Venice Film Festival: Where to Eat, Play and Stay in the Italian City
From the Gritti Palace, where Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have stayed, to family-run resturant Antiche Carampane, where Natalie Portman and Salma Hayek have dined, here's how to explore the Canal City.
Ever since the Venice Film Festival — the oldest film festival in the world — debuted in 1932, the enchanting city of Venice, Italy, has become a magnet to the entertainment industry. A-listers flock to the famous canals to shoot films (Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You), get married (George and Amal Clooney) and vacation (see: Reese Witherspoon and her crew earlier this month). From ravishing hotels to extraordinary restaurants, here’s where Hollywood leaves its footprints in the City of Bridges.
JW Marriott Venice
There’s nothing more exclusive than a resort opening on its very own island, the latest trend in Venice. Gourmands who dine at Michelin-starred Venissa can now stay at the restaurant’s intimate guest rooms on Mazzorbo or neighboring island Burano. Located on San Clemente Island, the St. Regis San Clemente Palace — which has attracted bold-faced names Johnny Depp and Sophia Loren — reopened this past spring as San Celemente Palace Kempinski Venice, with luxury-drenched San Clemente Suite, one of the largest suites in Venice, equipped with its very own pier for extra privacy. Last fall, JW Marriott Venice opened in a former 1920s sanitarium on Isola delle Rose with a unique rooftop pool and the largest spa in the city, and it’s quickly become a favorite for celebrities such as Giuliana and Bill Rancic, who stayed here in June. Bill told The Hollywood Reporter: "I’ve been to Venice before but never quite like this! From rooftop cocktails at sunset to learning how to make traditional cicchetti at the resort’s cooking school, my experience at JW Marriott Venice was truly unforgettable."
The Gritti Place
British writer Somerset Maugham once wrote: "There are few things in life more pleasant than to sit on the terrace of the Gritti."
The Gritti Palace, a lavish Luxury Collection hotel in a historic, 15th century building, is considered the grand dame of the canals, occupying a prime, waterfront location across from Salute church. The historic palazzo recently unveiled a $55 million renovation that further refined the property while preserving the elegant, Venetian Gothic aesthetic, and all of the extravagantly designed guest rooms and suites are still chock-full of priceless antiques and paintings. Everyone from Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt has graced The Gritti Palace. The hotel’s new, half-a-million dollar Riva superyacht takes guests out privately through the canals on themed excursions.
Opened in 2013 inside a stately 16th century palazzo, Aman Grand Canal has only 24 opulent rooms and suites, making it feel intimately private. George Clooney and wife Amal tied the knot here in front of a star-studded guest list that included Bill Murray, Anna Wintour and Matt Damon, and the power couple stayed in the exclusive Alcova Tiepolo Suite, accessible by a carefully hidden doorway. The hotel’s elaborate architecture and design feature centuries-old chandeliers, gilded mirrors, silk wall coverings, antique paintings, frescoes, massive ceilings and even an outdoor garden, which is rare for a Venetian palazzo.
Known for its intimate al fresco terrace, Terrazza Danieli, the signature restaurant at famed Hotel Danieli, has one of the most impressive views of the lagoon and bustling St. Mark’s Square, and the restaurant has long served as a special occasion landmark where guests dress to the nines after sunset. Oscar-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci hosted a private party on the well-known terrace, where guests can experience classic, Michelin-rated Venetian cuisine (heavy focus on seafood like crudo and sea bass) and exquisite wines with the stunning Venetian backdrop.
Within six months of opening at JW Marriott, Dopolavoro Room earned a Michelin star thanks to chef Giancarlo Perbellini (whose hometown Verona restaurant Casa Perbellini has already earned two stars). The upscale, contemporary restaurant offers floor-to-ceiling views of lush gardens, where produce and herbs are plucked fresh to use in the elegant Venetian dishes. The fine-dining experience features a five-course tasting menu that includes dishes like buffalo terrine, courgettes and panzanella and seaweed ravioli, sweetbreads and popcorn creme.
One of the city’s oldest trattorias, the family-run Antiche Carampane is the ultimate spot for power lunches, where some of Venice’s most influential leaders dine. The restaurant is off the beaten path in San Polo, so mobs of tourists aren't an issue. Diners can expect an authentic Venetian menu with traditional Italian preparation and cooking, including fresh-caught wild fish and market-fresh produce bought early mornings at nearby Rialto market. Popular dishes here include fresh taglioni with spider crab, grilled octopus and the signature John Dory filet. Antiche Carampane has seduced a throng of celebrities, including Yoko Ono, Natalie Portman and Salma Hayek, all of whom have dined here while visiting Venice.
Venice offers very few nightlife venues, though the relatively new Centrale has become the after-hours stomping ground for the elite. The stylish, casual supper club and lounge inside a 15th century palazzo is dark and sexy, preferred by A-listers such as Juliette Binoche and Spike Lee who like to remain anonymous. While the Mediterranean menu is complete with casual bites, the restaurant is more known for its selection of local wines and handcrafted cocktails.
The wine bar culture in Venice is centuries deep, and the ubiquity of the bacari — tiny, standing-room bars — is a testament to the good stuff. Vino Vera, tucked along a quiet canal in the Canareggio neighborhood, offers a handful of stools, though the tradition remains to stand outside with wines by the glass selected by the staff. Far removed from the regular tourist areas, Vino Vera is a no-frills hot spot for stylish locals who prefer the uncomplicated authenticity of the bar.
Opened in 1931, Harry’s Bar at Cipriani is legendary, a magnet for notable faces since Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and Charlie Chaplin knocked back libations here decades ago. Famous for creating the Bellini and perfecting the dry martini, Harry’s Bar still attracts bold-faced names, including Jude Law, who recently popped in this past December while filming upcoming HBO miniseries The Young Pope.
Among iconic museums like Doge’s Palace and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Museo Fortuny is an unassuming, lesser-known museum in San Marco that attracts A-listers including The Tourist director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The Art Nouveau-era designer Mariano Fortuny, who restored the museum in the early 20th century, was a "1920s cross between Karl Lagerfeld, Philippe Starck and Julian Schnabel," Donnersmarck says. Known for its collection of paintings, textiles and tapestries that defined Fortuny’s highbrow, eclectic taste, the museum is housed inside a beautiful 15th century palazzo.
Venice isn’t a thriving shopping destination, though most affluent visitors head to the island of Murano where a specialized type of glass has been handmade for centuries, used for fanciful products like stemware and chandeliers. Famed Italian architect Carlo Scarpa worked at the high-end Venini for 15 years as design director, and glassware can be shipped back to the states (it’s also sold at Barneys New York).