Piazza San Marco
We recommend: Bauer L’Hotel
The Bauer — located at the mouth of the Grand Canal, a one-minute walk from Piazza San Marco — is split into two strikingly different hotels. The Bauer Il Palazzo is typically Venetian, with a Gothic facade and pastel rooms; whereas the L’Hotel verges on the Brutalist. L’Hotel’s 119 traditionally-styled rooms overlook either the Grand Canal, the San Moisé church or a little gondola rat-run (avoid this side if you’re not keen on regular renditions of O Sole Mio). Whatever you do, stay for breakfast — served on the terrace overlooking the Punta della Dogana, with gondolas parked up inches away from the tables.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €312 (£225), B&B. bauervenezia.com
Best for value: Hotel Flora
Technically the Flora is a three-star, but you’d never know it. The 40 rooms are styled simply but beautifully: all antique walnut bedsteads, Venetian wall-hangings and, on the top floor, 17th-century beams interlacing across the ceiling. Run by the local Romanelli family for more than half a century, it offers a home-from-home atmosphere with glorious art nouveau elements and discreet luxurious touches, such as CO Bigelow toiletries and linens by Rivolta Carmignani. The views aren’t spectacular, but the pretty courtyard (which the artist Titian is thought to have used as a workshop) is a haven of calm.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €130 (£94), B&B. hotelflora.it
Best for sightseeing: Hotel Danieli
Can an iconic hotel ever really live up to its reputation? Absolutely, if it’s the Danieli — the grandest of the dames lined up along the Riva degli Schiavoni. Next to the Doge’s Palace but hardly less ornate, the main building (the hotel sprawls across three) dates back to 1380, its lobby and bar an extraordinary patchwork of Corinthian columns, Gothic arches, a monumental staircase and enormous marble fireplace. Splash out, if possible, on a Premium or Luxury room (the latter designed by Jacques Garcia) — they’re head and shoulders above the plainer standard rooms.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €350 (£252), room only. danielihotelvenice.com
Giudecca & The Islands
We recommend: Hilton Molino Stucky Venice
This stunning conversion of the iconic 1895 Molino Stucky flour mill on Giudecca island has preserved original features, including the old work bell, and beamed ceilings in the lower-floor bedrooms. Regular shuttles mean you’re only a six-minute boat ride from San Marco, and most rooms overlook the city. In summer, the restaurants spill out onto the waterfront beside the hotel; but the real jaw-dropper is the eighth-floor rooftop pool and bar area, which enjoys incomparable, 360-degree vistas of the entire lagoon.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €129 (£93), room only. molinostuckyhilton.com
Best hideaway: Lagare Hotel Venezia
Set in a former glass-making factory, LaGare Hotel Venezia spreads out around a peaceful central courtyard on pretty Murano, north of Venice proper. Part of Accor’s MGallery collection of historic hotels, the 118 stylish rooms boast hardwood floors, the occasional feature wall displaying iconic Venetian sights, and plenty of light, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights on the top floor. Spectacular handmade works by local glassblower Venini are dotted around the hotel — and if you like what you see, the hotel can arrange a private factory tour.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €128 (£92), room only. lagarehotelvenezia.com
Best for pools: JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa
The JW Marriott swaggered into the spotlight earlier this year, when it opened with 266 rooms, three pools, and the biggest spa in Venice, on a private island behind Giudecca. Far from the madding crowd doesn’t begin to describe the 16 acres of gardens, olive groves, orchards and allotments growing produce for the four on-site restaurants and five bars. The airy, modern rooms overlook the gardens and the lagoon, while the bell-tower of San Marco is 15 minutes away by private shuttle, and just visible from the rooftop pool.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €395 (£285), B&B. jwmarriottvenice.com
Best for atmosphere: Ca’ Sagredo Hotel
Another hulking palazzo, but rather more traditional in style, elegant Ca’ Sagredo goes all out with a castle-like entrance hall that dates back to its 14th-century roots, and vast ballrooms and living rooms slathered in Baroque frescoes, marble and glittering chandeliers. The 42 air-conditioned rooms are almost sober in comparison; their textile-clad walls jazzed up with gilded mirrors, stucco and flouncy headboards, while bathrooms have marble floors. Even the breakfast background music is opera.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €220 (£159), room only. casagredohotel.com
Best for views: Palazzo Barbarigo
This superb little hotel — just 18 rooms over two floors — might be the best kept secret in La Serenissima. A 16th-century palazzo with canals (the Grand and the Rio San Polo) on two sides, it now works a slick modern take on art deco. Rooms — all of which, unusually, have canal views — have black marble flooring, damask walls and four-poster beds; public areas boast mirrored ceilings that reflect the surrounding waters, and the bar even has a balcony-for-two on the Grand Canal. Speaking of which, the junior suites, perched right on the water, are an absolute steal.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €180 (£130), B&B. palazzobarbarigo.it
We recommend: Aman Canal Grande
Even before a certain Mr Clooney chose it for his wedding, the Aman was making waves. Housed in the 16th-century Palazzo Papadopoli, just downstream from the Rialto, this hotel strikingly pairs original features like Tiepolo frescoes and 450-year-old embossed leather walls with modern, minimalist furniture. The 24 rooms are decorated with black wood furniture against stark white walls. Public areas drip with Murano chandeliers and Papadopoli family portraits, and you’ll also find two gardens, as well as a roof terrace and ‘floating’ sofas on the Grand Canal.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €935 (£674), room only. amanresorts.com
We recommend: The Gritti Palace
Ernest Hemingway, John Ruskin, Somerset Maugham… Set in a 1475 palazzo, the Gritti was the hotel of choice back in the day, and walking through its unmarked door, you’re met by an explosion of antique furniture, age-mottled mirrors and huge oils in the warren-like lobby area. A £25m renovation before its 2013 reopening means the 82 rooms and suites are as big on creature comforts as any high-end five-star hotel (think Bang & Olufsen sound systems, Starwood beds and Acqua di Parma toiletries). The restaurant has a terrace cantilevered over the Grand Canal, overlooking the Salute church and the Guggenheim Museum; while the adjoining Bar Longhi has paintings by Pietro Longhi.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €450 (£325), B&B. thegrittipalace.com
Best for design: Palazzina G
Philippe Starck chose this 15th-century neighbour of Palazzo Grassi for his only hotel project in Italy. In contrast to the public areas (dimly lit and sexy), the rooms are Starck at his flashiest: mirrored walls and ceilings, silver ‘tree-stump’ stools and even the odd pink-tinged window. The hotel occupies two conjoined buildings: one with rooms overlooking the surrounding alleys, and the other with suites right on the Grand Canal — which, from €1,000 (£727), are some of the cheapest of their kind.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €350 (£252), room only. palazzinag.com
Best for couples: Ca’ Maria Adele
Located a stone’s throw from the Grand Canal, in the shadow of the Salute church, this hotel is dressed for romance. Not one for minimalists, it goes heavy on the decor, with floor-to-ceiling drapes, fiercely patterned wall coverings, chandeliers and flouncy antique furniture — yet it somehow works. There are ample public areas for the 12 rooms, including a Moroccan-style rooftop terrace and dark-beamed, ground-floor lounge — complete with honesty bar.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €300 (£217), B&B. camariaadele.it
Published in the Jul/Aug 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)