THE SCALE is grand for a home, but small for a hotel by today’s standards.
With 22 gracious rooms and two sumptuous suites, the Aman Venice in the Grand Canal is an iconic example of a place from the past reinvented for the present.
What is now known as The Palazzo Papadopoli was built in 1550 by Gian Giacomo dé Grigi for the Coccina family.
Ownership changed several times between 1837 and 1864 before it was acquired in 1865 by the Papadopoli family who relocated to Venice from Corfu, Greece.
In 1865, architect Girolamo Levi and Michelangelo Guggenheim were commissioned to renovate the palazzo, turning it into one of the most remarkable examples of the Neo-Renaissance and Rococo styles in Venice.
In 2006, discussions began with Aman’s visionary founder, Adrian Zecha, and Palazzo Papadopoli owner, Giberto Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga.
A contract was negotiated, allowing Aman to rent and manage the Palazzo while the family retained the freehold and lived in the premises.
In 2011, the Aman Group, with a team of architects and designers from the Dottor Group and interior designer Jean-Michel Gathy, embarked on the painstaking renovation of this very grand home.
In June 2013, they turned this Palazzo into the most elegant hotel in Venice.
The Palazzo has five floors. Our arrival by Aman’s private water taxi takes us to the Main Hall.
We are met by the very warm and charming lady of the manor, Claudia Schwarze, general manager. We feel like having arrived in her home, as she tours us around the major public spaces before being ushered into our room.
No check-in desk
There is no check-in desk and no large sofa groupings typical of most hotels.
The second floor, which used to be the ballroom, is now a Main Lounge Seating Area, the Main Dining Room and the Bar. The space is spectacular with four full-height glass doors that open onto a balcony overlooking the Canal.
The pre-function room area has a grand piano—since this is the holiday season, beside the tallest and most gorgeous Christmas tree (imported from Norway) in all of Venice.
The smell of fresh pine and the shimmer of lights woven into layers of Venetian glass balls are surreal amid the frescoes, gilded mirrors and Murano chandeliers.
The contrast between the opulence of the past and the clean modernist furnishings makes one feel in a place of Today (B&B Italia furniture and Maxalto light fixtures are in most of the spaces).
The color palette of the entire Palazzo picks up the coloration from the frescoes, paintings, and cordoban leather walls—the various tones and colors remixed, then applied into neutral or jewel tone colors, patterns and textures, in custom carpets and fabric. It’s all very rich yet subtle.
On the fourth floor are the Library, a huge residents’ lounge and various types of private rooms exclusive to hotel residents. The atmosphere is more relaxed but equally sumptuous.
Guest rooms and suites are on the ground floor, first, fourth and fifth floors.
Canal View rooms are stunning but the Garden View rooms are equally nice and quiet.
As in most large homes, it takes a while to find your way through meandering corridors in a seemingly formal configuration of symmetrical square and rectangular rooms.
The color palette of the rooms (approximately 50 square
meters) consists of subtle textures of white on white, silver, gunmetal and taupe in a background of rick dark wooden doors, wood parquet and terrazzo flooring in neutrals with hints of jewel tones.
One suite, the Alcova Tiepolo Suite (103 sq m), has frescoes painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in 1750 with hand-painted chinoiserie wall panels.
The Alcova Suite facing the garden also happens to be the suite of choice of George Clooney on his wedding in 2014 to Amal Alamuddin.
The Canal Grande Suite (about 97 sq m), though simpler in design, has great views of the Grand Canal.
Spa and healing
The very intimate spa on the third floor is noteworthy not solely for the amenities but also for the amazing therapist, Rafaella. A well-built Italian, she knew all pressure points and hit them with pain and precision, triggering fever and declogging our sinuses on the first night.
After another massage the next morning, we are back on our feet—at zero degrees
—in the outdoors of nearby Rialto Bridge that leads all the way to Harry’s Bar and The Peggy Guggenheim Museum.
We must also add that, within an hour upon check-in, our room is already equipped with the essential naturopathic remedies to hasten healing. Such remarkable service.
On the other half of the fifth floor at the end of Rooms 25 and 26 (our rooms) is the lovely Altana, an outdoor roof-deck that overlooks Venice.
Further down the hall is the residence of the owner and descendant of the Papadopoli/Arrivabene family: Giberto, grandson of Vera Papadopoli and Count Giberto Arrivabene, his wife Bianca and their children.
The family of Giberto lives on the top floor in an Aman-maintained and fully-serviced home. It is an excellent business model of sustainable adaptive reuse and heritage preservation.
Breakfast is always a choice between a healthy and not-so-healthy feast. One can choose between the perfectly Light Frittata with burrata and Eggs Benedict with organic eggs and prosciutto (served in perfect room temperature where it gleams in its own oil).
The croissants are always perfect and served with my favorite Échiré butter. Breakfast always hits the spot. Don’t forget to start your day with an invigorating fresh spiruli.
As expected, the dining room is well appointed, impeccable, with seamless service, with a very well-tailored, good-looking staff.
A pianist plays the 19th-century Erard concert grand piano (it actually works!) from 6 to 7:30 pm, followed by piped-in music. Remixed standards (Diana Krall?) are played, creating a contemporary ambiance. Even my teenage sons enjoy the very chic and relaxed vibe.
The cuisine by Michelin-star chef Davide Oldani is inventive. After gorging on cheeses, hams, pasta and bistecca Fiorentina for a week in Rome, we are prepared to eat a little lighter on our first few days in Venice.
The Tomo Leggermente Affumicato, Salsa di Panna Verde (smoked tuna tartare) is fresh, flavorful and refined, a nice alternative to our favorite steak tartare.
The signature Cipolla Caramellata, Grana Padano Celdo e Freddo (caramelized onion, hot and cold Grana Padano) is one of Davide’s unique and delicious signature dishes but we would have much preferred to have this for dessert. (We are told that chef Daniel Boulud said the same thing.)
The Saffron Risotto is perfectly al dente and the Branzino with D’O Caviar (sea bass) is so evenly cooked. The D’O Caviar made from tapioca champions his mission to create good food using humble ingredients.
The Filetto Di Manzo, Salsa Al Madeira (organic grilled fillet of beef and Madeira wine sauce) is tender and melts in your mouth (although it is US beef, not Italian Chianina beef).
The champagne/prosecco and wine selection is well-edited and fairly priced for consumption. Four of the five French first growths are represented: Latour, Mouton, Margaux, Haut-Brion in not-so-old Left Bank vintages, so that one doesn’t need to break the bank.
Its Right Bank counterpart, Cheval Blanc, is singularly represented.
The Italian wine collection is intense. On the menu are multiple vintages of the Great Super Tuscans like Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Solaia, Lupicaia and the very pricey Masseto; down to the less expensive Tignanello and Guado al Tasso; and of course, the superb Gaja offering: Barbaresco, Sori Tildin and Sori San Lorenzo.
The house wine is the easy-to-drink Gaja Dagromis 2011 Barolo. The house prosecco, Borgoluce Valdobbiadene, is a nice full-bodied artisanal prosecco but we much prefer the crisp lighter character of the Bellavista Franciacorta.
The champagne selection is very broad and extremely well edited. The spectrum runs from the basic Dom Pérignon, Krug Brut, Cristal, to the Bollinger 007 Bond Spectre Limited Edition, to the very high-end single vineyard Krug Clos du Mesnil.
Whether it’s food, tours (with local writers, cooks, art historians) or healing options, anything is possible at Aman Venice. All you have to do is ask and they make everything possible so graciously and so effortlessly.
At the bottom of one of the pages of the services book in your room is written, “Please feel at home. We would be delighted to accommodate any special request.”
Aman surely means every word of it, and surpasses expectations.
E-mail the author at [email protected].