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Devastatingly romantic and a city said to have inspired a thousand poets, few metropolises on our planet match the astounding beauty of the otherworldly Venice. In this part of the world, the epic grandeur of the Grand Canal meets centuries of glorious Venetian architecture via garden islands and spellbinding lagoons. The first-time visitor (like myself) arrives giddy-eyed with all sorts of wondrous expectations, most of which thankfully come to fruition. All the Instagram posts you’ve seen of the palaces lining the waterways, of the Palazzo Ducale, of the Basilica di San Marco—they are just as dreamy in real life as they appear on the news feed. The bad stuff you hear about the place is also true. There are days—even during my visit post European lockdown—when visitors to this exquisite treasure trove of a city outnumber locals two-to-one. But despite the crowds, Venice never once lost its capacity to enchant: arriving by boat and then being whisked down the glittering canal will forever remain heart-stopping. Then there are all the quiet campi (squares), churches crowned with luminous Madonnas, handsome Gothic palazzi and bustling neighborhood hangouts to drool over, too.
However, the real Venice, with its ancient walls draped in deliciously fragranced florals, is mysterious, and dare we say it, actually rather glamorous. Venture off the beaten path and discover the lagoons à la prive, you’ll find a city dotted with excellent restaurants, artisan shops and some out-of-this-world Aperitivo spots. Adored by Hollywood royalty, would be literary greats and generations of romantically-fueled Europeans, here, we go on a luxe whistle stop journey lasting 24 hours, exploring some of Venice’s most famous restaurants, hotels, and dreamy landmarks.
6 a.m. Start early in Venice. One thing to know is that this city is busy all year round, so waking up that little bit earlier really does pay off. Avoid the chaos of morning rush hour and hop in a private water taxi down the Grand Canal. You’ll see all the major highlights, from the world-famous Rialto Bridge to countless palaces, stately homes and now iconic museums, all set to the hum of your own beat. If you can stomach it, catching a glimpse of the sun rise over the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute on the Ponte dell'Accademia bridge is well worth the sleep deprivation, too.
Spend the rest of the morning on foot getting lost in the city’s labyrinthine alleys before you make a dash for Venice’s star attraction, the stunning Basilica di San Marco. With a profusion of domes and more than 86,000 square feet of luminous mosaics, this is one city icon that is truly unforgettable. Founded in the 9th century to house the corpse of St Mark, the original building sadly burnt down in 932, but in true Venetian style, it was rebuilt in its own cosmopolitan image, with Byzantine domes, a Greek cross layout and walls clad in marble from Syria, Egypt, and Palestine. Unbelievably, this spectacular church was the doge's private chapel until 1807 following the demise of the Republic. Next to the cathedral you’ll find Palazzo Ducale, The doge's glitzy official residence. Beyond its impressive colonnades and geometrically patterned facade of white Istrian stone and pale pink Veronese marble are hidden grand rooms of state, the doge's private apartments (now used for temporary art exhibitions) and a large complex of council chambers, courts and prisons. The best rooms are the palatial ones hidden at the top. Ascend Sansovino’s 24-carat gilt stucco-work Scala d’Oro (Golden Staircase) and you’ll go all starry-eyed over rooms covered in a lavish display of Venice's virtues by Giovanni Cambi, Titian and Tiepolo. Tip: explore both on a private tour, you’ll beat the lines and you can tailor your visits to all the highlights actually worth seeing.
9 a.m. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist attraction, but who can say no to the legendary Caffé Florian? To this day, it still remains the oldest still-operating café in Europe and one of the first on the continent to welcome women. The head-to-toe white rituals of the dishy waiters and waitresses still remain, along with the astronomical prices, but hey, that’s part of the charm. The menu has not changed that much since 1720—with the odd on-trend addition—nor has the clientele: the fashion set still get their cappuccinos served on silver trays; star-crossed lovers snuggle on plush banquettes; families feast on tea galore inside the now Instagrammable digs; and an orchestra strikes a chord of emotions to the punters and crowds of San Marco’s famous mosaics. Summed up, it’s a dreamy spot, and well worth the price tag.
10 a.m. In comparison to other cities in northern Italy, Venice isn’t exactly regarded as the shopping destination to know. Bling department stores are scarce in these parts, as are cult and up-and-coming designer boutiques, but if you’re willing to get lost in the city’s labyrinth of alleyways and grand arcades, you’ll stumble across some of the most exquisite old-school artisan shops this side of Italia. Calle Larga’s Evem Sas Ricami e Merletti, a jewel of a shop, is the place to go for bloomers, lace-trimmed bibs, and the signature puffy-sleeved dresses. For total gondola-ready chic, Pied à Terre, a cutesy (and very small) boutique perched near the Rialto Bridge, is the place to grab top-notch furlane, the gondolier slippers that have some how become part of the Italiana fashionista aesthetic. Though it’s now considered a tourist attraction, Instagram sensation Libreria Acqua Alta is where wannabe Venetians go to pile their tote bags full of books, vintage art monographs, city guides, postcards and contemporary Italian novellas. Two sweet cats guard this literary treasure trove, another reason to go check it out. If there’s one thing Italians love, it’s quality stationary. Gianni Basso Stampatore, a man loved by royals, celebrities and the hardball CEOs of the globe, stocks some of the best, including business cards, invites, bookplates and personalised stationary all made by hand on traditional letterpresses. Alberto Valese, in Campo Santo Stefano is equally as good and are known for their luminous marbled paper, pocket-sized notebooks, notepads and cards. To spend the mega bucks, hit Salizada San Moisè and Calle Larga XXII. Salvatore Ferragamo, Armani, Versace, Prada and countless other high fashion houses from Chanel to Hermes, Dior, Moncler, Celine, Burberry and a rather kitsch MiuMiu are waiting for perusal.
1p.m. Dine with a view at the legendary Hotel Danieli. The five-star grand dame of Venice’s dreamy waterfront sums up what the city is best known for: unapologetic Romeo meets Juliet 14th century grandeur. Born as Palazzo Dandolo, the iconic hotel comprises three linked palazzi, the main house donning stunning staircase, atrium hall, period furniture, walls awash with slightly intimidating portraits and a sumptuously decorated ceiling. Upstairs on the terrace is where the real stunner lies though: the grand Terrazza Danieli. With absolutely incredible panoramas overlooking the lagoon, there are few more striking places to eat in Venice than here. Savour two tasting menus (think squid ink gnocchi, roast turbot, cannelloni and more) or order à la carte – to start, go for the Kamut linguine with scampi sauce, seaweed and squid ink crumble; the amarone wine beef fillet, chives-flavored mashed potato, savoury seared vegetables is what you want for your main; and to finish, go classico with a simple and utterly divine tiramisù. Best seat in the house? Request to sit in the far corner inside the restaurant overlooking the terrace. A cushty table for two awaits with sweeping romantic Venezia views, and who knows, if the moment is right, a proposal too.
3 p.m. There’s Museo del Merletto, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Gallerie dell’Accademia and Ca’ Pesaro but you’re pushed for time so skip the greats in favour of something that little bit more doable (and luxe): the beautiful Rubelli Showroom. Wedged in between the hustle of the San Marco district and the water, the famous Venetian textile house is known the world over for its beauteous Damask and plethora of other fabrics used by the likes of renowned Italian fashion designers such as Roberta di Camerino. As you’ll notice in your Aman suite, the vast majority of Venetian design has been influenced by the Rubelli aesthetic, from wallpaper to furniture and accessories, all of which you can drool over in the showroom’s fascinating exhibitions drawn from their archives. Know this, you’ll leave inspired and ready to kit out your own home in the most lavish silks, ever.
5 p.m. Location wise, the St. Regis Venice couldn’t be better placed for an intimate sundowner. Set across the Grand Canal to the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute and the Palladian façade of San Giorgio Maggiore, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more lovelier spot in Venice to enjoy an Aperitivo. Style wise, it’s unlike all the other grand dames in the area. Post a pricey face lift, the “out of place” modern space is the It girl of 20th century overtones with bold palettes playing homage to the dreamy hues of the lagoon city. Art plays a major role with big names on the walls, along with the works of a resident artist programme and a collaboration with the historic Berengo glass company. Outside, the stylishly landscaped Grand Canal-side garden terrace, Gio’s, is where you want to be (and be seen). Watch countless gondolas and water taxis glide by—if you’re lucky you’ll be treated to a rare double rainbow and killer pink sky—with cocktail or negroni in hand for hours, or simply people watch to your heart’s content until the Venetian sun sets.
7 p.m. It’s your last few hours in Venice so it’s only right you splurge, and hard. Tuscan Enrico Bartolini is the only chef in the history of the Michelin Guide to have been awarded four stars at the same time and has racked up more of the coveted celestial specks than he can count. His present Venice outpost GLAM is still one of the city’s hottest dining tickets – book well in advance – and is currently looked after by resident chef Donato Ascani. It’s a minimal affair plonked inside an all glass wall room that neighbors the courtyard of Palazzo Venart. The shifting menu is seasonal, so don’t expect to eat the same thing twice here but our advice is to ditch the predictable indecision and go for the exceptionally exciting tasting menus. Expect a lot of fish, flashy presentation and flavors you never knew existed, along with an army of great wines and a month’s worth of food-related Instagram content.
Where to Stay
Nothing says grand palazzo pomp more so than the ridiculously chic Aman Venice, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. Hidden within the maze of the San Polo district, the vibe here is super discreet Aristo weekend B&B-style Italia living with a grand entrance to match, too: board a private Riva at the airport to sail under the Rialto Bridge up to Palazzo Papadopoli’s—named after the Greek aristocrats who owned the building in the 19th century—private jetty on the Grand Canal. Jump off and you’re greeted by slick, stealthy and ever so smart Amanites who whisk you into the vast, beamed reception dressed in all things marble check and wow-induing frescos.
Ever so bling, the hotel was born as the result of some seriously good match making skills with Venetian aristos Gilberto and Bianca Arrivabene (he’s a count; she’s a princess) who let Aman take over Palazzo Papadopoli (one of only eight palazzo monumentali in Venice) decades back. While some may raise their eyebrows at a brand best known for their love of the ultra-minimal, the Venetian splendour meets stripped back Asiana mash-up seems to work, and very well. Think gilt mirrors, the most intricate frescos, glittering Murano chandeliers, an envy-inducing terrazzo floor and huge Victorian-esque windows set against the backdrop of muted tones, out there contemporary furniture and some seriously impressive Japanese-style freestanding tubs. Room to book? Blow out and snap up the Alcova Tiepolo Suite to sleep beneath Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s cherub-filled frescos (like the Clooneys did on their wedding night) with walls lined in dove-grey Rubelli silks, mirrors of all shapes and sizes and countless art pieces, all topped off with a diva Italiana chandelier.
The food here also deserves a shout out. Arva, the very good-looking restaurant serves seasonal fare under the watchful eyes of chefs Dario Ossola and Norbert Niederkolfer. Expect an à la carte fine dining soiree featuring a delicious fillet of turbot with tomatoes from Sant ’Erasmo and caper leaves and a melt-in-the-mouth roasted aubergine with provolone cheese. Breakfast (also served here) is a typically American affair with classics, from avocado on toast to petite pancakes and lush granola bowls, best enjoyed in the stunning Cesare Rotta frescoed dining room.