Travel: Venice, Italy
As famous as the guests who choose to stay there, Venice’s Hotel Cipriani never fails to seduce
LOVE, with all its encircling branches, caressing leaves and frisky fronds, surrounds the Hotel Cipriani, perhaps the most romantic spot in the most romantic city on earth. The lush cluster of vineyards that curve around the world-famous property on the island of Guidecca, a six-minute boat trip by private launch from Venice’s St Mark’s Square, is known as Casanova’s Orchards. For it is here that the legendary lover held clandestine trysts with young ladies who had been confined by their families to a nearby monastery in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to avoid just such lusty assignations.
For guests, a giddy new love affair will be a cooling balm on the sting of the bill for, though expensive, the Hotel Cipriani, like an attentive suitor, can be forgiven almost anything and bequeaths a certain bragging right on those who have shared its bed. Built in 1956 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar (of which more later) as a means of providing privacy and space to guests who had grown weary of the cheek-by-jowl life of even the best hotels in Venice, Hotel Cipriani stands on a nearby island whose space permitted the only swimming pool in the city.
Quickly it became the place to stay for Hollywood stars, and next week, when the Venice Film Festival begins, each of its 95 rooms and suites will be booked solid. Last year, Gwyneth Paltrow went so far as to regale readers of her lifestyle blog Goop! on the fine quality of the pasta.
We visited during a weekend in May, when the Venetian weather was at its most fickle. Dark clouds would settle overhead, only for them to be lanced by a beam of brilliant sunshine that turned the once-grey buildings to burnished gold, as if a film set had been suddenly been lit up. As no city in the world has such a glamorous form of public transport, it is advisable to skip the expensive water taxis and take the water bus to St Mark’s Square; it may take a while, around 90 minutes, but you get a sense of the disparate islands that make up this unique archipelago.
As we didn’t know how much time we would have before the sun disappeared again, we spent the first afternoon by the pool before dining at the hotel’s restaurant, the Cip’s Club, set on a wooden terrace offering a unique and panoramic view of the domes and towers of St Mark’s Square (booking a table here offers a means of experiencing the hotel at a fraction of the cost of staying).
By day, Venice is a crowded, deafening squabble of tourists where one is fortunate to emerge with eyes intact from dodging the raised umbrellas of guides. Yet at night it becomes a different city entirely. The day-trippers have departed, the streets are sinisterly empty and the lagoon is both calm and strangely silent. Strolling the narrow thoroughfares in the evening can be a little unnerving: you keep thinking that round the next corner may lie a red-cloaked dwarf with evil intent – as in Don’t Look Now. The edge keeps you more alive and you feel you are seeing the true face of the city, not the carnival mask on display for tourists.
Among the ghoulish treats awaiting the nocturnal wanderer is an etching of a man, by the entrance to Scuola di San Marco, carrying a beating heart in his hand. According to legend, it was scratched by a witness who watched as a man committed a murder and then drowned himself in the canal. Or stroll a little further to the statue of Sior Rioba, in Fondamenta dei Mori, where Tintoretto once lived and where the statue is supposedly a dishonest merchant who was turned to stone by Saint Magdalen. It is said that on a cold night you can hear him weep from inside his stone prison.
After a nocturnal tour, it is worth heading to Venice Jazz Club, whose live concerts start each evening at around 9pm. As I’m a sucker for a literary café, the next day was spent at Café Florian in St Mark’s Square, where Charles Dickens and Lord Byron once went for elevenses, and whose decorated walls are well worth the six euros for a coffee.
It rained heavily on our last night, but it didn’t matter. Cosy under cashmere blankets in the Cipriani’s plush teak launch, we were ferried across the lagoon to St Mark’s Square, from where it was just a few steps under an umbrella to Harry’s Bar.
The appeal of Hemingway’s favourite hangout is its simplicity. A bar by day, it becomes an intimate restaurant in the evening, with white linen cloths on the small round tables and serving up dishes like risotto and carpaccio – the thin slices of raw beef dressed in a mustard sauce that was invented in the bar (according to the owners at least) for a visiting countess in 1950.
After dinner and drinks and a brief farewell walk round St Mark’s Square, it was back to Hotel Cipriani to do as the movie stars will do next week: savour the last few hours in this strange, watery world and ponder the words of Thomas Mann, who described Venice perfectly as “the flattering and suspect beauty – this city, half fairy tale and half tourist trap”.
Hotel: A double garden-view room at Hotel Cipriani starts from around £845 per night, including American-style breakfast and tax. For further information or to make a booking, visit www.hotelcipriani.com or call Orient Express UK reservations on 0845 077 2222.
Flights: British Airways (www.britishairways.com) flies from Glasgow and Edinburgh, via London Heathrow, to Venice Marco Polo airport from £185 return.
Harry’s Bar Calle Vallaresso 1323, Venice, open Monday to Sunday, 10.30am-10.30pm. Venice Jazz Club Dorsoduro 3102 Ponte dei Pugni, Venice (www.venicejazzclub.com).
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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