Words by Paul Tierney
The late, great Truman Capote once opined that “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go,” and he wasn’t entirely wrong. This delicious looking city rarely fails to hit the sweet spot, but there is spirit beyond the fondant.
Of course, Venice is a city on water, and there is no better way to approach the main hub than by vaporetto, or, if you’re feeling flush, an elegant, varnished water taxi. The dome of St Mark’s Basilica punctuates one of the world’s greatest skylines, and a sail down the Grand Canal, lined by beguiling palazzos, is pure joy. For the uninitiated, spending your entire stay bobbing around on this car-free isola di fantasia is a dream soon fully realised.
Venice is the ultimate place to get lost. Forget traditional navigation – put your phone in your pocket and follow your nose. An aqueous labyrinth of narrow alleys and toy-town bridges, there is mystery and beauty at every turn.
Ca’ Di Dio translates as ‘House of God’, and this impressive addition to Venice’s five star hotel scene is steeped in an almost serene spirituality. Constructed in 1274, the building has served as many things over the past 1,000 years – from Catholic convent to women’s refuge, latterly as a retirement home – and remains a welcoming space.
The lofty ceilings, forced-perspective corridors and inner courtyards all attest to its past, now modernised to an exacting standard by designer Patricia Urquiola. Her intention was to maintain a strong bond with Venice, both in the public spaces and rooms, through materials, colours and finishes which truly reflect the city. You enter via a lofty main atrium, once the building’s chapel, where preserved frescoes, cool marble and Istrian stone surround an impressive central chandelier, made from 14,000 Murano glass tiles.
The palette is sober and soft – sage green, burnt umber and dove grey – a subtle mirroring of the water seen through every window. It’s a melding of the traditional and the modern, which is no easy feat, but appears effortless. Urquiola imbues the place with artisanal design touches and has created a calm, meditative atmosphere that is never overbearing. It’s a soothing retreat from the frantic pace of tourism outside, where a chic reading room, spa and sizeable inner courtyard (unusual for Venice) provide welcome respite.
There are 66 rooms, 11 at deluxe standard, but only 13 which overlook the water. A generous upgrade to a junior suite affords me lagoon views, where the Benedictine church of San Giorgio Maggiore rises above the watery landscape. Smaller rooms may have side aspects to less interesting canal views, so the front of the hotel, with that clear, definitive picture is the goal. For the ultimate vista there are two ‘Altana’ suites with a wooden walk-up terrace, where, elevated to considerable height, you catch a huge swathe of the city’s rooftops – a patchwork of terracotta tiles, dreaming spires and Adriatic magic.
In my suite, the undertone is masculine but never harsh. Ambiguous leather straps wrap around a padded headboard, flanked by Murano glass pendant lamps. Textured wallpaper echoes the glinting water almost at arms reach outside, and pared back colours – eggplant, tobacco and burgundy – envelope the senses to great effect. Most importantly, the bed – a vast boat of dreams, is one of the best you’ll ever lay on. It’s almost impolite not to drift off at any time of day or night. And you will.
Bathrooms resist the glitz in favour of brown marble and brass fittings which are tastefully uncloying. Products are courtesy of The Merchant of Venice, and smell divine.
Food and drink
Breakfast is served in one of the hotel’s two restaurants, but best taken in the outside courtyard, where tall palms and well-tended lawns are a rare treat, and the scent of magnolia and mimosa lingers in the air. The usual fare is sweet-heavy, but the hotel will cook anything you fancy and nothing is too much trouble. A quirky touch are the Italian pulp-fiction paperbacks, scattered around the Venetian pastries like naughty-but-nice desserts.
Afternoons are all about the aperitif, preferably a spritz, mixed in the shimmering Alchemia bar, or outside on the Riva promenade. Forget common Aperol, go for the Venetian Select alternative, or better still order a gin and tonic created with the hotel’s very own blend.
Dinner at VERO (Venetian Roots) aspires to Michelin Star standards and does not disappoint. An engaging maitre’d is keen to explain the seasonality of every ingredient, all sourced from regional suppliers, and stresses the hotel’s obsession with keeping things local. Obviously, fish is a mainstay, but the lamb is a must, all washed down with cloudy, unfiltered Prosecco. The hotel’s very own herb garden provides the right amount of flavour, and although rich in concept, the food is never too heavy.
For first timers, there are a handful of must-see locations – the inimitable Piazza San Marco, The Doge’s Palace and Rialto Bridge – all less than 10 minutes away. Another admirable but less frequented spot is the Peggy Guggenheim art collection, nestled between jaw-dropping palazzos on the Grand Canal.
Closer to home (and the hotel really does feel that way), the Eastern Castello District is blessed with non-touristy places to eat (Al Covo, Corte Sconta, CoVino), imbibe (the effervescent Osteria alla Rampa is a must), and shop like a local. Every other year, the venues of the Art and Architecture Biennales – the Giardini park and former Arsenale naval shipyard – are both within strolling distance.
In a nutshell
It’s optimum location, expansive, art-filled atrium and laid-back Venetian hospitality take some beating. This is not the velvet-swagged, antique-heavy hotel you associate with the city, and all the better for it. In high season, Venice bakes in the Italian sunshine, so this cool bolt hole is chilled in more ways than one. Service, as you would expect, is impeccable, and a small squad of good-looking, uniform-clad staff are on hand to take care of your every whim.
Rooms can be booked from £460 per night based on two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis.
Address: Riva Ca’ di Dio, 2183, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy
Phone: +39 041 098 0238