A city recognized for exceptional accommodations, as much as it is for its canals and gondolas
Venice, Italy, is considered one of most romantic and beautiful cities in the world, with vaporetti (water buses) humming through the canals alongside the famous gondolas. Although Venice is made up of more than a hundred islands stretching out into the Adriatic, the main city is shaped like a fish, which is pretty appropriate for its close relationship with the Venetian lagoon and the sea beyond. Each of the city’s districts (or sestieri) represent a part of the body of the fish, and each has its own characteristics, individual charm and stylish Venice boutique hotels.
San Polo and Santa Croce are the two small districts at the heart of the fish. This is the oldest part of Venice, dating back over a thousand years and it is here that the original spirit of the Floating City can best be found. San Polo is a good mix of tourists and locals, and is a true merchant hub, bustling with bakeries, fresh food, wines and fabrics. The architecture is exquisite, and as San Polo is filled with bars, it is totally acceptable to begin cocktail hour any time after breakfast!
Santa Croce is the sister district of San Polo, and is surprisingly un-touristy. This makes the district a perfect place to eat and stay, as prices are pitched at the local pocket, rather than the more inflated tourist range. Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio is the leafy square at the heart of this district, and is where locals gather to promenade and catch up on the gossip of the day. Across the bridge is the tenth century church and famous Academia, and nearby is the boutique hotel Charming House DD 724. The stylish modern lines in this quiet haven are tempered by the muted earth tones of the fluffy towels and scented candles. With views over the piazza, the luxuriously romantic rooms make this hotel a perfect couples retreat.
Ca’ Foscari (the University of Venice) is the epicentre of Dorsoduro, the fin of the fish, and the large student population makes this district the best place to play. The district is home to the Guggenheim and the Zaterre, the boulevard beside the Guidecca canal. The Zaterre is the social hub of Dorsoduro, and the starting point for many nights out. A short ride by vaporetto leads directly to the landing in the Ca Marie Adele, a 16th century building now converted into a decadently romantic boutique hotel, replete with king-sized beds and jacuzzis in rooms overlooking the magnificent church Santa Maria della Salute.
The bustling San Marco is the belly of the fish and although the crowds can be overwhelming – especially during Carnival time in late February – San Marco is still the best place to go for the typical gondola rides and spring tides. The Palazzo Paruta is the pick of boutique hotels in San Marco, with its luxe old world-styled décor and modern amenities. Dieters be warned: The Palazzo Paruta’s buffet breakfast is a rich mix of meats, cheeses and fresh pastries brought directly from Naples each day. Reportedly too delicious to resist, especially when teamed with the fresh fruit and Italian coffee.
Near the boundary of San Marco and Castello to the west, is Relais Piazza San Marco, a boutique hotel overlooking the famous St Mark’s Square and a short stroll to the imposing Basilica de San Marco. This hotel is a true slice of luxury, from the richly appointed rooms to the easy access to the Bridge of Sighs and Mercerie, Venice’s famous shopping strip with wallet-crushing temptations in the form of designer labels like Gucci and Cartier. The Relais Piazza San Marco also offers easy access to the Castello district, the tail of the fish, which has a few little-known architectural delights and winding, quiet back-streets to explore, away from the tourist hordes.
The brain of the fish, Cannareggio, is home to the little-known Jewish quarter of Venice, as well as the usual Venetian delights. Cannareggio tends to be quieter than other parts of Venice, and the hotel Al Canal Reggio capitalizes on this tranquillity, with the option of room-served breakfasts and fluffy bathrobes to curl up in.
Guidecca is the island district of Venice – far enough away to enjoy the peace and quiet, but close enough (just a few minutes by boat) to take the new dancing shoes out into the Venetian nightlife. Guidecca is fairly exclusive, and the five star San Clemente Palace Hotel & Resort is even more so, situated on its own island with its wellness centre and outdoor pool, not to mention golf course. Not bad for a city with almost no dry real estate.