Venice Film Festival: THR's Ultimate Travel Guide
This story first appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Remaking a classic can be a risky endeavor, but Venice's beloved Gritti Palace (rooms from about $625 a night, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio) has emerged better than ever following a 15-month, $55 million makeover. In a city famous for legendary hotels -- Cipriani, the Danieli and the Bauer, among them -- the Gritti's singular romantic allure has attracted generations of the famous, from Humphrey Bogart and Sophia Loren to Queen Elizabeth and Angelina Jolie. "The Gritti Palace is one of the most beautiful and romantic hotels in the world," says Letty Aronson, sister of Woody Allen and producer of Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, part of which was filmed in Suite 116, now the Hemingway suite, a tribute to another frequent guest.
Left: The hotel’s Coppa Volpi suite on the first floor references the film festival’s best actor trophy, won in 2012 by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman for their work in The Master. Scenes from award-winning films can be viewed on the room’s 55-inch BeoVision 7 entertainment system with Blu-ray and BeoLab speakers. Right: The Palace’s Donghia Patron Grand Canal Suite.
Chuck Chewning, creative director at Connectictut-based design firm Donghia, was charged with rejuvenating while at the same time preserving the charming intimacy of the Gothic palazzo, built by the Pisani family in 1475 before becoming the private residence of the Doge of Venice, Andrea Gritti, in 1525. It was Gritti's long history as a grand residence that guided Chewning, who treated the project more like a home than a hotel.
His sensitive redo includes the historic Longhi Bar, which lovingly has been restored rather than remade. Original etched mirrored panels still shimmer with reflections of the Grand Canal, paintings by 18th century Venetian master Pietro Longhi have been returned to their rightful spot by the bar, and the terrazzo marble floors, devastated by decades of flooding, have been reproduced by hand. (Flooding no longer is a concern as the renovation included a new hydraulic system that diverts rising waters into subterranean tanks.)
Chewning relished digging through historical archives of the illustrious Venetian textile house Rubelli, Donghia's parent company. The brocade that lines some guestroom walls was taken from an 18th century Venetian gown, while a 17th century damask was reproduced for the Explorer's Library, a formerly neglected space transformed into a secluded seating area accented with antique navigational instruments.
The Piano Nobile dining room at the Aman.
On the roof, the Gritti breaks from historical reverence with a decidedly contemporary terrace spanning more than 2,600 square feet on multiple levels with panoramic views. It's a unique setting for a private alfresco dinner or cocktail party, and the terrace connects by circular staircase to the Redentore Terrazza Suite, an attic apartment decorated with frescoes and Rubelli silks.
The Gritti isn't the only act causing ripples on the canals. Aman Resorts just made its Venice debut with the opening of the Aman Canal Grande (rooms from about $1,300; Calle Tiepolo 1364), a 24-suite hotel located in the Palazzo Papadopoli, a painstakingly restored 16th century gem located in the San Polo district. Designer Jean-Michel Gathy contrasted the structure's elaborate rococo plasterwork and vibrant restored frescoes, some by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, with minimalist furnishings to accentuate the extravagant architectural details. In addition to a spa, library, game room and other private spaces accessible only to guests, Aman junkies will relish the property's two verdant gardens -- rare Venetian havens for contemplation and alfresco dining.
Out-of-the-Way Restaurant Finds in Venice
Chic, black-clad local Guggenheim museum staffers utilize this unfussy, homey joint with a classic Venetian menu as their de facto canteen. Order the radicchio risotto. Dorsoduro 366, +39 041-5286396
Gorge on chef Bruno Gavagnin's simple, retro dishes, such as razor clams tossed in garlic and olive oil or spaghetti alle vongole, at this 22-seat closet of a cafe. Calle del Mondo Nuovo, +39 0415227220
Proprietor Piera Bortoluzzi Librai doesn't even own a freezer but cooks up whatever she finds at the market. Try the fritto misto. Nigella Lawson is a fan. Rio Tera delle Carampane, +39 041 524 0165
For a break from seafood, pit-stop at the meat-focused trattoria Da Arturo. It long has been a favorite of Joel Silver, who's had the staff cook for him at home in L.A. Calle degli Assassini, +39 041 528 6974
Located on a pontoon near the Redentore church, it offers takes on Venice's fish-heavy heritage, such as sea bass cooked in a salt crust. Ponte dell'Umilta, Dorsoduro, +39 041 241 1881