St. Regis Venice
Just four minutes' walk from St. Mark's Square, hard by the designer shops lining the Calle XXII Marzo, the St. Regis Venice could not be more centrally located. Yet this is a hotel that hides in plain sight; to reach the entrance, you have to zig-zag down a couple of quiet alleys. It can be tricky the first time, but this tucked-away location lets you enjoy a bubble of tranquillity in the heart of town.
It has taken a two-year renovation to transform the Grand Hotel Britannia into the St. Regis. The rooms are divided across five separate historic palazzi, grouped around that rarest of Venetian luxuries, a spacious garden that fronts directly onto the Grand Canal. Naturally the most desirable rooms look out over the garden or the canal; my delightful room has a Juliet balcony and a slantwise view onto one of the city's loveliest landmarks, the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. In its former incarnation, the hotel hosted guests including painters J.M.W. Turner, John Singer Sargent and Claude Monet; in tribute to that artistic heritage, the hotel is assembling a growing art collection, including stunning art pieces developed at one of Murano's celebrated glass studios. There is also a tranquil spa where guests can enjoy superior massages and facials.
Step into your room and everything feels soft and welcoming, thanks to the muted colours that reflect the soft shades of dawn and dusk. Rather than opting for the heavy heritage furniture loved by many Venetian hotels, the St. Regis has gone for fresh contemporary stylings, tactile fabrics and sink-into carpets. The design pays a subtle tribute to its location in countless details, from the curve of the headboard (inspired by the shape of a gondola) to the rippling patterns based on reflections in the water. Even the doorbells to the rooms are replicas of Venice's distinctive doorbells. St. Regis butlers provide their usual immaculate service.
Breakfast by the Grand Canal takes some beating, particularly on a fine day when you can dine al fresco. You will want to stay in at least one night, too, and enjoy the elegant takes on Italian classics on offer at Gio's restaurant, such as the carpaccio with almond emulsion. There are two bars to choose from. The St. Regis Bar, which opens onto the garden, is always buzzing, with a DJ providing a soundtrack on some nights, but I actually prefer the more intimate Arts Bar, which has its own canal-side terrace and a more jazzy vibe. The bars have separate cocktail menus but drinks can be ordered in either venue. Many of the designer cocktails, such as the Santa Maria – the hotel's twist on the St. Regis signature drink, the Bloody Mary – are served in specially-designed glassware.
With its top-quality restaurant, its bars and above all that garden, the St. Regis is a hotel that encourages cocooning. When you do head out, the central location makes it easy to go exploring, with must-visit destinations such as St Mark's Square and the Accademia close at hand. The hotel is also introducing a range of excursions for guests, including a trip to Murano to visit the glass studios.
Rates start from €650 ($A1055) for a double room with breakfast included. See stregis.com
OUR RATING 4.5
HIGHLIGHT A garden on the Grand Canal? In Venice, there's nothing more desirable.
LOWLIGHT Finding your way to the hotel the first time can be tricky.
Ute Junker was a guest of the St. Regis Venice.