Is it how Venice lies along the gulf like an ageing courtesan on her chaise-longue, being caressed by the Adriatic? Maybe it’s the continual rocking of the pontoons. Either way: Venice is sexy. Especially when you are away from family, paperwork and Newsnight in bed for a whole weekend. Ah, Ca Maria Adele – even saying the name of our proposed place of repose is as pleasurable as a kiss of Mrs Smith’s neck.
Splashes from water taxis fuelled by diesel and espresso-pumped young men elicit squeals of pleasure and the occasional ‘Vaffanculo’. I cover Mrs Smith’s ears. No need for us to rush – an idling introduction is what this glamorous getaway needs, and we jump aboard Vaporetto 1 to cross the Grand Canal to Salute.
A few islands later, San Marco comes into sight. Mrs Smith hugs me tightly. Santa Maria della Salute’s fleshy, muscular saints loom next – a soothing contrast to the tourist-besieged San Marco. Here in the bosom of this glorious building lies Ca Maria Adele. A private dock coaxes us to its elegant reception, resplendent in gold marble and deep African teak. We pass dark velvet wall-linings, gold picture frames, yellow flowers and rich oak. ‘Venetian rock star crossed with gothic Withnail,’ muses Mrs Smith. We can’t wait to see our room.
Too early for check-in, we forgo a coffee in the hotel, and take a stroll around Dorsoduro. The neighbourhood is quiet and serene; within a few hundred yards, Mrs Smith and I are alone in shoulder-wide alleys that end at canals. Washing hangs from lines draped across courtyards. We pause in a bar full of chattering locals enjoying cold white wine and crusty bread with prawns before returning to our bellboy, by now poised to show us to our top-floor boudoir.
Ancient oak beams clad a high ceiling above a bed the height of Olympus, as wide as the Grand Canal. At its foot is a gondola-sized bath. Mrs Smith is beside herself. And the view! Santa Maria della Salute looms so large we could take mass from under our duvet.
Reluctantly, we prise ourselves away – the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, former home of the ex-flapper socialite and art passionista, beckons. Minutes later, we’re surrounded by Peggy’s 20th-century collection of Pollocks, Picassos, Mirós and Magrittes. It feels wonderfully naughty to wallow in modern art while touring this historic waterside city.
Masterpieces ogled and appetites whetted, we consult Alessandro at Ca Maria Adele about dinner and he books us into the Linea Dombra on Canale della Giudecca. In a bid to freshen up, I set my sights on the Jacuzzi, and discover, to my delight, that our tub lights up like a Seventies disco. Mrs Smith soon tires of my pyrotechnics and demands attention before we take the two-minute skip to our high-end supper spot.
Leaving the restaurant lighter-headed (and light-walleted), we’re ready to see more of the city by moonlight. Mainly, Piazza San Marco. The late hour means fewer people, delicate lighting and the gentle strains of music from the cafés. Salute, too, has no one around, and it feels as though it’s ours alone. There’s just the sound of lapping water and a distant cat as we stroll back to our hotel.
With its assortment of spirits, ice and lemon slices, a beautifully laid-out honesty bar makes a nightcap on the terrace irresistible. Overlooked by a clocktower (mercifully quiet at night), its palm trees, Moroccan shutters and tables lit from within lend warmth and exoticism. White rose petals sprinkled over a breakfast list on our bed beg us to think of food again… Cheese omelette with bacon and fruit salad, freshly squeezed orange and Jasmine tea will be the boost we need for tomorrow’s touring.
What a wonderful city it is that has you stumbling through an open door into a schoolroom-sized space full of beautiful paintings. We linger in a secret world for 10 minutes until an old gentleman chucks us out. And it isn’t long until we’re eating again, this time tempted into a noisy local trattoria at the end of Via Garibaldi, the widest street in Venice, where a greengrocer’s barge floats in front.
Then it’s on to Harry’s Bar – Mrs Smith is intrigued. We’ll save you the trouble: it’s a bit expensive and the waiters should visit Ca Maria Adele for a lesson in how charming staff can be. Inevitably, our hotel’s seductive lounge draws us back. Mrs Smith picks through coffee-table books and international papers while I sneak off to the corner of our room that has a leather chair in the eaves. Here, in what Mrs Smith dubs my Venetian ‘man shed’, I learn some of my lines before bed.
Mrs Smith has one insistence for our last day. Her heroine is Katharine Hepburn. Our task? To find where she fell into into the canal in 1950s film Summer Madness. As luck would have it, it’s nearby, at the Campo San Barnaba. After a photo session (and some strange looks), we settle on the water’s edge for our final lunch: a couple of rolls liberated from breakfast, and half a bottle of wine. We dine like young student lovers listening to the throb of liners and car ferries leaving the lagoon. We linger as long as we can, but Alessandro has ordered our water taxi. Plotting our return, we hope it won’t be long until we once again savour solitude in a crowded city.