If you’re looking for a hotel that allows you to make a glamorous entrance, then few can rival the Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice which is nothing short of sheer fantasy. Having been hosting the rich and famous since 1958 when Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of the legendary Harry’s Bar in San Marco decided to take his renowned Italian hospitality one step further, a wealth of stars quickly followed and are still checking in today.
Allow the hotel to arrange an airport or station transfer or pick up a private water taxi from either if you want to make the most of arriving in style, for the dock is effectively the front door and was recently surrounded with most of the world’s paparazzi when George Clooney and Amal stayed here for their wedding. Never fear if you don’t happen to be an A-lister, the utterly charming staff treat all their guests like VIPs.
Located on the historic Venetian island of Giudecca, home to just 4500 residents, the seemingly sugar coated pink exterior of the Belmond Cipriani makes it one of the most iconic hotels the world, while its waterfront position offers 270-degree views including those of the Doge’s Palace across the lagoon. It also feels all the more exclusive due to not being on the main island which, as you’d expect, is inundated with tourists pretty much year-round.
With one night setting you back at least £900, there’s no fear of being mobbed here, nor could the experience ever fail to exceed the high expectations of guests who are likely to be extremely demanding. The 79 rooms and suites located in the main hotel either overlook the pool and well manicured gardens at the rear, or the waterside entrance, front garden and terrace, as in the case of our suite, which, with its double balconies, proved great for people-watching besides gazing at the famous Venetian sunset – as pink as the hotel itself. Other features included a walk-in wardrobe, substantial enough for plenty of designer clothing, Fortuny light fittings, and an opulent marble bathroom lined with toiletries by Bulgari.
If that isn’t luxury enough, there are a further 16 suites located in the 15th century Palazzo Vendramin annexe with the option to hire a private butler, although it seems to me that even without one guests have everything (and more) that they could possibly desire; three restaurants (Porticciolo, the casual pool restaurant, the smart Cip’s Club and the fine dining Oro), a salt water pool, tennis courts, a luxury spa and several designer boutiques.
Many of the rooms and public areas have received a face-lift since being acquired by the luxury travel group Belmond in 1976, while later additions have included the opening of the fine dining restaurant, Oro, designed by Adam Tihany. Now boasting a Michelin star, one of only eight restaurants in Venice to do so, dining at Oro is a highlight of any stay whether you dine on the magical terrace in summer or inside during the cooler months, where Murano chandeliers provide a welcome glow and the seating ensures diners make the most of the panoramic lagoon views.
Sourcing many ingredients from the hotel’s own beautifully kept kitchen gardens, Executive Chef Davide Bisetto’s exceptional cookery easily rivalled any Michelin experience I’ve previously enjoyed in Italy. An appetiser of pigeon patè with tonka, Barolo chinato and peaches was particularly noteworthy, as was a risotto of grey shrimp heads and tails with crab broth and galanga lemon, followed by duck breast served rare with apricots, onions and a smoky BBQ sauce. To round things off, dessert was impressive yet fun, with a coffee cream choux featuring Sambuca liqueur a playful and delicious conclusion to a sumptuous repast highlighting the best of modern Venetian cuisine.
Nor could there be a more intoxicating end to an evening than a nightcap in the illustrious Gabbiano Bar where the resident pianist unwittingly creates an atmosphere straight out of Casablanca as the tinkling ivories harmonise with the sound of cocktails being shaken by maestro head barman Walter Bolzonella; a charming host who, in his white Tuxedo has the air of Bogart as he invites you to sample some of the signature cocktails he has dedicated to his good friend Signor Clooney including the ‘Buona Notte’; a heady vodka based drink inspired by the film Good Night, and Good Luck, and ‘Nina’s Special’ named after the actor’s mother and featuring Prosecco, passionfruit and elderflower.
You can see why, even taking into account the architectural gems across the water, it isn’t easy to tear yourself away from the Belmond Cipriani, yet it’s good to know you’re never far away from the action whenever you want it thanks to the hotel’s complimentary launch which makes the five-minute journey across the lagoon to and from St Mark’s every half an hour. This service is provided a staggering 24 hours a day, rain or shine, and there is also the option to charter your own private boat for a tour of the islands, something I highly recommend for a more unique side of Venetian life.
After an exhilarating champagne-fuelled private excursion on board one of the hotel’s immaculate water taxis we were given a fascinating tour of the Armenian monastery on the island of San Lazzaro, founded in the eighteenth century when Doge Alviso Mocenigo gifted the island to Mekhitar, an Armenian monk fleeing persecution in Constantinople. Dedicated to preserving Armenian culture and once visited by Lord Byron, visitors will gain an insight into the history of the often persecuted Armenian people and a rare chance to see the monastery’s impressive collection of antiquities, most of which were donated over the years, along with a priceless collection of books and manuscripts.
After purchasing the monastery’s famous rose-petal preserve, handmade by the monks using flowers from their own garden, we were whisked away for a wine tasting on the island of San Erasmo, where Frenchman Michel Thoulouze produces Orto, the only wine cultivated within the territorial boundaries of Venice and which has established rather a cult following in the industry. Spending a sun-drenched afternoon talking with Venetians we would never otherwise have met was certainly a highlight of a holiday filled with golden memories, and the Belmond Cipriani rightly pride themselves on providing guests with surprising yet rewarding itineraries.
Others memorable experiences included a night at Teatro La Fenice for La traviata, viewing Vittore Carpaccio’s mesmerising series of nine paintings dedicated to Saint Ursula at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, and enjoying a surprisingly quiet stroll around the Doge’s Palace at dusk, christened by John Ruskin in The Stones of Venice as “the central building of the world” – the basement prisons of which not only illustrate the former powers of the Doge, but provide visitors with some amusement on considering that the incarcerated Casanova once managed a miraculous escape.
Nor could foodies like us go without long boozy lunches; the first of which was at the renowned Riviera, where we dined on the water’s edge and watched the world go by whilst being presented with a six course tasting menu honouring the catch of the day. The hotel’s very own Cip’s Club meanwhile happens to serve the best fritto misto in the world, nor would any visit to Venice be complete without a seafood feast in the courtyard of the renowned Corte Sconta; located down an inconspicuous alley best reached via the Biennele Gardens and the historic Castello district.
Above all though, I’ll always associate my first visit to Venice, not with Carpaccio or Ruskin, but the legend that is Cipriani, for I simply can’t imagine staying in a more perfect hotel. Yes, it’s extravagant, but surely majestic Venice demands pulling out all the stops? Clooney might be taken, but thankfully Belmond Hotel Cipriani is still available and waiting for your call. I’ll certainly be making another date very soon. When you visit, remember to depart as stylishly as you arrive, (if leave you must), by travelling home via Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to London.
To be continued…
Belmond Hotel Cipriani Venice, Giudecca 10, Venice, 30133. For more information and availability visit the website.