Hotel San Sebastiano Garden: The unique 15th century Venetian hotel with a rare feature

It's not the Gritti Palace on one of the most stunning stretches of Venice's Grand Canal, nor the Aman Canal Grande with its Tiepolo ceiling paintings where George and Amal Clooney spent their wedding night.

Neither is it a former home of a doge of Venice with priceless antiques or frescoes, but this small hotel in Dorsoduro – the less touristy sestiere (district) of Venice's historic centre but still only about 15 minutes' stroll from St Mark's – is a sweet alternative.

Many a tourist has been appalled on arrival at their "small Venetian hotel". The noxious attributes of some Venetian hotels are often why we love this ancient, watery city in the first place – ancient, cheek-by-jowl buildings, rising damp from the canal system, dark, poky rooms, and seasonal flooding exposing the shortcomings of a patchily-updated 16th-century plumbing system.

With all this in mind, the Hotel San Sebastiano Garden, perched on a quiet canal, manages very well. While it does not have the formal "porta d'acqua"of the grand palazzo hotels, you can still arrive by boat. We choose instead to take a shared private Venicelink water taxi from the airport (€27 each), which drops us a two-minute walk from the San Basilio water taxi jetty.

The 15th-century peach-and-cream hotel with its pantiled roof has some spacious rooms, the plumbing works, and, most wonderfully, as its name suggests, it has that Venetian hotel rarity – a garden.

This large jasmine-tumbled garden, with its wisteria-draped colonnade and stone fountain, pots of geraniums, lemon trees, oaks and roses has a stone-paved patio under sailcloth umbrellas where you eat your breakfast or end your day with a spritz.

The buffet breakfast, accompanied by birdsong and a few well-trained felines, offers excellent cappuccino and filter coffee, fresh and stewed fruit, yoghurts, muesli, cheese, salami, hams, homemade jams, croissants and pastries, plus hot offerings of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages. You could walk the six central sestieri on that lot, and we do.

Our ground-floor garden room is an example of the eccentric interior design that we rather enjoy. The (helpful) management puts it this way: "The 18 rooms reinterpret Venetian traditions with slight and elegant design hints".

So while you might find a grand trompe l'oeil staircase in the Aman Canal Grande, our gigantic room has its own gentle pink and green trompe l'oeil interiors of pillars, alcoves, creeping vines and lake-view palazzos. Junior suites off the upstairs vaulted corridor have canal or garden views. The canal suites look across to another bonus – the 16th-century Church of San Sebastiano, the premier drawcard for Veronese fans Paolo Veronese, last of the great painters from the golden age of Venetian art, is buried here.

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His grand frescoes and tableaux represent the most important collection of Veronese's paintings. The church, which also has pieces by Tintoretto and Titian, is currently being renovated but is still open (€3 entry). Don't miss the sacristy. If you love churches, buy the Chorus Pass at the church – €12 for 16 churches.

A short walk down nearby Calle Longa San Barnaba brings you to a host of little restaurants that include Al Profeta and La Bitta. Sample the gelato from Grom in nearby Campo San Barnaba. A skip away is the student-thronged Campo Santa Margherita where you'll find charming bars like Ai Do Draghi with great music.

If you want to make like a Venetian, avoid the lurid-menu restaurants and head off instead on a giro di ombre or bar crawl, to sample the back-street bacari. These are the small bars where locals pop in for chicchetti – snacks washed down by ombra (tiny glasses of wine).

A few minutes walk from the hotel is the beautiful Giudecca Canal and the Zattere, for a sunset stroll east. The Accademia Bridge linking the Dorsoduro with San Marco is close by with its Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Gallerie dell'Accademia, with its exceptional Venetian masters collection.

Finally, our hotel is five minutes from Venice's San Basilio Maritime terminal, something we appreciate as we trundle our cases across cobblestones to join our Ponant Le Lyrial cruise from Venice to Athens.

TRIP NOTES

FLY

Emirates flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Venice via Dubai and returns from Athens via Dubai. See emirates.com/au

CRUISE

Le Lyrial's "Discovery of Dalmatian Shores" eight-day Athens to Venice departs July 21 or August 7, 2018. From $3660 a  person double occupancy – book now to save up to 30 per cent. Includes private balcony, all meals, open bar. See https://au.ponant.com or ring 1300 737 178.

STAY

Hotel San Sebastiano Garden has variable seasonal rates – doubles from about $228 with breakfast. See hotelsansebastianogarden.com/en

MORE

traveller.com.au/venice

au.ponant.com

Alison Stewart was a guest of Ponant and Emirates.

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