Two Top Venice Hotels

Ivan Terestchenko

Debating the relative merits of two updated monuments to historic grandeur: the Centurion Palace and the Palazzina Grassi

To some Venetians, there’s nothing worse than contemporary decor in an ancient palazzo. But that’s the modus operandi at two of the city’s newest Grand Canal hotels. Created by Philippe Starck, Palazzina Grassi puts the designer’s hyper-surrealist spin on a 16th-century residence, while Centurion Palace does mod interiors in a 19th-century pile. Blasphemy or a welcome dose of modernity? Andrew Sessa and Stellene Volandes debate the issue.

Centurion Palace Rooms start at $400. At 173 Dorsoduro, 39-041/34-281;

Palazzina Grassi Rooms start at $420. At 3247 San Marco; 39-041/528-4644;

SV: I arrived on the Palazzina Grassi’s vintage Celli boat, speeding through the canal looking at palazzo after old palazzo. Then this oversized Starck chessboard came into view. Amazing.

AS: Centurion has that Alice Through the Looking Glass feel, too, with some traditional Venetian notes: saturated colors, rich textiles, painted beamed ceilings that have been restored.

SV: Aside from the Venini chandeliers in the bar, Grassi is less Venice, more Starck: baroque couches, a nod to Fornasetti, white minimalist rooms with huge mirrors.

AS: Not for me, but I get the appeal: The contemporary lets you appreciate the ancient everywhere else. How is it to stay there?

SV: Very rock star. Johnny Depp was there when I was. “A personal concierge inside a hotel” is the idea: no traditional lobby or check-in. Plus, there’s nightlife: a Krug Champagne lounge right off the canal. The rooms aren’t huge, and only four have canal views, but Grassi is more about lounging in the lobby bar.

AS: Twelve of Centurion’s rooms are canal-side, and since the hotel is in Dorsoduro—with François Pinault’s new contemporary gallery, Punta della Dogana, on one side, the Accademia and the Guggenheim on the other—the views are over the water, to San Marco, especially great from the balconies off the biggest suites.

SV: I prefer Grassi’s location, right next to Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi museum and steps from Salizada San Samuele, my new favorite shopping street there. I did sometimes miss a more traditional hotel’s wonderfully hovering service. But Johnny Depp might not.

AS: He brings his own hovering staff, dear. Centurion’s run by Paolo Morra, who spent 12 years at the Gritti. He doesn’t hover, but he’s personally invested in ensuring his guests’ happiness. Maybe give Johnny his number?

SV: I don’t know. He seemed quite at home at Grassi.