While modern architecture has given a facelift to most of the famous cities in Europe over the past century, Venice is an anomaly, remaining largely unchanged. Unsurprisingly, it makes the city popular with international tourists (the gargantuan cruise ships which tower over the city’s buildings have had a historically testy relationship with Venice. Indeed, from 2021 ships over 55,000 tonnes will no longer be able to sail along the Grand Canal, due to their damage to the local waterways). The city’s appeal is by no means restricted to cruise ships, however - in high season, hotels will be booked up months in advance, while the crowded streets rival London, Paris or New York with tourists outnumbering locals two to one.
Yet still, despite the overwhelming ‘touristyness’ that has plagued Venice for generations, it remains one of the most beautiful places in Europe, and if visited correctly - somewhere that can start a life-long love affair with the city. San Marco remains one of the most-visited areas in the city. No doubt because it is home to some of the city’s much-loved attractions - the historical political stalwart of Venice - the Doge Palace; the famous bridge where prisoners would garner their last glimpse of the city before being sentenced (aptly named the ‘Bridge of Sighs’) and of course, the famous San Marco cathedral at the centre of the eponymous square. As a rule of thumb, the best time to see these attractions is early in the morning - by the hour visitors increase, with swarms of tour ship crowds joining city-dwelling tourists (making them near impossible to get to) by early lunch time. It is in San Marco where some of the city’s most decadent hotels also reside. The banks of the Grand Canal parade some of the city’s most beautiful buildings (which is saying something, because the city is, well, Venice). Topping the list amongst these supermodel structures is The Gritti Palace.
The hotel was the favourite place to stay in the city from some of history’s most famous writers, artists and thinkers, from Ernest Hemingway and Somerset Maugham to Peggy Guggenheim (and more recently Jude Law who stayed there whilst filming The New Pope in the city). First built in 1475, the gothic building was originally home to the aristocratic Pisani family, before becoming home to the Doge of Venice in 1525, it then spent several centuries as the home to some of Venice’s most noble families before being transformed into a luxury hotel in the last decade of the 19th century.
In 2013 the iconic building underwent a restoration which saw the 61 guest rooms and 21 suites undergo their most recent transformation, with signature suites inspired by some of the hotels most famous guests. The hotel is decorated in rich colours, with local design elements (including incredible Venetian tapestries velvets and unique pieces of furniture such as long Rococo couches, handcrafted Girandole mirrors, Murano glass chandeliers, as well as exquisite reproductions of rare Rubelli archival fabrics). Local and historic artwork also plays big in the hotel, with a fantastic library home to many iconic texts
As always, when visiting Italy, food is at the centre of Venetian culture. At The Palace Gritti the hotel has the Gritti Terrace, a restaurant which serves up a delicious mix of fresh seafood, salads and of course a tasty range of pasta dishes with front row views of the Grand Canal from its outdoor terrace. The Gritti Epicurean School has been a key part of the hotel since the mid-seventies, and offers a special Stay&Cook package, which is led by Executive Chef Daniele Turco and includes a visit to the Rialto Market or a trip to a lagoon island to visit a local producer, an aperitif in a traditional “bacaro” (tapas bar), and a lesson dedicated to the preparation of an authentic Venetian dinner.
There’s plenty of other big foodie names in the city too - from the Hotel Danieli which has the rooftop Restaurant Terrazza Danieli which offers 360-degree views over the city (our advice - book dinner at sunset for the best views of the Grand Canal while you dine). Elsewhere in the city there is the Aman Venice hotel - which rose to fame when the Clooney’s married there in 2014 and offers a tasty lunch menu at their eponymous restaurant (think crab salad, homemade focaccia and pasta served with sea urchins, lemon and parsley). Further down the canal is The Cipriani Hotel which is home to (there’s a boat shuttle over the Cipriani from the side which the Gritti Palace is on, near San Marco every 15 minutes).
Outside of the city’s high-end food circuit, a must-try is the city’s famous cicchetti. A similar idea to tapas, cicchetti is the traditional food of the northern Italians, think fresh local dried bread smeared with delicious fish and meat pâtés, and of course served with a glass of locally made bubbly. To find the best cicchetti places in the city our advice is to head away from the San Marco tourist areas and get lost in the city’s beautiful meandering streets - here is where you can find some of the best (and reasonably priced cicchetti) a world away from the packed-out tourist areas.
Just across the Grand Canal from The Gritti Palace is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection one of the city’s must-visit art galleries, a five minute stroll down the Fondamenta Venier dai Leon will take you to Gallerie dell’Accademia gallery, which is currently showing a Leonardo Da Vinci man model of the world exhibition and the modern art Baselitz-Academy exhibition focused on the German artist Georg Baselitz. Venice is a rich tapestry of art, and culture, and one of the best ways to see some of the city’s history is by boat. Although some companies offer extortionate rates, it’s possible to see much of the city by Venice’s boat bus system which cost just a few euros per trip. Meanwhile, gondola trips also remain popular in the city. While some offer an overpriced (and underwhelming) quick tour around the block, certain gondoliers offer a thorough, informative and personalised tour through the city’s waterways - all for a reasonable price. Our gondolier, named Luca, has risen to fame amongst the well-travelled and he is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, offering tours along with in-depth details of the city. In many ways, our gondolier is like the best parts of Venice, and one of the reasons that people keep returning: unchanged, authentic and a living part of the waterways.
Details: For more information about The Gritti Palace, visit http://grittipalace.grandluxuryhotels.com
Photo credit: The Gritti Palace/Club del Doge Restaurant/The Gritti Epicurean School.