Hotel check: Aman Grande Canal

BACKGROUND

The Aman opened last June in the magnificent renovated Palazzo Papadopoli on Venice’s Grand Canal. The property dates back to the 16th century, and is owned by Count Giberto Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga who has been in residence for 25 years and now occupies the top floor of the original 1550 wing with his wife and five children. (The “new” wing was added in 1864.)

Unable to afford the upkeep of the historic palace, it was used for a period as government offices until 2005, and then for private parties and events. Finally, the decision was made to turn it into a hotel, and Asian brand Aman Resorts won the bid to manage it, on the proviso that the family could stay.

When the count inherited the palazzo as a child, he lived there with eight family members and 80 staff. Today, there are 24 hotel suites and more than 70 staff.

An extensive restoration project was completed in 2011, with incredible care given to bringing the dozens upon dozens of authentic frescos by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo back to life, along with polishing its opulent Murano glass chandeliers, and mending its gilded mirrors, terrazzo floors, marble staircases and swirling stucco.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

On arrival by water taxi you pull up outside the hotel’s private jetty where staff rush out to welcome you, shaking your hand and lifting your luggage from the boat before leading you inside to the cool marble lobby. There is no big reception desk, just a couple of small podiums for the concierge and other staff – instead, check-in is done in the room.

To the left is the garden, while to the right is a splendid marble staircase that leads up to the first floor (piano nobile, or noble floor), where you are greeted by interiors that rival the Palace of Versailles.

From the lounge, you can step out on to the balcony and watch the gondoliers punt up and down the Grand Canal. There are lifts to serve the various parts of the hotel (it is rather maze-like in places, especially when trying to get to the Altana roof terrace, but staff are always happy to guide you).

Look out for the elegant general manager, Olivia Richli, who is always on hand to welcome guests on arrival and bid farewell on departure. She brings a whole new level of meaning to the concept of hospitality – making sure every guest has everything they need, and happily joining them in sharing a glass of prosecco on the roof at sunset if serendipity so decides.

Despite its size, the Aman is a boutique hotel in terms of the number of rooms it has so attention to detail and personalisation is a key part of the experience. Discretion is also important, with numerous well-known musicians and celebrities spending time there. Throughout, you will see displays of the hotel’s signature flower, the white amaryllis.

WHERE IS IT?

Venice is made up of six sestiere (districts), with the Aman located in San Polo, across the huge Rialto bridge that connects with San Marco. The hotel enjoys an enviable position on the Grand Canal, within walking distance of the bridge, but most people would arrive by water taxi at its private jetty at the front (there is also access from the street at the back – press the bell at the high-security gate to be buzzed in).

Water taxis from Marco Polo airport cost €275 one-way – the Aman can arrange this for you in advance. You can also take the Alilaguna public boat for €27 return to the Rialto but it takes 60-90 minutes, depending on if you catch the faster or the slower one. From here you will then have to walk to the hotel. (Note there is no sign anywhere on the building or wall surrounding it so you will need to have a map to hand.)

ROOM FACILITIES

The interiors of the suites have been designed by Jean-Michel Gathy of Denniston Architects so as not to try and compete with the extravagance of the historical aspects of the architecture, with understated, modern furniture from B&B Italia, the finest mattresses from Greece, pillows from Turkey, and even bathing products, poured into metal bottles from Indonesia and Bali, from the Giudecca women’s prison in Venice.

The huge bathrooms (in my case separated from the bedroom with a double set of antique wood doors) are particularly stylish, with freestanding porcelain tubs, twin sinks, a spacious wardrobe and pristine white walk-in rainshower.

Although rooms vary in layout and décor (the highest category ones are dripping in decoration, while the lowest are completely contemporary), even standard suites start from 50 sqm, with amenities including Bang and Olufsen TVs, free movies, bowls of fresh peaches, a complimentary soft drinks from the minibar, snacks, cookies, drawers full of fine stemware, bottles of water, robes, slippers, a workdesk, and a bed made up with sumptuously soft sheets. There are also handy switches on the bedside table to control all the lights in the room.

My suite had frescoes on the ceiling and Murano glass chandeliers, though faced the back garden instead of the Grand Canal – 16 rooms (including all of the signature suites) have views on to the water. Room rates are high but do include a return boat transfer from Marco Polo airport.

One of the most beautiful suites is the Alcova Tiepolo, which has hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper, masses of frescos, gold leaf and stucco, and is located behind a secret door. (A night here costs €4,015 per night.) Apparently, this was where the grandmother to Count Gonzaga used to sleep, and he still remembers bouncing on her bed as a child.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS

The Aman has two restaurants – Naoki, which specialises in Japanese cuisine served in the garden during the summer, and the main Italian restaurant on the piano nobile (first floor), which incorporates both the Yellow and Red dining rooms, and the adjacent bar. I had both dinner and breakfast here, purely because the interiors were just so fabulous they had to be appreciated.

In the evening, the space was empty but for another table of six well-heeled locals and several enthusiastic young waiters who were keen to look after us – it was the first night for one of them, so he was a bit nervous. As a consequence, the experience wasn’t flawless, with the order of dishes getting a little muddled, but it wasn’t a problem and was quickly resolved. He was very sweet and charming.

I started with succulent spears of white asparagus in a hollandaise sauce, followed by a delicious lemon and black pepper pasta with seared tuna. My companion opted for summer vegetables followed by the risotto, which was a little strange as it came topped with blueberries and mushrooms, a combination neither of us was convinced by.

We finished by sharing a creamy tiramisu, which came in a glass pot. The fine-dining cuisine is perhaps not as well conceived or refined as it could be, but I had a thoroughly wonderful evening nevertheless – in this kind of setting you can’t fail to feel like royalty.

For breakfast, there are numerous tempting à la carte options (there is no buffet, which I like as I find it a more civilised way of eating). I went for the Italian frittata topped with Buratta mozzarella, fresh herbs and vegetables (€22), along with a “detox” orange, carrot and ginger juice (€12).

Acknowledging the brand’s Asian roots, there is also the Aman breakfast for €32, which includes a kai jeaw open-face omelette with crab, chilli and fresh coriander or the kao klong joke, which is organic brown rice porridge with fish fillet, ginger, scallion and toasted shallot. There’s also the American breakfast (€40) and the continental Canal Grande (€28).

The Altana roof terrace is on the fifth floor – you can come here for breakfast or an aperitivo – while a free afternoon tea of Venetian sweets is served daily in the garden between 4pm and 5pm.

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES

Although it is unlikely you will be in Venice for business, if you are, the Aman would make a stunning venue for a lavish cocktail party, banquet or senior board meeting. There are two palatial dining rooms with richly decorated interiors and views of the Grande Canal, the garden and the Altana roof terrace for smaller gatherings.

There’s also the Golden room on the second floor, which can host ten delegates, and the fourth-floor Stanza del Guarana, which can accommodate 12 people for a meeting. However, the latter, along with the Salon (divisible in two, again with canal views) and the fourth-floor Library, which features 16th-century books bound in leather and gold, are only available for guest use. For weddings, there is an on-site chapel.

LEISURE FACILITIES

A spa is hidden away on the third floor with three treatment rooms, one of which has a free-standing tub for washing off body scrubs. The décor is rustic luxury with ancient wooden beams and white marble. Tucked away on the fourth floor is the gym, open from 7am to 11pm (or on request). It has city views and free weights, along with a several cardio machines.

There is no swimming pool but there is a pristine garden behind a high stone wall with a manicured lawn perfect for sunbathing or reading a book. It’s one of the few private gardens on the Grand Canal and is open from May to September.

The Aman is a short walk to the Rialto bridge with its colourful fruit, vegetable and fish market. In the rooms are copies of JG Links’ Venice for Pleasure, a delightful book with lots of insider knowledge on how to get the best out of your time in the city. The hotel can also arrange cooking classes and tours.

Guests will find a fantastic selection of free movies on their in-room TV, all of which were filmed in Venice – from Don’t Look Now (1973) and Casanova (1976) to The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) and a 35-minute documentary about the restoration of Palazzo Papadopoli (well worth looking at). There is also Stanza del Tiepolo, which is a games room offering chess, jigsaws, cards and backgammon.

VERDICT

The Aman is one of the very best hotels in Venice – if not the best – combining centuries-old history with cutting-edge contemporary design (almost unheard of in the city), luxurious suites for every guest, an outstanding location on the Grand Canal and pitch-perfect service. It is one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in – the only problem is, it is extremely expensive, so will only be available to the wealthiest among us. It’s no wonder the property has been described as “seven star”.

FACT FILE

  • HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 24 suites across three categories – Palazzo Bedroom, Palazzo Chamber and Palazzo Stanza – plus five signature suites – Maddalena Stanza, Papadopoli Stanza, Sansovino Stanza, Alcova Tiepolo and Canal Grande.
  • HIGHLIGHTS The stunning historic interiors, the stylish contemporary modern furnishings, the charming service, the dining options, the outdoor garden and rooftop terrace, and the exceptional location on the Grande Canal. In fact, pretty much everything about this hotel is standout.
  • PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in August started from €1,265 for a Palazzo bedroom. Note that at certain times of year there is a minimum three-night stay required.
  • CONTACT Aman Grande Canal, Palazzo Papadopoli, Calle Tiepolo, Sestiere San Polo, Venice; tel +39 412 707 333; amanresorts.com 

Jenny Southan


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