In the labyrinthine pathways close to the border between the areas of San Polo and Santa Croce, there isn’t any room to build new properties but the area is brimming with medieval palazzos behind shuttered windows. Palazzo Venart is one such building, a mere totter away from the vaporettos in front of the church of San Stae. Passing through the delightful courtyard, one can see through the impressive reception area back to the bustle of the Grand Canal, but within the walls of the Palazzo all is peaceful…
Opened in 2016, the Palazzo Venart perfectly captures what it means to be a luxury boutique hotel. Its 18 rooms and suites, each based on an aspect of Venice’s intriguing past, make the guest feel as though she is living out a fantasy of time travel, but with all the amenities of modern hospitality. Finding out my deluxe suite was named ‘Lord Byron’ immediately enticed me to stride about the ample space with the air of one who is mad, bad and dangerous to know. Byron, of course, lived in Venice for a time after the scandal surrounding his exploits in England had become too great, but the visit did not temper his verve…
The suite was an unusual configuration of rooms. The main bedroom was capacious indeed (with enough room for almost anything Byron might have imagined), the king-size bed stood in front of a decorative silk-covered screen that hid an enormous bathtub, while a separate marble bathroom provided a shower cubicle, luxury toiletries and other amenities. Through a small dressing area, there was a slim lounge with sumptuous seating in opulent colours and a view of the Grand Canal. Throughout the suite, floors are highly polished wooden parquet, the wall coverings are silk and little reminders of the aristocratic society that passed through this historic palazzo can be found everywhere.
In the spirit of Byronesque decadence, Charlotte had another suite on the floor below, this time named for Christine de Pizan, a 15th century poet, intellectual and feminist. This Grand Canal suite had a romantic aspect of the waterways and the picturesque hotel garden, as well as a lounge and small wood-panelled office. In every corner, the refurbishment of the hotel has retained the striking original features such as the Renaissance frescoes, while amassing an incredible collection of carefully selected antiques to restore the palazzo to its magnificent best.
Palazzo Venart also encompasses the very chic restaurant GLAM, overseen by Chef Enrico Bartolini, who holds a total of four Michelin stars at his three other restaurants. The menu is classic Venetian with a contemporary twist, accompanied by a carefully chosen wine list from Italy and France. Bartolini focuses on using fresh produce from the Venetian lagoon and uses modern techniques to bring these ingredients to life. Breakfast at the hotel is also the creation of Chef Bartolini, so little intriguing touches creep in, such as the blackberry on a slice of toast that cleanses the palate with its acidity.
The surrounding area has some very attractive and interesting places to visit. One of the highlights, less than five minutes away, is the Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo (it was the Mocenigo family, although not in this home, who first hosted Byron in Venice), a museum of fabrics and costumes, in which you can see how the style of one of Europe’s trendsetting cities has developed over the centuries. This museum also now has an exhibition dedicated to the history of perfumery, which is fascinating and is partly interactive, in that you can sniff a good quantity of odd things in jars. Five minutes walk in the opposite direction will take you to the Museo di Storia Naturale – the natural history museum – which is small but quirky and perfect for something a little different.
Our own quest towards decadence meant a hunt for the elusive moeche, the Venetian soft shell crab. We knew that we had arrived too late in the season to find the little creatures on all menus but we were determined to track some down and were overjoyed to find them only a few minutes away from the Palazzo Venart. Crisp, rich and salty, this is a flavour not to be missed – if these tiny crustaceans happen to be at leisure in Venice at the same time as you are…
For those who like to get lost on foot, Venice is a cobweb of curiosities and small enough that you can always reach home once you find a few recognisable landmarks. Palazzo Venart is perfectly placed for this, in an area where fewer tourists venture, but decadence abounds and you can still reach San Marco in fifteen minutes. Little boutiques selling quality goods sit alongside grand palazzos in all their medieval glory, each flanked by tiny bakeries and, in the evening, candlelit bars. It’s not difficult to imagine the time when Byron and countless Italian aristocrats darted among these cobbled alleys in a flurry of hedonistic pleasure. Immerse yourself in it. Venice is a destination to gorge on and Palazzo Venart is the place to sleep it off.
Calle Tron 1961