RUNNER-UP: SEXIEST BEDROOM – SMITH HOTEL AWARDS 2015
Historic luxury hotel Aman Venice got the holy grail of celebrity endorsements when George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin held their wedding there. Its secluded setting, with a private jetty entrance and a peaceful garden (a rarity in Venice) makes 16th-century former Palazzo Papadopoli a natural choice for loved-up celebrities. But the lavish Rococo rooms – with silk-draped walls, gilded stucco ceilings and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo frescoes – canal views and spot-on service turn any romantic minibreak into a fairy-tale.
Noon, but staff will arrange for guests to stay a little longer in their room, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Guests can store luggage on request, and staff will try to ensure rooms are ready for early arrivals.
Double rooms from $1373.92 (€1,250), excluding tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €5.00 per person per night on check-out.
Continental or American breakfast and soft drinks from the minibar are included. A round-trip transfer from the airport or train station is available for a charge.
The library has plenty of tomes, a massive jigsaw and board games if you need a time out. On the Stanza de Tiepolo there’s a large stone chess set, too. Ask at reception for a tour of the Palazzo, to learn about its fascinating history – it was the first building in Venice to have electric lights, don’t you know?
The hotel closes from 5–28 January.
At the hotel
Private gardens, boutique, ballroom, games room, library, spa, gym, laundry, free WiFi throughout. In-room: Bang & Olufsen flatscreen TV and DVD player, pre-loaded iPod and dock, personal bar, beach bag, sun hat, adaptor plug, kettle with a selection of teas and free bottled water. A Nespresso coffee machine is available on request.
Our favourite rooms
If money is no matter, book the breathtaking Alcova Tiepolo Suite to re-enact that wedding night. Movie-star romance comes in the form of gilded stucco reliefs, Chinoiserie paintings and Tiepolo’s cherub-packed ceiling fresco, above the huge bed. If a suite’s a little steep, the Palazzo Stanza room has great canal views.
Tucked away on the third level of the garden building, the small intimate spa is is more modern in style than the rest of the palazzo with Asian-inspired wooden accents. Therapies offered in the three low-lit treatment rooms – one with a soaking tub – include body scrubs, massages and facials. There's also a petite gym with strengthening equipment, free weights and sweeping Venice views to keep you motivated.
Your twinkliest statement jewellery. We recommend an all-in-one grooming kit for Mr Smith, including a badger-hair shaving brush, bridle-leather shoehorn and suede brush – after all, your may be competing with the official Sexiest Man Alive.
The hotel’s public areas are wheelchair accessible, there’s a lift to all floors (the first electric lift in Venice, in fact) and one Palazzo Bedroom and Palazzo Chamber on the ground floor have been adapted for guests with mobility issues.
Children are welcome (except in the Alcova Tiepolo Suite and spa). Babysitting is €25 an hour, U-rated DVDs and colouring books are offered and the restaurant has a great kids' menu and high-chairs, and staff will heat milk and baby food.
The corner table by the window on the Stanza del Guarana is secluded and offers excellent canal views from on high.
Modern-day Contessa in silks and floor-skimming skirts; pack crisp chinos and shirts for Mr Smith.
Spread across the dining and ballroom on the sumptuous piano nobile (first floor), Arva is a love letter to Italy’s culinary heritage and everything it entails – the best local produce, uncomplicated cooking and a friendly, familial atmosphere. Inspired by a time when Italians would cook only with what was available nearby, executive chef Dario Ossola and creative consultant Davide Oldani have forged relationships with local farmers, fisherman and market traders (including several at the city’s famous Rialto market), ensuring the kitchen stays stocked with the finest Adriatic fish, single-source oils and artisanal pasta available. Try the tagliatelle alle Castagne (chestnut tagliatelle, chanterelle mushrooms and Castelmagno cheese) or the faraona al forno, pastinaca e aglio nero (baked guinea fowl, parsnips and black garlic). During the warmer months, you can also dine alfresco in the hotel’s private garden, which has one of the best Grand Canal-side spots of any restaurant in the city.
The bar is in the Red Room, a richly-toned and inviting space inspired by one of the city’s most famous residents: Lord Byron. The gin selection is more extensive than any in the city and, fitting of the broody Romantic, the bar is also one of the best places to watch the Venetian sunset. On balmy evenings, you may prefer to take your drink up to the terrace to look over Venice’s terracotta rooftops.
Breakfast from 7am, lunch is served noon to 2.30pm, dinner 7pm to 10.30pm. A lighter menu is offered from noon to 11.30pm.
Antipasti, charcuterie and cheese platters, caught-that-day fish, soups, gourmet-grilled sandwiches, local cookies, tiramisu and a selection of fresh juices and smoothies are on the hotel’s 24-hour in-room dining menu.
Calle Tiepolo 1364
Sestiere San Polo
Aman Venice is housed in a 16th-century palazzo in San Polo, the smallest of Venice’s six siesteres, overlooking the Grand Canal. It’s a 15-minute walk from St Mark’s Square and Basilica, and a 20-minute walk from the Doge’s Palace.
Venice Marco Polo Airport (www.veniceairport.it) is an hour’s water taxi ride from the hotel. Easyjet has direct flights from major cities in the UK, France, Germany and Spain.
Serviced by Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com), Intercity trains, Frecce high-speed trains and the Eurostar (www.eurostar.com), Venizia Santa Lucia station is a 10-minute drive away. Let the hotel know where you’ll be arriving in advance and they’ll pick you up for free.
Venice’s winding narrow streets and waterways make driving impossible, and you’re far more likely to stumble across those lesser-known trattorias and gelaterias by threading through the narrow streets by foot. If you are driving to Venice, leave your car in a garage just outside the city and take a vaporetto in.
Guests are usually whisked to the hotel’s private jetty in a 1930s art deco speedboat in Casino Royale style.
Worth getting out of bed for
Sip a Bellini in St Mark’s Square, cruise in a gondola and marvel at the Doge’s Palace (+39 041 271 5911), and then see Venice’s lesser-lauded sights. Tour the ancient churches by the hotel: Titian is buried in 14th-century Frari Basilica (+39 041 272 8611) in the Campo San Polo; two of his works still hang there. Sculpture-clad San Rocco is a Byzantine beauty with gilded ceilings, and Tintoretto’s brushwork adorns the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (+39 041 523 4864). San Giacomo di Rialto is a five-minute walk from the hotel, which has a grand Gothic portico, and playwright Carlo Goldoni’s house (+39 041 275 9325), a 10-minute walk away, has theatrical artefacts. Hop on a water taxi to watch nifty glass-blowing on Murano Island, before exploring the artisans’ showrooms. In January and February, catch the pageantry of the Venice Carnival; and modern-art maelstrom, the Venice Bienniale, kicks off on 1 June (on odd-numbered years).
Ristorante Lineadombra Venezia (+39 041 241 1881) is a swish setting – with weathered oak beams and shiny modern furnishings – for lobster, langoustines and other fishy fare. Overlook Giudecca Island from the terrace while you browse the 1,000-strong wine list. Antiche Carampane (+39 041 524 0165), by the Rialto Bridge, is a historic trattoria with a fine line in wild fish and hand-made sweets and biscuits. Tiny bacaroAll’Arco opens for lunch on Saturdays (+39 041 520 5666), serving cicchetti (small plates), including a lauded baccalà mantecato (salted cod on toast).
Alaska Gelateria-Sorbetteria (+39 041 715 211) in Santa Croce is run by passionate pâtissier and local character Carlo Pistacchi. The traditional flavours (chocolate, hazelnut and yoghurt) are excellent, but it’s worth trying the wacky seasonal concoctions, which have included asparagus and fennel.
Enoteca Vineria All’Amarone(+39 041 523 1184) has reds and whites from Veneto, Friuli and Tuscany, ranging from reasonable to wallet-crippling, with a few rare selections thrown in. Wines are available by the glass too, and tempting cicheti (small plates) are offered on the side, with bruschetta, cheese and meat platters, salads and pasta dishes.
‘So, how long have you been together?’, the words no son ever wants to hear when standing next to his mother. ‘Er, she's my mum, and I'm taking her to Venice for her 70th birthday.’ I quick-fire back at the Foreign Exchange teller with machine-gun rapidity, in a vain attempt to quash further embarrassment – after all, there’s a bored queue behind us, within hearing range. ‘Oh, sorry sir.’ the teller clumsily digs himself in deeper, ‘I mean, it's arguably the most romantic city on the planet, so I just assumed you must be a couple’.
My mum is in hysterics, loving the moment a little bit too much. She’s not going to let that one slide in a hurry; it’s just a matter of time before all my friends hear the story, via ‘mother’s grapevine’: still the most effective social-media network on the planet for circulating gossip.
My mum is unfortunately sans Mr Smith, so I thought a trip to Venice would be a lovely, thoughtful treat; she’s never been before, and I believe that everyone should see la Serenissima at least once in their lifetime. Of course, I’m expected to pull out all the stops: no Vaporettos, only private Riva boat water-taxis; but it’s all worth it – as we enter arguably the most beautiful city in the world, on arguably the world’s most beautiful boat, Mum beams so brightly she’s practically incandescent. This is a repeat visit for me, but Venice is even more spectacular than memory serves; although my opinion may be a little swayed by our imminent check-in at Venice's most talked-about stay, the – George Clooney-approved – Aman Venice.
On arrival, we’re left flabbergasted by the hotel’s grandeur – it overtakes my lofty expectations, like a motorboat going at a wholly unsafe speed through the Adriatic. We’re given a classic Aman welcome: a swift check-in actioned by highly polished staff. If I wasn’t allegedly courting my mother, I would definitely be feeling Don Clooney-esque by now. The palazzo the hotel’s housed in was built in the 16th century; untold millions must have been invested in bringing the building back to its former glory (although ‘glory’ barely begins to cover it) – it’s all terribly impressive, God bless the Renaissance.
Even if the hotel was packed to the rafters – it sleeps 50, tops – a ballroom, library and numerous lounges to retire to ensure guests are only likely to cross paths in the lobby. This is luxury on another level. Communal rooms inspire a litany of superlatives (opulent, ornate, decadent, bling et al): the fireplaces are enormous, the pianos grand, the built-in bookcases look like the sort of thing Casanova might have organised in Dewey Decimal style in his later life. Aman have rubber-stamped the place with their signature elegance, evident in pristine white and taupe chairs, sofas and chaise-longues. My mother has never been anywhere quite like this, and the closest comparison she can conjure up is the one family trip we didn’t spend in Cornwall, at the – slightly less regal – Sheraton near Walt Disney World. I swear she’s welling up a bit; it’s lovely to see her so thrilled.
Now, please allow me to gush about my room, the Alcova Tiepolo Suite; but, if my hotel-loving wife – who I’ve left at home – asks, tell her I said it was like ‘one of the nicer Best Westerns’. I’ll have to play down its lavish good looks when I call her, but Mrs Smith is out of earshot now, so let’s talk tall windows, fanciful marble fireplaces and angelic frescoes by Giovanni Battista, unfurling from the kind of complex cornicing the Italian nobility did oh-so well. The suite is simply breathtaking, and the astonishing detail throughout brings the words ‘cathedral-like’ to mind. My bed is enormous, and the changing area has space enough to unpack a wardrobe fit for several months – if only we were staying so long. The bathroom, tucked behind a lovingly hand-painted, ‘secret’ wooden door, would have elicited banshee-like yelps of excitement from Mrs Smith – but seriously, keep this on the DL.
After a couple of drinks and too many plump olives in the adjacent manicured garden, which overlooks the Grand Canal, we head out sightseeing. We see all the big ones, of course: St Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs; but we enjoy the Peggy Guggenheim Collection the most and wandering through the charming Dorsoduro neighbourhood. Here we stumble on wonderful shops selling the famed Murano glass and Carnival masks, and have a few prosecco pit stops at cantinas we find along the way.
The next day we visit Murano to see one of the many glass-blowing factories; a word of warning – resistance is futile: each tour ends in a shop that looks the way I imagine Ivana Trump’s reception is decorated. There are some beautiful
pieces amid a lorry-load of kitsch, and – as long as you’re buying – glasses of champagne are handed out with abandon, which mum clearly appreciates. It’s all good fun, and after steering mum sharply out of the showroom, where price tags rise to heart-stopping highs, the gift-shop furnishes us with all the Venetian souvenirs needed for the family back home.
It’s true that Venetian food is nowhere near as good as the rest of Italy, the only negative in a trip filled with positives, but I highly recommend Ristorante Da Ivo, (1809 Calle dei Fuseri, www.ristorantedaivo.it), just off St Mark’s Square, where stopped for lunch. Small, intimate and – judging by the celebrity photos hung on the wall (like so many good old-school restaurateurs do) – a trusted favourite, and the pasta is excellent if a little overpriced; but hey, it’s Venice.
Mum then, of course, wants to ride on a Gondola. I break out in a cold sweat as I flash back to that dreadful incident at the Foreign Exchange – what if, by some dreadful fluke, the teller happens to walk past and see us cosied up in an Italian love boat; I could take my chances in the canal. Through slightly gritted teeth, I say yes – if a singing man in a striped vest punting us through the water on his gondola is what my Mum wants, then that's what she gets. We pootle off in a procession of gaudy, pointy boats; it’s a little touristy, but our gondolier is very knowledgeable, regaling us with the provenance of each beautiful building, including Casanova’s former flat. As our gondola moors, I breath a sigh of relief – the tour was blissfully un-Oedipal.
Dinner at the hotel is excellent, but the dining room lacks a lively trattoria buzz; it’s probably better suited to an intimate dinner with your loved one rather than your mother. We both get the giggles as we wonder who our fellow diners are; among vaguely famous-looking sorts (is that Clooney?), there are some pairs even more oddly suited than Mum and I.
Sadly, our stint in the Floating City soon comes to an end. The following day we ride our last water taxi back to the airport – how I'll miss having a boat. Venice really did delight, and the Aman is the most beautiful base from which to explore all her charms. While it may be unusual for a 45-year-old son to take his 70-year-old mum away (well, a certain teller seems to think so), next time we’ll go somewhere where an odd pairing is embraced rather than questioned – for her 75th, I’m thinking Berlin.
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