Living La Dolce Vita

Three Venice hotels offer clients a variety of options

By: Janice Mucalov

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Perfect for families, the Westin
Excelsior is located near the beach.
No matter how many times you visit Venice, you can’t help but be enchanted by its serenading gondoliers, Renaissance palaces, canal-side trattorias and the ever-present pigeons fluttering around St. Mark’s Square. And while steeped in history, much of the city’s energy is devoted to tourism. That translates into a great selection of hotels when choosing accommodations from which to enjoy the city’s charms.

Palazzo Abadessa
Couples seeking a quiet, romantic, good-value choice need look no further than the Palazzo Abadessa. The 16th-century palace, recently converted into a private hotel residence complete with Tintoretto paintings and stained-glass windows, is conveniently located just a 15-minute walk from St. Mark’s.

This is the quintessential un-hotel. Staying here feels like you’re visiting owner Maria Luisa Rossi as a family friend. (She has a private apartment on the top floor.) When in town, she invites guests to join her in the garden for a late afternoon glass of chilled Prosecco (Italy’s version of champagne). Or before heading out to dinner, help yourself to complimentary wines and snacks thoughtfully set out in the majestic marble hall.

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Palazzo Abadessa is quiet and romantic,
as well as a good value.
Each of the nine rooms and four suites are elaborately decorated with antique furniture, hand-woven silk wall coverings and Murano chandeliers. You can’t go wrong with any, except perhaps the smallest room, which is too tiny to comfortably unfold a suitcase. My favorite is Room 26, with an exposed timber beam ceiling, blue-and-gold striped silk-covered walls, stone fireplace and a bathroom with an original giant stone sink (formerly the kitchen sink). There’s no elevator, but a helpful doorman will carry your bags up the grand double staircase.

Breakfast, which is included, is a treat. Loading up our silver trays with fresh fruit salad, warm croissants and cake, boiled eggs and sliced ham and cheeses, we ate in the tranquility of the walled garden. A waitress served us as many cappuccinos as we could drink.

Westin Excelsior/Hotel Des Bains
The beach island of Lido is a great option for escaping the crowds that flock to Venice in the summer and for families who want to swim after sightseeing (no hotels in Venice itself have pools).

A complimentary water taxi (15-minute ride) connects guests staying at the hotel to Venice. Built as a long-stay resort hotel at the beginning of the 20th century, the Excelsior’s 193 rooms and suites are lovely and spacious. Reflecting a whimsical

Moorish-style decor, they feature arches and ivory lattice woodwork. No need to book a more pricey seaview room rooms with a courtyard view are just as enticing (though corner rooms looking out to the Venice skyline and lagoon are perhaps the best deal).

The Excelsior enjoys an enviable location right on the beach. But you pay extra for one of the white cabanas lined up in rows (most are rented by Venetians for the summer to use on weekends), and the gray sand can be hot. We were content to relax by the pool overlooking the beach.

Clients can hop on the free mini-bus for the five-minute drive to the Excelsior’s sister Starwood property, the “Belle Epoque” Hotel Des Bains, described in Thomas Mann’s 1913 novel “Death in Venice.” It boasts a large swimming pool in a beautiful garden setting, where you can enjoy an oh-so-elegant poolside lunch under the trees. For some reason, the Excelsior is rated five-star while the Bains is only four-star, but don’t let this quirky rating deter you if you want to bed down at the Hotel Des Bains instead of the Excelsior.

Both hotels are open from March to October.

Hotel Cipriani

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Hotel Cipriani is the hotel to the stars.
Here, clients can dine at the famous
Fortuny Restaurant.
For the ultimate splurge, make like the movie stars do when they descend on the Venice Film Festival each September and book the Hotel Cipriani. The atmosphere is “private country estate” at this serene Orient-Express property, set amid lush gardens on Guidecca Island. Expect unparalleled service, of course the hotel has one staff member per guest. A private mahogany motor launch runs 24 hours to St. Mark’s square, which is about a seven-minute ride from the hotel.

The hotel itself has 88 pink rooms, with a mix of wicker and faux antique furniture. Linked to the hotel through an ancient courtyard and flowered loggia is the Palazzo Vendramin, a 15th-century residence which has 10 two-bedroom apartments for Cipriani guests, each featuring a private entrance hall, sitting room, two baths and a kitchen. There’s also the adjoining Palazzetto Nani Barbaro with five suites. All palazzo suites have personal butler service.

Make sure to dine by candlelight at the Fortuny Restaurant (gentlemen must wear jackets, even on very warm evenings). We started with a Bellini in the courtyard while perusing the menu, before moving to the outdoor terrace, overlooking the lagoon, to feast on fresh sea bass and the hotel’s signature thin green pasta noodles with ham au gratin.

And what about a “SeaCreation Treatment Facial” in the Casanova Spa? The room dedicated to this is equipped with a Dolby surround system and flat plasma screen which projects images and sounds of the sea, and aquatic colored fiber optics illuminate the ceiling. Or play a game on the hotel’s tennis court or swim in its inviting Olympic-sized saltwater pool.

The hotel is open April to November and the Palazzo suites are open all year.


Grand Canal:
I never tire of taking the vaporetto (public water bus) ride along the entire length of the Grand Canal from the bus station to St. Mark’s Square surely one of the world’s most picturesque and cheapest boat rides. Clients can see the facades of some 200 palaces built between the 12th and 18th centuries, gondolas and boats ferrying supplies, ancient bridges and well-dressed Venetians going about their daily lives.

Go wild buying inexpensive silk ties and beautiful Murano glass bead costume jewelry. (Skip the shops on pricey Murano Island and scout around the Rialto district instead.)

Doge’s Palace:
Here, clients can take a guided tour, where artwork by painters like Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese is brought to life. Visitors also learn about the history of Venice as a democratic republic, admire the gold-leaf ceiling above the gold staircase and walk over the Bridge of Sighs connecting the prison cells. (The name supposedly came from the sighs of inmates as they caught the last sight of Venice while being led to their execution.)

Visitors can linger over cappuccino at an outdoor cafe and savor the atmosphere of this impossibly gorgeous city.