• Maryanne Peacock

Masks and Murano – A guide to Venice

Updated: 6 days ago

Although there are days when tourists outnumber locals by two to one, Venice never loses its sparkle. Whilst summers can be sweaty and winters brutally cold, the enchanting nature of this exquisite city will always prevail, and whatever the weather, there is never a reason to not love Venice. Miraculously built on water, the city is a maze of bridges, alleyways, Gothic palazzis, lively neighbourhoods and of course, lots of water! The main tourists areas will definitely wow but the main heart of Venice lies in the hidden streets, the ancient churches, the museums and the homegrown restaurants.


A city that exudes magic for 365 days of the year, Venice’s numbers peak in summer, despite the heat, humidity and mosquitoes. Spring and autumn are much more pleasant, and winter, though cold, is quieter, meaning that restaurant reservations and hefty price tags aren’t essential. An exception is Carnevale, in the two weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday.


Stylish and suitably seductive, the city of Venice also plays host to a string of five-star hotels to match its sophisticated appearance. Overlooking the Grand Canal, Aman Venice, our new favourite home, is located in San Polo, the smallest of the city's six sestieres, known for its magnificent private houses, historic churches and fabulous markets. A celebrated spot, Aman Venice made its mark following a visit from the Clooney’s, who opted to spend their wedding night in this 16th-century palazzo. Contemporary furnishings mix with extravagant chandeliers and traditional fixtures, perfectly merging the old and new of Venice.


Named Palazzo Papadopoli after the Greek family who owned the building in the 19th-century, the arrival experience is one that won’t be forgotten in a hurry! With your own boat that whisks you straight from Marco Polo airport to the private docks, you’ll be welcomed by marble chequered flooring complete original frescos. The arrival process is a simple one, with the singular front desk checking you in in a matter of moments. From there, the high ceilings followed by a trompe-l’oeil grand staircase leads you up to the piano nobile and rococo ballroom with gilt mirrors, frescos, Murano chandeliers, terrazzo floor and windows overlooking the canal.

Each of Aman Venice's 24 rooms and suites scattered across the hotels 6 floors are individually decorated and retain their original features. Many are adorned with historically important frescoes – including those of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, who lived in the palazzo in the 18th century – as well as stucco, wood carvings and details that reflect the splendour of art and architecture of past centuries. Contemporary furnishings by Jean-Michel Gathy harmonise beautifully with the authentic Venetian aesthetic whilst large windows allow buckets of light into the spacious rooms. We loved the Sansovino Stanza suite – originally the palazzo's “Hall of the Four Doors”, it houses a sumptuous fireplace designed by Jacopo Antonio Sansovino, one of the most famous architects of the early 16th century, as well as decorative friezes on the walls, a carved ceiling and boiserie paneling. The Grand Canal Suite is also impressive, with its waterside location and extraordinary views of the Grand Canal, but none are quite as special as the Alcova Tiepolo Suite, with frescoes dating from 1750 by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, the greatest decorative painter of the 18th century, along with a hand-painted Chinese sitting room.


The dining room, home to their signature restaurant, ARVA, bar and salons follow the same cultural feel with Rubelli silk wall coverings, oil paintings and carved stone fireplaces. Created as a seasonal, sociable Italian dining concept, the newly opened ARVA embraces the culinary history of Italy, which has established a reputation for seasonal and sustainably sourced fare. This style of the cuisine served in the eatery draws influence from Italian cooks who concocted dishes solely from what was available in the immediate gardens, forests and seas surrounding them, using their instinctive understanding of flavour and the creativity of necessity to prepare bold, heart-warming dishes that could be shared among family and friends. It is this concept to which Aman pays tribute, both in the name Arva, meaning ‘cultivated land’ in Latin and its philosophy: the shared enjoyment of uncomplicated flavours in a welcoming and congenial atmosphere. The result is a considered selection of pastas, risottos, prime meats and seafood, generous sharing dishes, delectable gelati and sorbetti, as well as – in homage to Venice’s globally beloved cicchetti heritage – a wide range of small plates. We loved the chestnut tagliatelle, a hand-made pasta with Chanterelle mushrooms and castelmagno cheese, the red prawn crudo with wild fennel and citronette, and the buratta with tomatoes – possibly the creamiest blend we have tried to date!


On the fourth floor there is a second piano nobile, including the Library, the Tiepolo Room and the Guarana Room creating the ideal space for private dinners, cocktail parties and meetings, or for simply enjoying a quiet moment. The Bar, reached through the Ballroom, offers a cosy atmosphere with views of the Grand Canal whilst the hidden Garden Terrace, one of the two private gardens of the palazzo, offers a tranquil spot for relaxation or for alfresco dining in the warmer months.

Making the experience that bit more memorable (and smooth), Aman Venice's concierge team are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are at your disposal for planning itineraries and booking exclusive services – they do all the leg work so you have more time to eat pizza! With just 24 rooms, many of which overlook the Grand Canal, Aman is the epitome of luxury in the heart of Venice.

SIX THINGS TO TRY!

Explore the City: There are many ways to see the city – via watertaxi, foot and the famous gondolas. An iconic symbol of this romantic city, the hundreds of gondolas that grace the shores are great in the warm months for seeing the city. Lasting a standard 40 minutes, gondola fares are standard and set officially with minimum fares for a standard gondola ride but rates can go higher. Most fares are higher at night, so if you're a couple looking to canoodle under the stars, it'll cost. That being said, if you are visiting in winter, scrap the gondola and explore the city on foot. You’ll be warmer and save yourself 80 Euros to enjoy on lunch!


Murano Island: Famed for its exquisitely beautiful glass, the island of Murano is just a short boat road ride away from the main land of Venice. With private and group tours available, this different day out will take you through the process of creating this unique glass as well as give you the opportunity to purchase a piece to take home. Never fear, if you don’t make it to the island there are plenty of opportunities to buy Murano glass on the streets of Venice. Beware though, it is very easy to get ripped off in shops, especially around St Mark’s Square so make sure you look for the trademark Murano sticker, present on all authentic items.

Harry’s Bar: Undoubtedly one of the most famous bars in Venice, Harry’s Bar is known far and wide as the birthplace of the famous Bellini, invented by legendary restaurateur, Arrigo Cipriani. A place that has long been frequented by famous people, it offers in some ways the very essence of the cafe society that once played such large a part in the affairs of Europe. After the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs declared it a national landmark in 2001, Harry’s Bar evokes not simply a cuisine, or a kind of drink, but a state of mind. Sit where legends like Ernest Hemingway and Kiril Dimov sat whilst soaking in the bar’s incredible atmosphere and delicious Bellini’s.


Saint Mark's Basilica: Losing yourself in Venice’s charm is one of the main reasons to visit this spectacular city. That being said, there are certain landmarks that must be enjoyed, including Saint Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace. A building created in the honour of Saint Mark, this elaborate church sits on the popular piazza by the same name. Crafted from many different styles of architecture, today its magnificence shines from nearly every corner. See if you can spot the statue of St. Mark along with Venice's emblem: a lion with wings, in the centre cable and make sure you don’t miss the museum and the beautiful views that can be witnessed from the balcony.



Palazzo Ducale AKA Doge’s Palace: A place that has witnessed an intriguing history, the Palazzo Ducale AKA Doge’s Palace has been the home of the doge (leader), the government as well as being the palace of justice since its conception. Everything from execution orders to the affairs of Venetian leaders were carried out here, and a web of secret passageways and hidden doors reveals a mysterious memoir. Bursting with Italian history, the iconic building also showcases seasonal exhibitions as well as stunning architecture – cameras are essential. Sat next to the Basilica on St Mark’s Square, pre-booked tickets are advised as queues can be tedious in peak season.



Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Expat American art collector Peggy Guggenheim dedicated her life to gathering this inspiring group of 20th century contemporary art and for this reason; it is definitely worth a visit. Housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal, a building which was Peggy’s former home, the collection contains works of art by talents like Pollock, Magritte, Picasso, Chagall and Dalí. As well as witnessing some of the world’s most iconic masterpieces, the visit will also give you an insight into Peggy’s colourful life and, in the sculpture garden, you can pay your respects to the late Peggy herself, as well as her dogs, who are buried beside her.



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