A stay at one of the top palazzo hotels along the Grand Canal is among the very best ways to experience the richness and voluptuousness that are so integral to Venetian culture. It’s a chance to play doge for a day—and a night—or, better yet, several days and nights. Close to the Rialto Bridge, the 42-room Ca' Sagredo (rooms, from $370; 4198 Cannaregio, Campo Santa Sofia Ca’ D’Oro; 39-041/241-3111; casagredohotel.com) is the newest of the city’s classically styled palazzo hotels, opened in 2007 in a 500-year-old pink stuccoed edifice in Cannaregio. After a seven-year renovation, it feels, mostly for the better but occasionally for the worse, like an impeccably restored historic house museum: A monumental staircase leads from the ground-floor lobby to the piano nobile, with 18th-century frescoes by Pietro Longhi depicting the Fall of the Giants decorating the walls along the way. On the piano nobile itself, the soaring dining room and ballrooms have frescoes by Tiepolo and Gaspare Diziani. There are a few stodgy missteps, however: the bizarre, Carnevale-costumed mannequins in the marbled lobby, say, or the drab peach-hued tablecloths and absolutely ordinary chafing dishes at breakfast. Still, special rooms—the Biblioteca in the palazzo’s former library, and the Arts and Stucco suites, with their detailed plasterwork—impress. Even the more standard rooms, plush and pastel, with bathrooms done in white marble, glass and chrome, are lovely, especially those with large windows opening onto the canal and the Rialto market across the water.
Tourist-packed Piazza San Marco is just down the street from the Hotel Danieli (rooms, from $590; 4196 Castello, Riva degli Schiavoni, 39-041/522-6480; danieli.hotelinvenice.com), and throngs of visitors clog the Riva degli Schiavoni outside its revolving door, but the lobby of this luxurious hostelry—made up of three contiguous palaces dating from the 14th, 19th and 20th centuries—is an oasis of calm, a cool and elegant refuge from the inevitable hubbub of the city’s well-trafficked heart. Past the entrance is an arrangement of staircases, balconies and archways as intricate as an Escher print; to the left is an immense salon fueled by an ornate little bar. (A Campari and soda here somehow tastes more refined than one from a canalside caffè.) Two years ago the French architect and interior designer Jacques Garcia (Hôtel Costes, et al) redid the rooms, toning down the Venetian froufrou while maintaining a Gothic-luxe feel. The requisite marble bathrooms, sumptuous bedding and flat-screen TVs are in place. With so many good spots to eat around Venice, guests might not be tempted by the Danieli’s pricey rooftop restaurant, but the view out over the canals is worth the tariff, and chef Gian Nicola Colucci’s imaginative—if not particularly Venetian—menu changes often, featuring such first-rate seafood dishes as maltagliati pasta with favas and baby mussels and grouper with raw Sicilian red shrimp.
Built in 1525 for Doge Andrea Gritti, the Gothic palazzo housing the Hotel Gritti Palace (rooms, from $385; San Marco, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio; 39-041/794-611; hotelgrittipalacevenice.com) also once served as the residence of the Vatican’s Venetian ambassadors. Today the 91-room hotel—located in a peaceful Grand Canal spot a quick walk from San Marco—retains a certain regal, old-world feel, with antique hand-painted wooden furnishings here, 18th-century Murano glass chandeliers there, plus embroidered damask drapes and acres of marble floors layered with Oriental rugs. Of the 16 rooms with water views, the three 1,000-plus-square-foot piano nobile Grand Canal Suites—named after former guests like Ernest Hemingway, who used the Gritti as a setting for his 1950 tome Across the River and into the Trees—certainly are extravagant (i.e., $3,500 a night). But the second-floor Grand Canal–view rooms have plenty of space plus balconies with vistas of the Salute church. And they start at $650. The hotel’s traditional Italian restaurant isn’t quite worth its prices, but on summer mornings the terrace hosts what many locals consider the city’s most delightful breakfast. (It’s also great for an afternoon cocktail.) Because of the hotel’s low elevation, the lobby is often flooded during periods of acqua alta in fall and winter, and guests are given rubber boots—a bit of a hassle but a highly Venetian experience nonetheless.