I recently got the incredible opportunity to visit Venice -- if you ever get the chance, go, but not during the summer months.
Go when the tourists are at a lull instead of eight deep, when the weather is delightful (or at least passable), when the city's overused and overcrowded services are not stretched to the point of breaking. Go when Venice can breathe, so you can fully enjoy your vacation.
I stayed at the Una hotel for just one night, but ah, what a delightful night that was. The Una is an Italian boutique chain with hotels in many famed cities across the country, and their Venice location is an example of how focusing on one specific market really pays off in their design, attention to detail, and pampering customer service. Located in a medieval palazzo at the edge of one of Venice's many canals, the Una has a simple façade with clean lines and water access just a few meters away, making your arrival and check-in easy. This is really helpful in a city where there are only walking streets, and many of them cobblestone; when we first arrived, the ten-minute walk to our hotel from our vaparetto (the public water transport) took forever, between the crowded streets and the terrain.
Una's lobby is quiet and understated, with a small reading and TV lounge off to one side, and a cozy breakfast room that should actually be known as the "perk place." Once their delicious breakfast ends, the Una puts out self-serve trays of fruit, cheese, cookies, tea, juices, wine, even Prosecco, which are kept replenished throughout the day. They also offer an espresso machine which makes fresh coffee by the cup with just the touch of a button. The unobtrusive staff makes sure that you have everything you need, such as hot milk, in just a few moments. Visiting the lobby ladies room gives a tantalizing clue that you are in a former palace, as the thick wall has a little window originally designed for a siege, not the view.
Upstairs, the suites and rooms are off a wide hall with a surprisingly modern black chandelier that gives a hint of the décor inside. The rooms are a mix of classic European furnishings and modern convenience, all cloaked in tranquil creams and beiges. The suites are two levels, with a small living room and work space downstairs, as well as a full bath, and curved-top French doors leading to a view of the charming street below--small local merchants on the ground floor and homes at eye level to the balcony.
An open flight of stairs takes you to the loft bedroom above, the massive dark ceiling beams the only reminder of the palazzo's construction. The wide bed, dressed fit for a queen, takes up most of the space. Thick plush terrycloth robes await on the blanket, along with handcrafted Italian chocolates each night. Through a short hall with a small closet is another bath, full of thoughtful amenities and a sign that invites you to choose from a much wider selection, such as a variety of bath salts. The housekeeper shows up promptly with your choices and you can linger in your bath until it's time to go down to the lobby for another Prosecco. I highly recommend the Una, and you are sure to feel quite at home during your stay in this jewel of a city.
The next night, I was treated to an altogether different experience, at Venice's Ca' Pisani Hotel. If there is a single word for the Ca' Pisani, it is "ultra-designed." Located halfway down a single long block between vaparetto stops in the Accademia district, the façade of this former palazzo is fairly unassuming, more office building than hotel.
But stepping through the glass front doors changes everything, as you are enveloped by warm wood, sleek lines, and subtle touches; from fabrics to furniture to walls, this hotel is an ode to design, each piece hand-chosen by the architect Roberto Canovaro, together with Ca'Pisani's owners, the Serandrey family.
Service is exceptional here, as you would expect from any elegant hotel in the area. Breakfast is delicious, plentiful, and very fresh. Coffee and espresso are handmade for you by the waiter, and are the standard fabulous-tasting Italian grind. The hotel is terrifically situated for visiting the many museums and galleries in the area, especially the famed Peggy Guggenheim Museum (housed, like most everything of significance in Venice, in a palazzo).
The real distinguishing factor at the Ca' Pisani is its art. Not satisfied with having unique, interesting, modern pieces hung on the walls and tucked into the wooden stairwells of this boutique hotel, they have chosen to bring in specially designed pieces for everything from the desks and beds to the flooring, curtains, even the bidet faucets. The unique room doors are burnished wood, each inlaid with its own pattern designed by an architect named Pescolderung.
The bellman proudly told us as we walked into our room that the floors were not only travertine marble, but a special type that is hand-pieced together into an intricate mottled pattern, very pleasing to the eye.
Both the bedclothes and the curtains featured subtle patterns that added another quiet layer to the room design, and the comfortable bed was furnished with a soft crocheted throw instead of the usual extra blanket. The furnishings were slimline and simple, except for the crackle-mirrored computer desk cum dresser, with its bar-like drawers and slide-out desk tray by Canovaro, who also designed the geometric walls in the guests and common rooms.
Unfortunately, here was the hotel's only flaw -- design sometimes exceeded intuition. At midnight, I was awakened to my husbands cursing. He had been looking for the desktop computer light, flipping every room switch to no avail. After conducting a similar search myself, I called the front desk. To turn off the light, it seemed, the only way was to push in the desk tray. We took our computer and other things off the tray, slid it back into position, and the light shut off. An unfortunate misstep that was repeated in the bathtub as I attempted to use the complicated bubble/jet system that had been installed in this gorgeous paean to marble.
Though some design choices could use rethinking, overall the hotel was fantastic. Nearly everywhere your eye fell was another delight, whether it was the pattern on the closet doors or the line of the bathroom faucet or the stylish cups they use for coffee. If you're staying in the Accademia museum district, why not choose a stunning hotel where you will be literally living in art?