What better way to arrive at this historic hotel than, in quintessential Venetian style, by gondola. I stepped straight into the opulent, antique-filled hall of the 15th-century former palazzo, once owned by the powerful Venetian doge Andrea Gritti, whose portrait still hangs in the library. The hotel reopened earlier this year after a 15-month, US$55 million (Dh202m) restoration that revamped the entire building, created fewer but bigger rooms (including the Redentore Terrazza Suite, complete with roof terrace and show-stopping views), restored the hotel's collection of precious objet d'arts and added a small Acqua di Parma spa. It also made the hotel flood-proof, with a high-tech, underfloor system. The Gritti's character has been preserved, along with the flower-filled, wood-panelled reception area with its original inlay marble floors, but I was whisked to the new, dedicated check-in desk, where state-of-the-art technology prevails.
It sits right on one of the loveliest stretches of the Grand Canal, looking across the water to the church of Santa Maria della Salute and to the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, home to the Guggenheim Museum. Its terra firma entrance is on a quiet square, away from the tourist hoards but still just a short walk from Calle Largo XXII Marzo, one of the city's finest shopping streets, which will take you to St Mark's Square and the Gallerie dell'Accademia in minutes. There's a vaporetto (water bus) stop next to the hotel if you want to go farther afield, and you can reach the hotel by gondola or water taxi.
Post-refurbishment, there are a total of 82 guest rooms, including 21 suites. They're all decorated in sumptuous Venetian style, including antique pieces from the original property, large gilt mirrors, hand-painted furniture, sparkling Murano glass chandeliers and Rubelli-designed silk wall coverings and bed throws. Bathrooms are lined with Italian marble and, although compact, they have space for a large tub as well as a powerful rain shower. The finest rooms look out over the Grand Canal. Others face the square or the small Rio delle Ostreghe canal, and those with the least impressive views face an internal, covered courtyard. Many of the rooms have connecting doors so that families can share.
The Gritti has always attracted a loyal and distinguished following. Everybody from royalty to rock stars have graced its rooms, and a corridor is devoted to some of their autographed photos.
Excellent. The Italian staff are courteous and charming. The concierge desk always had time to help, whether it was recommending and booking restaurants, checking museum opening times or sourcing hard-to-get opera tickets.
The lovely, ground-floor rooms of the intimate Club del Doge overlook the Grand Canal, and in warm weather it moves outside to an expansive marble terrace right on the water. The menu borrows from Venetian gastronomic tradition, using market-fresh produce in dishes such as aged risotto for €28 (Dh136); sea bass for €50 (Dh243); and crispy quail for €48 (Dh235). An expansive breakfast buffet is served in the same area, and you can also take an individual or small-group cooking class in a country-style kitchen off the restaurant.
Dining alfresco on the terrace watching the ebb and flow of life along the Grand Canal, with the odd rendition of 'O Sole Mio from a passing gondolier. The Blu Mediterraneo signature massage at the spa was ultra-relaxing too.
My hairdryer was the annoying kind that needed a button to be held down continuously for it to work.
For old-world Venetian splendour, Grand Canal views and romantic rooms, the Gritti's hard to beat.
The bottom line
Deluxe doubles from €432 (Dh2,096), room only, including taxes. Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, Venice, Italy (www.thegrittipalace.com; 0039 41 794611).
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