Palazzina Grassi in Venice's San Marco district is a sultry, saturnine Starck hotel ferreted away behind a 16th-century façade by the Grand Canal, with a champagne bar, decadent atmosphere and terrace-toting suites.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of prosecco and a selection of cicchetti (Venetian snacks) made by the chef
Twenty-six, including one suite, four Grand Canal-view suites and three family suites.
Noon, but flexible until 3pm if the room’s available. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £467.45 (€531), including 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.
Rates usually include Continental breakfast (€25 a person), with juice, hot drinks and a basket of freshly made bread and pastries; the à la carte breakfast menu includes the likes of eggs benedict and French toast with seasonal berries, from €14.
Palazzina Grassi guests can take a ride on the hotel's luxury mahogany boat through the canals into the lagoon (from €300). Staff can arrange a host of authentic Venetian experiences – from insider city tours to cooking classes from a countess.
At the hotel
Members- and residents-only Krug champagne lounge; luxury mahogany boat (from €300, on request only); private landing pier; roof terrace (open in season); free WiFi throughout; full concierge service. In rooms: Starck fixtures and fittings, backlit mirror walls, programmable lighting, in-mirror LCD TV, iPod dock (with bathroom speaker system), minibar (with decent-sized bottles and snacks).
Our favourite rooms
The Junior Suite with Terrace category has a terrace overlooking the city’s rooftops. There’s an exclusive feel to the third-floor Suite: you can only get there by private elevator. Its terrace has sweeping Venice vistas, and you can get an eyeful of cityscape from the bed. Grassi’s smallest rooms, the Superiors, aren’t spacious, but the pale colour scheme and hall-of-mirrors effect gives the impression of size.
Mrs Smiths, free up some handbag space and leave the compacts behind: there are 286 mirrors in this hotel. And remember to pack your most comfortable shoes: Venice is a city made for strolling.
Check-in can be in your room or in the lounge bar.
People-watch from a perch at the bar, or sit at the long table by the show kitchen to watch the chefs at work.
Rich, ducal fabrics: velvet, cashmere and damask.
Meals are served pretty much anywhere, but the main dining area is in Palazzina the Restaurant, where there’s an open kitchen. The menu places simplicity and the quality of ingredients above fussiness and show-off flourishes.
PG’s is a mood-lit mahogany cocktail den of exposed brick, velvet and leather; 15th-century pillars prop up the bars, and candles flicker in glimmering Murano-glass holders. Guests also get access to the Krug Lounge, a sultry, scarlet-carpeted ‘champagnerie’.
Breakfast can be served between 7.30am and noon; and lunch is available from noon until 2.30pm; and dinner is from 7pm until 10.30pm.
In-room meals can be whipped up in the kitchens until midnight, after which a smaller, night menu kicks in. You can have food and drink brought to you anywhere you wish.
Palazzina Grassi has a near-perfect location in the San Marco district, tucked behind a museum and an amble from the Accademia bridge: the Rialto and St Mark's Square are a 10-minute walk away, or two stops by waterbus in either direction.
Venice’s Marco Polo Airport is 16km away. This bustling mini-hub handles a range of flights from Europe, the Middle East and the US – and it's easy to reach the city from here. Approach Venice by crossing the lagoon: board an Alilaguna ferry (www.alilaguna.it) at the airport harbour – the Linea Arancio (orange line) takes you to the Sant'Angelo stop, just a few minutes' walk from the hotel, in around 40 minutes. Buy tickets ahead online, or from a ticket machine in the Arrivals hall. Alternatively, take a water taxi to the San Samuele stop, just a hundred yards from the hotel entrance - a private water taxi can be arranged at the airport for €120 for up to four people; or the hotel can arrange private luxury transfers on request (€180 each way: a luxury car transfer between the airport and the harbour, then a private water taxi). You might also consider arriving into Treviso Airport (www.trevisoairport.it), just 26km away, with a direct bus (www.atvo.it) link to Piazzale Roma in the city.
There are two main stations – Santa Lucia on the Canal, and Mestre on the mainland – both have excellent links across the country and beyond, via Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com), including Rome, Milan and Paris; Verona is just one hour away. The Santa Lucia train station is 2.5km from the hotel: a water taxi can set sail to here (for €85), and from the station you can catch a vaporetto – on line two, to the San Samuele stop – to the hotel.
Unless you want to lock them up on an artificial island or long-stay carpark, leave the cars at home. The hotel is in the centre of Venice, where waterways rule, not roads.
The network of ACTV waterbuses (vaporetti) makes navigating Venice a doddle. You can buy tickets on board for cash, but you must tell the conductor you need to buy one as soon as you board, or face a hefty fine. Individual fares are quite expensive (€7.50 whether you travel one stop or the whole route), so buy one of the 24, 48, or 78-hour tourist tickets. They're great value, especially as they're valid on mainland buses, and on ferries to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. See www.actv.it for details.
Worth getting out of bed for
You're perfectly positioned here, yards from the San Samuele vaporetto stop and an enjoyable stroll from both the Rialto (to your north) and the Piazza San Marco (to your east). Right next door to the hotel, the neoclassical Palazzo Grassi has been transformed into a contemporary exhibition space by Gucci/Christie’s billionaire François Pinault. His own extraordinary collection is housed here and in the Punta della Dogana on the opposite bank. The 13th-century Santo Stefano church is in the neighbourhood, too. Short on time and no idea where to begin? Cross the canal via the Ponte dell'Accademia for a whirlwind art tour of Dorsoduro: the jewels of the Venetian Renaissance are displayed in the Accademia (including Giorgione's moving La Veueve); and a cherry-picked selection of modern masterpieces (including Picassos, Pollocks, Mondrians and more) illuminate Peggy Guggenheim's intimate former home at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Three minutes away, Bacaro da Fiore (+39 041 523 5310) is a traditional trattoria that doubles as a cicchetteria, serving up snack-size portions of fried fish and veg. It’s a 15-minute walk to low-key-but-lovely Osteria di Santa Marina (+39 041 528 5239). Try the turbot ravioli in shellfish broth, scallop risotto and ice-cream macaroons. Take a boat out to Mazzorbo to dine on the freshest seasonal produce at Venissa Ristorante Ostello (+39 041 527 2281). The estate makes wine for its well-stocked cellar. For excellent Venetian food off the tourist-trodden path, try Osteria l’Orto dei Mori (+39 041 524 3677). Head next door to the Palazzo Grassi Café (+39 041 240 1337) for lunch by the canal.
Venice: the land of elaborate masks, crimson coats, gilded gondolas, and most importantly, love. Mask? Check. Red mac? Sure. Gondola? Yessir. Love? Pass. I’ve got a 6’2”, baseball-capped, bearded, tattooed friend called Gabriel along for the ride.
Adventure is clearly on its way: we catch the auspicious sight of Fabio Capello swaggering onto our plane, flaunting the kind of grace and nonchalance Italian men have finely tuned over the past two millennia. We, meanwhile, display the kind of hungover, sleepless, dirty-trousered allure the British have so faultlessly perfected.
From Venice airport, our senses are bombarded: the heat (despite predictions of rain from the BBC’s weather website), the smell (that of sea that’s graduated from finishing school) and the boats (which hook themselves into your memory banks, labelled ‘Lucky little blighters’).We approach the gondoliers as they smoke and chat, each plying their trade in signature style, and we pick one. We follow our man as he walks past a succession of marvellously crafted wooden boats until stopping at his vessel: what a beaut. Sitting on the seats in the back instantly gives us – or indeed anyone in possession of a pair of sunglasses – the look of a Fellini star.
Such an introduction to this northern city is awesome. Venice is magnificent. The ages-old architecture inspires a feeling of being suspended in a lost time, as though you are travelling through thousands of photographs of somewhere incomprehensible. A city built in the sea! There is no ‘popping across the road’ here, or ‘Let’s quickly jump on the back of the bike’, or even ‘Just wait for the green man’ – this is a watery city for the wanderer and the drifter. Which suits these flâneurs just fine.
As we float up to the steps of the Palazzina Grassi, towards a black-glass entrance crowned with a bull and a golden mask, it clicks that our adventure has only just begun. The doors pull back and we are met by an incredibly courteous and well-dressed man who magics away our bags and gently gestures us into the glossy reception of this Philippe Starck stay. The mask lives up to its symbolism, conjuring an atmosphere of secrecy yet warmth, like the burrow of a kleptomaniac rabbit. We shuffle through to Krug lounge for a glass of champagne and find a low-lit, alluring room full of objets d’art all laced with mysticism and charm. We sit back and soak it in.
Bubbles sipped, we follow the concierge to a mirrored lift, to be escorted to our room. He opens the door to 623, where another surprise awaits. The clandestine mood of the reception area has been swapped for a white brilliance that rivals a set from Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. Our boudoir is seemingly a heavenly mirage: bed, carpets and walls are all white, the table, cupboards and television mirrored and the windows tinted a warm, light pink. There is a powerful sense of calm.
We turn to each other and laugh. We open cabinets, switch on the TV and marvel at its disappearance when we turn it back off; we listen to music through invisible speakers hidden throughout. Finally, we pull up the blinds to find our own balcony, with tables, deckchairs and huge chess pawns, as well as a fantastic view of Venice’s windows and rooftops. After an hour of circling our room and picture-taking, we decide, reluctantly, it is time to roam.
The hotel is positioned on a distinctly Venetian passageway that leads onto a cobbled street. From here you can easily trail signs to all the main sights. We are never further than a 10-minute walk from the tick-off-the-list landmarks. Our first ramble through the city quickly deposits us at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, where our breath is stolen by works by Duchamp, Picasso and Mondrian. Then we amble to St Mark’s Square, which is just how I had visualised it. Correttos sipped at Caffè Florian, live renditions of Italian folk songs listened to, and spaghetti slurped on the Grand Canal, we settle back to watch boats of the glitterati and Cincinnati persuasion pass by.
Over the weekend, our hotel becomes our home, and a wonderful place to pitstop for a shot or two of absinthe before heading back out again into what we’ve dubbed ‘the land of the Minotaur’. At night, we head to PG's, the hotel’s restaurant, for dinner and find it transformed from its daytime serenity into an exciting, bustling, sceney spot.
Surveying the Venetians and tourists happily drinking and eating within PG’s sultry nightclubby clutches, it is easy to see why Johnny Depp took such a liking to this special place. After incredible Mediterranean cooking delivered with Asian precision, care Matteo Panfilio, we while away our evenings drinking in the bar.
Waking up on the morning of our departure, there is a feeling of disbelief that this Venetian weekend has even happened at all. As we close the door on our white wonderland and tiptoe into the ornate splendour of Palazzina Grassi’s lobby for the last time, I know we are saying farewell to an extraordinary hotel in a unique city. Gabriel and I agreed we’ll be back – next time with our Mrs Smiths.