazza San Marco and Saint Mark’s Basilica, but it is perhaps the Grand Canal that is the city’s most iconic feature, which is lined with buildings that are between 200 and 700 years old.
I was lucky enough to be invited to stay at the Aman Canal Grande Venice – the place that George Clooney recently chose for his wedding – which is situated near the Rialto Bridge in one of these regal old palazzos, at the heart of the city in the San Polo district (one of the oldest parts of the city, known for its beautiful palaces, churches and the Rialto Market). The Aman Canal Grande Venice has recently undergone a 35 million Euro major restoration project, which has meticulously returned the palazzo back to its former glory, and you are instantly transformed back in time to one of Venetian splendour. The palazzo in which the hotel is housed, Palazzo Papadopoli, was built in 1550 by the architect Gian Giacomo dé Grigi.
One of only eight palazzo monumentali on the Grand Canal, I arrived by boat from the airport, docking at a landing that leads directly into the lofty-ceilinged Reception Hall. From here, a sweeping staircase rises through two levels to the first piano nobile, traditionally the grandest floor of a palazzo that the resident family would use for entertaining (at the Aman Canal Grande Venice, unusually for a Venetian Palazzo, there are two piano nobile floors). The decorations of the first piano nobile are significant examples of the Neo-Renaissance and Rococo styles that were all the rage in 19th century Venice. The Ballroom, the Bar, the Red Dining Room and the Yellow Dining Room all have soaring ceilings with original frescoes, Murano glass chandeliers, ornate stucco, gilded mirrors, silk wall coverings, terrazzo floors – and spectacular views of the Grand Canal. These breathtakingly beautiful spaces have hosted some of the grandest of parties over the centuries.
The second piano nobile is home to the Salon; a regal, high-ceilinged entertaining room featuring a grand piano and wonderful views across Venice. The historic Library, adjacent to the Salon, is a peaceful retreat with a range of interesting books taken directly from the Count Giberto Arrivabene Gonzaga’s collection.
The privilege of space in the Palazzo extends to the Gardens, very unusual features in Venice. The beautiful gardens here are a green oasis of calm in this historic district, with water all about. In the summer months, they provide shady outdoor spaces for dining and entertaining and are very popular, I am told.
The Aman Canal Grande Venice offers 24 suites, all of which are unique in layout and design. Many feature frescoes, reliefs and chandeliers that reflect the past periods of art and architecture.
I wanted a morning off and went to try out the Spa and a facial with Aman’s specially prepared beauty products. I must say that I cannot think of anywhere more serene to have one of the best facials I have ever had. With a combination of reflexology and beautiful creams and scents, the beauty therapist worked her magic and sent me to heaven and back.
The Aman signature is one of luxurious minimalism. Whether it’s in the Spa or in the rooms, every detail is meticulously thought out. It could be the comfort and freshness of the muted décor, or those little extras such as fresh lemons and ice left for your evening gin and tonic, or the little gifts that really make you feel special. This is true luxury at its best.
With so many restaurants surrounding the Palace, it’s easy to wander out of the hotel for dinner but I was keen to try the hotel’s own Red Dining Room and a meal prepared by Chef Davide Oldani. He turned out to be most charming of men and prepared the most delicious meal of locally caught fish with all the authentic Italian flavours. The menu offered a delight of choices. If only I could stay for another night….
Venice is full or colour, music and entertainment particularly at Carnival time. I was told that the Aman can arrange costumes, clowns and dancers if needed. For flowers and decorations, they work with the most wonderful florists here in Venice, who can create dazzling arrangements (in fact, the signature flower – the white amaryllis – is everywhere in the Palazzo, in hand-blown Murano glass vases). Everyone loves candles and for special events, the team at the Aman will go to town, with candles throughout the hotel, placed under the twinkling lights of the chandeliers. To recreate a Carnival evening, they work with Venetian ateliers who can provide costumes for every guest, to be waiting in their rooms on arrival. What did I say, true luxury and service at its best!
Venice is a place for walking so of course, despite the beauty and elegance of the hotel, no trip to the city would be complete without exploring it in all its magnificent glory. But first, you must get lost! Head out the back gate of the Palazzo and start wandering. It really doesn’t matter which way you go – there is beauty to be found in all directions. I was lucky to be guided by Filippo di Lenardo, Managing Director at Elite RetrEat Italia, who knows all there is to know about hidden Venice, its restaurants and attractions. Filippo sent me to meet Mauro Vianello, a glass-maker, who took me through the art of glass and how to make the perfect shell. It was fascinating, and is what Venice is all about. I also tried Filippo’s restaurant suggestions which really completed my trip.
I will certainly remember my visit to this stylish and grand Palazzo Papadopoli, and the friendliness of the Aman staff. Where else will you get the impression that you have chanced on a house party in a grand and civilised Venetian home?
A Few of Our Favourite Things In Venice
- Getting very lost!
- The slipper stern of the Aman boat
- The Pala D’Oro at the Basilica San Marco
- San Germaine Royale in the Blue Bar
- Shells from the lagoon: razor clams, soft-shell crabs, and tiny scallops
- The Redentore fireworks
- The Canova tomb at the Frari
- The Campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore
- Cycling the Lido to Alberoni
- Sunday pastry at Rizzardinis
- Dinner Osteria Santa Marina
- Lunch at 1 Vini da Gigio
- The hands of the little marble monk in the Miracoli Church
- The cicchettis at Schiavi
A great artisan and glass-maker: www.glasshandmade.com
A top Italian artisan with amazing works: www.luigi-bevilacqua.com