If our arrival into Venice is memorable, courtesy of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and a fiery sunset (see Page 100), nothing prepares us for the spectacle of the boat transfer from Santa Lucia Train Station to our luxury hotel.
As our private water limousine motors quietly along the iconic Grand Canal, we’re engulfed in a flotilla of public ferries, working boats piled with cargo, water taxis and elegant gondolas, all making waves in a riot of noise, color and movement.
Our trusty boat captain, Alessandro, steers expertly past ancient palazzos – some dating back 900 years or more – under the famous Rialto Bridge, and on to the private boat dock of Aman Canal Grande, our unique and exclusive hotel for the next four nights.
Five months before George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin were married here in late September in a blaze of international publicity, my new husband and I were honeymooning at the same hotel – and none of us could have chosen a more perfect and idyllic setting.
In a city awash with five-star accommodations, this magnificent palazzo – dating back to the 16th century with a box-seat position on the Grand Canal – is truly one of the world’s most beautiful, romantic and luxurious hotels.
To call Aman Canal Grande a hotel, even a luxury one, is doing it an injustice. Once home to generations of eminent Venetian families such as the Coccinas, Tiepolos, Papadopolis and, most recently, Count and Countess Giberto Arrivabene, Palazzo Papadopoli has hosted many grand parties and colorful characters down the centuries.
After a painstaking multi-million-dollar restoration program, the historic palazzo and its exquisite frescos, chandeliers and artworks reopened in 2013 as the jewel in the crown of the Aman Resorts portfolio.
The result is a stunning private retreat with only 24 sumptuous guest rooms and suites, almost all with beautiful views over the Grand Canal and the hotel’s private and leafy garden.
Nestled on Calle Tiepolo in San Polo, the smallest of the six sestieri (districts) of Venice, Aman Canal Grande is best accessed by water from its private boat dock on the Grand Canal.
Guests enter a formal reception hall, with ancient frescos and a discreet concierge desk, leading to the palazzo’s peaceful canal-side garden on one side, and a small boutique on the other.
A sweeping staircase rises from the entrance hall to the piano nobile, the grandest floor (and former ballroom) of the palazzo, which is now home to an extraordinary dining room overlooking the Grand Canal and serving Venetian and Thai cuisine.
The dining room’s gilded mirrors, crystal chandeliers and original frescos are counterbalanced by contemporary furniture, an inspired interior design theme throughout the hotel that successfully fuses the past and present to dramatic effect.
The ballroom’s piece de resistance is a long narrow balcony at the front of the palazzo, overlooking the Grand Canal, where guests can survey the ever-changing panorama and wave regally to any passing boats below (George and Amal resisted the temptation, we did not.)Adjoining yellow and red dining rooms offer smaller and more intimate settings while the bar on the other side of the ballroom provides a chic and grand venue for pre-or post-dinner drinks.
Up a level on the second piano nobile is a quieter, more intimate salon, where the hotel serves complimentary tea and Venetian sweet treats every afternoon.
This floor is also home to a library with books from the resident Count’s private collection – he and his family maintain an apartment on the hotel’s top floor – as well as the Stanza del Tiepolo, a salon named for its original ceiling fresco by the great Venetian artist.
Each floor of the hotel has a choice of spacious and luxurious guest accommodations, ranging from palazzo rooms, chambers and suites to five signature suites, all with unique and original architectural features and artworks, and views of the Grand Canal.
Our guest room, just off the reception hall on the ground floor with windows looking directly onto the Grand Canal, not only puts us close to all the comings and goings of the hotel, but also next to its lovely private garden.
Given our room would once have been part of a “working” area of the original palazzo, it doesn’t display the original frescos and features of the more sumptuous upper floor rooms, rather a sleek contemporary design with a stylishly comfortable ambience.
Our three-room suite extends from a small entrance hall to a large modern bathroom with a deep soaking tub, separate shower, double vanity, and a dressing area with matching armoires offering ample storage space.
The bedroom is equally expansive with separate sleeping and sitting spaces, a writing desk, music center, well stocked bar fridge, wide-screen TV, and two large windows opening onto the canal.
The hotel also has a small spa and gym, but our two favorite spaces are the Altana – a typical Venetian roof terrace with wonderful views over rooftops to the landmark bell tower in St. Mark’s Square – and the peaceful Canal Garden next to our guest room.
A canal-side garden of any size is a rarity in Venice – two brothers who owned the palazzo in the 19th century purchased and razed two adjoining buildings to create the open space – and the resulting verdant garden is a delight.
Tables are set around neatly clipped lawns, under mature trees, and right alongside the Grand Canal, the perfect spot to enjoy morning or afternoon tea or lunch in the sunshine, or an aperitivo and dinner at twilight in summer when the garden offers Japanese cuisine.
Exploring the city’s winding canals, arching bridges, lagoon and 118 small islands is a Venetian rite of passage, and the most glamorous option is on board “Aman,” the hotel’s gorgeous 1930s-style water limousine, which can be rented for various excursions.
Alternatively, head out via the discreet garden gate of the hotel – armed with the copy of J.G. Links’ excellent “Venice for Pleasure” book handily placed in each guest room – and simply get lost in the city’s labyrinth of canals and alleyways.
The hotel is walking distance to many of Venice’s iconic sights and attractions, and an array of fine restaurants and bars, all of which are best explored on foot early in the morning or later in the evening when the city lights start to reflect and shimmer on the water.
All this, of course, is assuming you can tear yourself away from the hotel. What George and Amal thought of Aman Canal Grande and its Neo-Renaissance and Rococo splendor is anyone’s guess. We both thought it was magnificent, and we were there first.