Venice is one of my favorite places (I just returned from my 8th visit), but trying to figure out where to stay in this romantic maze of 117 islands and 409 bridges can be frustrating. There are so many options – this small city of 60,000 residents has several hundred hotels to cater to its estimated 15 million-plus annual visitors – it can make your head spin. Over the years, I have sampled about a dozen properties and here are five of my top picks that offer a terrific mix of location, service, and amenities – and range in price from about $150/night to $579/night.
Pensione La Calcina: In the ‘90s, I stayed twice at Pensione La Calcina, an unassuming but well-located salmon-hued hotel in one of my favorite areas of Venice: the Zattere in Dorsoduro, overlooking the wide Giudecca Canal with views of the Palladio-designed Church of the Redentore. Not too long ago, I stopped back for a tour to make sure this family-run gem was still as charming as I remembered. I’m happy to report that it is. Its 29 rooms feature simple whitewashed walls, polished wood floors, and pretty antique furnishings, and the best offer views of the canal. The floating terrace cafe is a wonderful spot to enjoy breakfast or a sunset cocktail. Rooms start at $150/night.
Hilton Molino Stucky Venice: By far the largest hotel in Venice, the seven-year-old Hilton Molino Stucky Venice, a towering red-brick landmark that was once the city’s flour mill, anchors one end of Giudecca Island. Remnants of its industrial past remain in the wood-beamed lobby and bar/restaurant and even in many of the 379 rooms and suites, which have been nicely appointed in a classic-meets-contemporary style. The best face the canal, but there’s also a rooftop featuring a dramatic pool (shown at left) and trendy bar with sweeping views of the Venice skyline. There’s a vaporetto (public water bus) stop just down from the hotel and there’s frequent shuttle boat service to the Zattere on Dorsoduro for easy access on foot to the main neighborhoods of Venice. Rooms start at $212/night.
Hotel Londra Palace: Despite the constant crowds, I love the drama of the sun-splashed Riva degli Schiavoni, which stretches along the Grand Canal from the striking Doge’s Palace on Piazza San Marco over numerous photogenic bridges (including the one with views of the Bridge of Sighs) and past endless bobbing gondolas. If you want to be front and center in Venice, check into Hotel Londra Palace, a property with a great deal of historic style (the building dates to 1853). Its 53 rooms and suites are smoke-free and are decorated in a rich palate of reds, blues, and chocolate browns with touches of velvet and brocade that are striking rather than fussy. Tchaikovsky composed the first three movements of Symphony No. 4 in Room 106 – and you, too, will feel the melodic rhythm that is Venice. Rooms start at $465/night.
Ca Maria Adele: If you have an eye for architectural detail (and a generous travel budget), you’ll be fascinated by Ca Maria Adele, an exquisite 12-room boutique hotel housed in a 15th-century palazzo that I stumbled upon while walking in Dorsoduro. Its quiet location near the magnificent church of Santa Maria della Salute and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection makes it an ideal romantic hideaway for couples. Its eclectic design style mixes over-the-top Baroque with striking minimalism, East with West, and includes areas inspired by Morocco (the terrace), the 1950s (the breakfast room), and the entire globe (the lounge). Rooms are available in Deluxe (opulent design in golden hues) and Concept (which include the vibrant red Sala del Doge, shown at left, and the moody, Turkish-inspired sapphire blue Sala dei Mori); there are also two Suites. Rooms start at $498/night.
Bauer L’Hotel: A few years back, I enjoyed a stay at Il Palazzo at the Bauer, a lavishly restored palace on the Grand Canal, so earlier this month I decided to stay at the original Bauer L’Hotel, located just behind Il Palazzo on Campo Moise, which leads directly to Piazza San Marco. I already knew that the location couldn't be more convenient, but discovered that beyond L’Hotel’s distinctive 1940s Art Deco façade lies an impressive lobby, decorated in elegant Deco style, and 109 spacious rooms and suites done in mid-century Venetian style. Most face a small side canal while others (including my room, the lovely #236 with its spacious terrace) look out onto the gorgeous Baroque façade of the Church of St. Moise. Other highlights are the gracious service, the outdoor Terrace of the Canale Bar (shown at right) and the rooftop Jacuzzi at the adjoining Il Palazzo (inquire about booking a private hour-long soak there). Rooms start at $579/night.