Venetians say that on every walk in Venice you discover something new. I had that moment during my first walk to the St. Regis Venice, which opened in October along the Grand Canal. What was once the Grand Hotel Britannia, then the Europa & Regina, was familiar to me. The cluster of palazzos dating back to the Baroque era that the hotel occupies is where Rilke composed Letters to a Young Poet and Monet, sitting on a balcony, painted the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. In the 1970s, as a hotel consultant, I often stayed at the Europa & Regina when its neighbors—the Gritti, the Bauer, and the Danieli—were booked. Service was up and down, the furniture worn. Once graceful, the hotel had become a pretty lady in dowdy clothes.
When I returned to Venice for the reopening a few months ago, it was as if I had been transported somewhere new yet faithful to the city’s old magic. As I walked down San Moisè, the Fifth Avenue of Venice, I entered a corte, a small courtyard, named after a noble family that owned one of the palazzos that comprise the St. Regis. Here I was, just off a principal thoroughfare, seconds from landmarks such as the Teatro La Fenice, in a part of the city I have walked hundreds of times. The hush was unrecognizable.
The St. Regis entrance occupies one side of the courtyard. Thanks to a two-year renovation by London-based studio Sagrada, the brown hue of my memories of the Europa & Regina has become a color wheel inspired by the way light changes throughout the Venetian day. The 129 rooms and 40 suites—many with private terraces and the same views that inspired Monet—and public spaces bring in touches of Biennale modern with reverence for the city’s history. Energy emanates from the youthful staff and their impossibly chic uniforms by Giada Curti. Not for the St. Regis the monochrome togs so common to luxury hotels. The female concierges wear vanilla hacking coats; the butlers, Tiepolo-blue vests; the hostesses, flowered skirts and dresses.
But who goes to Venice to hide in a hotel? Overcrowding is certainly an issue here, but it’s possible to outwit the hordes, especially with advice from a Venetian like Alessandro Zamattio, head concierge at the St. Regis, who will find an authentic osteria in Cannaregio, where tourists rarely tread. Zamattio also recommends a walk on Lido beach or renting a private motorboat to cruise out to the Isola della Certosa for a picnic.
However you spend your day, you’ll want to end it at La Giardinate, the St. Regis’s modern interpretation of a formal garden. Most Venetian gardens are in private palazzos, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see one in a hotel on the Grand Canal. This sublime setting is the perfect place for an evening aperitivo—perhaps a Spritz from the roaming trolley, or a Santa Maria, the hotel’s twist on a Bloody Mary, which was invented at the St. Regis New York.
Rooms from $715; st-regis.marriott.com.
Where to Shop in Venice
Some of the best uniqueto-Venice shopping is off well-trodden San Moisè.
The series of vitrines in a hallway leading to the hotel’s spa is as unobtrusive as possible, but its contents— mirabile dictu! Here you can purchase the hotel’s coveted olive oil, jams, and pastas, as well as lovely cups and saucers in baby blue and white. Especially enticing is a boxed package of Gritti Terrace Bar glasses. There is no pushy salesperson; just tell reception what you want.
A new boutique owned by Venetian couple Greg and Silvia Reznik offers a small but elegant selection of handbags and jewelry, from signet rings and Venetian eye pendants to palazzo bracelets.
A year-old concept store at the entrance to the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac, one of the most important early Renaissance buildings in Venice, showcases the best of contemporary local artisanship, from exquisite glass tableware and paper flowers to classic Venetian slippers and Murano honey. There are also books by Venetian authors, such as Andrea di Robilant and Skye McAlpine. The store is the brainchild of Bikem de Montebello, managing director of the Palazzo ContariniPolignac. Everything is inspired by French composer Prince Edmond de Polignac, whose wife bought the palazzo for him in 1900. The inventory constantly changes, but always features designers and artists who have a relationship with Venice.