Venice’s grandest hotel, The Gritti Palace, has had a facelift
It was definitely a highlight of my life: finding myself zipping across the sparkling waters of the Grand Canal, wind in my hair, Gucci sunglasses on, to arrive at the private dock of my home for the next three nights, the newly renovated Gritti Palace in Venice. The bar and restaurant were peppered with those who attend the summer openings of the Venice Biennale, a movie star and a bevy of celebrities all enjoying the sun. Their eyes looked over at me for a fleeting moment. I felt like a movie star too as I was escorted through the dramatic doors and into the eager hands of the friendly staff.
The Gritti Palace, one of the world’s finest hotels, reopened in February after a US$60 million restoration. No Venetian hotel can compare with the Gritti’s lo-cation on the Grand Canal, opposite the Salute and a short stroll to Piazza San Marco.
It has seduced the eccentric and wealthy, poets, artists, long suffering mistresses, reclusive nobles, refugees, rock stars, movie stars and politicians. Its sumptuousness is what one would expect from a 15th century Venetian pal-ace. There are hundreds of paintings, objets d’art and priceless pieces of furniture which have been restored by skilled Venetian artisans. The suites are swathed in decadent fabrics by Lorenzo Rubelli and complemented by Murano glass chandeliers and parquet floors.
The building has been re-configured to enhance one of the charms of the hotel, its intimacy, by reducing the number of rooms from 91 to 82. The top floor Redentore Terrazza Suite offers one of the few waterfront rooftop terraces in the city. This and each of the other 20 suites is unique. There are also signature suites named after guests like Er-nest Hemingway, Peggy Guggenheim and W Somerset Maugham, who wrote in 1960, “there are few things in life more pleasant than to sit on the terrace of the Gritti when the sun, about to set, bathes in lovely colour the Salute which almost faces you.”
Today, sitting on the terrace of the hotel’s bar or Club Del Doge restaurant on the Grand Canal is still magical as you watch the ever moving canvas of gondolas, water taxis and ferries whilst sipping an Italian coffee.
Although I’d taken the trip across this blue canvas to the Cipriani for one of their legendary bellinis, in my opinion, The Gritti Palace is certainly a competitor in the battle of the world’s best peach and prosecco mixture. Head barman Cristiano Luciani also whips up an incredible balsamic martini along with a Dama Bianca coffee with cream and absinthe. Joining him in the bar are six 18th century Pietro Longhi paintings (a Longhi painting recently sold in New York for US$1.3 million so you are in good company).
That company over the years has included almost every celeb-rity who has visited Venice from Churchill to Grace Kelly, Pavarotti to Kidman. The palazzo has celebrity roots. In 1475 it was built for the aristocratic Pisani family but then bought by Andrea Gritti who extended it during his reign as Doge of Venice between 1523 and 1538. For the next 350 years it was a private residence and in 1948 it became a private hotel.
The Gritti Palace, now a Star-wood Luxury Collection property, also offers The Blu Mediterraneo Spa, a new concept by Acqua di Parma, an Italian brand found in the top penthouse suites across the globe. This is only the second Acqua di Parma spa and it offers understated elegance and the best massage I have ever had.
The hotel also operates the Gritti Epicurean School, a Venetian open kitchen that has hosted the social elite of Venice for cooking demonstrations, celebrations and wine tastings. It is here that you can learn and savour essential Venetian recipes from executive chef Daniele Turco. Classes feature demonstrations, visits to the markets, themed courses and indulgent ingredients.
Once you’ve done the spa and the cooking school, ask the concierge to assist with the rest of your visit. He can organise a number of creative ways to see Venice from the Secret Itinerary tour through the Doge’s Palace to a walking tour with a private guide to visit the lesser known streets of Venice. Although it is the ultimate in “touristy”, you really can’t say you’ve been to Venice until you have taken an evening gondola ride – you can hire one right out-side The Gritti Palace.
The Gritti Palace, Venice. Rooms are priced from €450 (about A$652) per night plus taxes. thegrittipalace.com
Emirates flies from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to Venice via Dubai daily. Return economy fares are priced from A$2,076 and business class fares from A$7,898. Flight time is 17-22 hours plus stopover. emirates.com