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First Look: Aman Canal Grande Venice

© Jessica Craig-Martin

A 16th-century palazzo becomes a thoroughly modern 21st-century hotel.

The heavy rains of spring have moved on, along with most of the artists, dealers and groupies of May’s Biennale, giving way to a glorious summer afternoon. Here in the ornate lobby of the new Aman Canal Grande Venice, which opened June 1, all is luxe, calme et volupté.

Venice is many things to many people, but easy on the nerves it is not: a spider’s web of pencil-thin vias bursting with half the world’s tourists looking to eat, pray, love...and shop, all on a tiny sponge of terra somewhat firma. “I think Sting would love this,” says Theresa Lowrey, personal assistant to the singer and his wife who happened to stumble into the Aman’s lush gardens and outdoor restaurant here on the Garden Terrace overlooking the Grand Canal, “but he’s always stayed at the Bauer or Cipriani because of the pool.”

Instead, we have Tiepolo’d ceilings and elegant white and frosted glass bathrooms out of 2001: A Space Odyssey; 18th-century Murano chandeliers, fancifully created in the Gothic Byzantine style, featured in rooms, whether it be the Yellow or Red dining room or the 16th-century library. The shock of the new exists in the Canal Grande’s clean, pared-down design and palette of its modernist B&B furniture. For 25 years, Adrian Zecha, the financial and spiritual founder of Aman Resorts, traveled lagoons and alleys looking for both Platonic ideal as well as the perfect real estate. Two years ago, he found it: the family home of Count Giberto Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga and Countess Bianca, who now quietly, but importantly, reside on the palazzo’s top floor. Below are 24 rooms, modernized with Aman’s élan of quietude and zen simplicity, all against the florid backdrop of Venice’s Baroque grandeur. After all, the Aman experience has always been, at least among zealots—the famous Aman junkies—about the unexpected. Which, of course, is part of the Venetian experience. For as well as one thinks one knows Venice, suddenly all it takes is a turn right, instead of left, and one starts over.

Olivia Richli, Aman Canal Grande’s general manager, hostess and modern-day chatelaine, believes that here in the San Polo sestiere (the city’s smallest and perhaps most coveted neighborhood), one leaves the purely opulent behind to discover, along with the Venetians themselves, a new definition of luxury in the 21st century.

Nota Bene

The palazzo rooms overlooking the private gardens start at $1,300; the Papadopoli Stanza, named for the original owners, has frescoes above the bed and in the bathroom, starting at $3,270; and the Alcova Tiepolo Suite, with its Chinese-painting-adorned sitting room and a ceiling by—yes, that’s right—the 18th-century Baroque master himself, starts at $4,575. At 1364 Calle Tiepolo; 39-041/270-7333; amanresorts.com.