the socialite

I’d be quite angry if I were Venice: I’d hate the clichés used to talk about me. How often would I have to hear: “Venice is so beautiful, but I could never live there!” I would just roll my eyes when geologists and scientists say that one day I am going to sink into my own lagoon due to global warming. With the long legs of my stilt buildings I would boot out of the city the tourist hordes clogging up my bridges, canals and vaporetti.

And James Bond would definitely be my Enemy No. 1. He – the secret agent who goes around saving everybody – is the one who blows me up in the final scene of “Casino Royale” – and all for a woman and a suitcase full of money. Yes, I’d be very angry indeed. Imagine people saying to you, “You’re beautiful, but I could never live with you!” But Venice is different, thankfully. The city bears no grudges against anyone. On the contrary: she’s unstinting in her generosity, giving all her visitors unbelievably beautiful holiday memories that only the lagoon city can.

It’s early in the morning and the room of my boutique hotel, the Palazzo Barbarigo, is flooded with light. When I look outside, I don’t just see one sun, but rather two. One up in the delightfully blue sky, and the other reflected in the canal directly below my window. If the sun is shining down with full force from above, you especially appreciate the colour themes in this wonderfully simple but elegant hotel. Bordeaux-red velvet chairs, grey walls and tinted windowpanes.

The hotel is in a Renaissance palace on the Canal Grande, between Campo San Polo and the Basilica dei Frari. This isn’t my first visit to Venice, so I’ve opted for a hotel in the San Polo district, because it’s centrally located but offers quiet surroundings. Here you’re slightly away from the madding tourist crowds, but still enjoy a fantastic selection of bars and restaurants.

Hotel Palazzo Barbarigo, Canl Grande. Venezia 2017
Hotel Palazzo Barbarigo, Grand Canal
Dorsoduro, Venezia 2017
Dorsoduro district
Osteria Enoteca San Marco wine bar
Osteria Enoteca San Marco wine bar

The Mercante di Sabbia is a small atelier in the Calle dei Saoneri and it immediately catches my attention. The shop window is creatively decorated with a loving attention to detail. Lamps made of wood and iron in variegated geometric forms hang from the ceiling. The business itself derives from an ancient macelleria and sells not only lamps but also jewellery by an Italian-French designer, handbags and all kinds of ethnic chic. If – on the other hand – you’re on the lookout for the perfect item of clothing, you’re sure to find it at Al Duca d’Aosta. This boutique under the Rialto Bridge has been here since 1902, originally specialising in shirt textiles.

Four generations ago, its owner Emilio Ceccato decided to launch his own shirt collection, laying the foundation for one of the top brands in the whole of North Italy. In his no fewer than seven shops, you’ll find the best of Italian and international designer clothing, including the latest It-Bags and this season’s must-have accessories.

But even the perfect item of clothing would not be complete without the perfect shoes. There’s just one problem: uncomfortable shoes are a complete no-go in Venice. High heels quickly turn into a curse on all its bridges, steps, water taxis and vaporetti. I pop some foldable ballerinas by Nina – a boutique selling Parisian chic on the Campiello San Rocco – into my handbag, and then I’m equipped for even the longest of Venetian nights.

Ca' Macana. Dorsoduro, Venezia 2017
Ca' Macana, Dorsoduro

After a brief creative pause and some tasty takeaway Sarde in saor from Acqua & Mais, I feel my powers restored. Acqua & Mais in the San Polo district ranks as one of the city’s best street food institutions. Refreshed, I set out in search of a shop I’ve recently read about in a magazine. Anyone who thinks Venetian masks are all the same is in for a lesson at Ca’ Macana. It’s not by chance the costumes for Stanley Kubrick’s film “Eyes Wide Shut” were made at the Ca’ Macana workshop.

As soon as you enter the shop between the Campo Santa Margherita and Ca’ Rezzonico, it soon becomes clear you can buy genuine works of craftsmanship and collector items here, not just cheap souvenir masks. The colours, materials and work lavished on the small works of art are unique. Or would you like to have your own mask made? No problem! Simply book one of the many courses on offer, and the experts at Ca’ Macana will initiate you into the traditional craftsmanship of Venetian masks.

By the way, this, too, is Venice: a thirst for knowledge that trumps globalisation with great success, and art that leaps out at you from every corner in an almost arrogant manner.

I can’t think of a word that entirely sums up the beauty of the Palazzo Papadopoli. This 16th century residence today accommodates perhaps the world’s most elegant hotel – the Aman Venice. Yes, superlatives are entirely in keeping here. Simply imagine breakfasting in a room surrounded by frescoes by the artists Giambattista Tiepolo and Paolo Veronese.

Then imagine your room: it doesn’t have a number, as you would expect, because here you’re a guest, rather than a number. Imagine an ancient games room with wooden chess boards and bookcases right up to the ceiling – gigantic fireplaces, rooms covered in mirrors with inlaid frames, Murano glass chandeliers, and the superb cuisine of chefs Davide Oldani and Dario Ossola. It’s not surprising George Clooney and his wife Amal selected this hotel for their wedding reception.

Hotel Palazzo Barbarigo, Canal Grande
Hotel Palazzo Barbarigo, Grand Canal
Dorsoduro, Venezia 2017
Artist at work in the Ca’ Macana laboratory

And while we’re on the subject of VIPs – and Venice literally overflows with VIPs, especially during the Film Festival – then I have another tip for you. You must visit the Hotel Metropole near Piazza San Marco. Who knows, you might be lucky, and turn up just when Grace Jones and Elton John are at the piano, performing one of their best duets until late into the night. The Jamaican singer’s permanent residence is at the Hotel Metropole, owned by the Beggiato family.

It is said that one evening she fell in love with one of the vintage oriental fans on show there, and had the hotel dismantle the glass cabinet in which it was displayed, so she could wear it at a gala event.

Ponte dell Accademia
Ponte dell'Accademia bridge
Window display in San Marco area

Venice’s dolce vita will practically knock you over the head and drag you off, if you let it. My tip is: just let it happen. You’ll soon feel as if you’ve been transported into a unique outsize and luxury amusement park or a Hollywood film set. No less is true of its restaurants. Venetian cuisine draws on centuries of tradition, is astonishingly varied and tempts you with an abundant array of aromas. My personal favourite restaurant is Antiche Carampane in the street of the same name near the fish market in the Rialto district.

Freshness and quality are absolutely guaranteed here. The baccalà mantecato is the culinary calling card of this old osteria, which used to be frequented by local workers until the 1980s. Over the years, it has developed into one of the most sought-after restaurants for Venetians and the more discerning visitors. If you’re in search of elegant surroundings for a quick dinner or wish to try out one of the region’s excellent wines, be sure to select the Osteria Enoteca San Marco. Artfully presented dishes and culinary reinterpretations of Venetian classics await you here. If you haven’t had enough yet and are always on the look-out for the most original bar, Estro is a real gem.

This cosy wine bar is open all day and just a few steps away from the Chiesa di San Pantalon, a church of somewhat nondescript exterior but all the more wonderful once inside. Gourmet sandwiches are served to accompany choice wines and craft beers. All products are organic and from the region. At Estro, you find yourself in a dynamic Venice with a warm and unpretentious atmosphere. It’s a bit louder than elsewhere, and the Murano chandeliers are produced by young artists from the region, of course.

Here, just as on the Campo Santa Margherita where young people meet up into the small hours, Venice is relaxed and full of joie de vivre. Here – you feel – you’re back in a city you could see yourself living in.

di Veronica Gabbuti

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