(CNN) — You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to hotels in Venice, Italy. The city has so many of them that in 2017, authorities mooted a ban on opening any more within the center of town.
But not all Venice hotels are created equal — especially since the traditional (read: outré) Venetian style can be rather OTT for modern tastes.
From celeb retreats to budget digs, the center of town to the islands, here are the hotels doing things differently the next time you travel to Venice:
There are fancy hotels, and then there’s Villa F. A super-luxury and equally discreet retreat on Giudecca island, you’d never guess from the crumbling façade that inside is a resort so private that Angelina Jolie picked it while she was filming “The Tourist.”
What was once a guesthouse for artists and aesthetes — Italian bard Gabriele D’Annunzio was among the regulars — has been transformed by Francesca Bortolotto Possati, owner of the iconic Bauer Hotel (see below), into a bucolic haven with 11played-down, rustic suites set around meadow-style gardens, complete with meditation pool.
Those in the main building have spectacular views of St Mark’s Square and Dorsoduro, and the service is equally flamboyant, with butlers and a free shuttle to San Marco every half hour. But it has a conscience, too: Full-size bathroom amenities are made especially for Possati by the organic lab at the Giudecca women’s prison.
Villa F, Giudecca, 50, 30133 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 520 7022
JW Marriott Resort & Spa
Private islands were made for this: A sprawling, top-notch resort balancing on the lagoon behind Giudecca, and a 15-minute boat ride from St Mark’s Square.
Marriott bought the 16-hectare site — a former sanatorium — and quickly turned it into the city’s most peaceful resort, opening in 2015 with grounds filled with trees, olive groves and vegetable gardens (serving the restaurant), and even a chapel repurposed as a wedding venue.
The 266 rooms are designed by Matteo Thun, the spa’s the largest in Venice, the rooftop pool overlooks the city’s distant spires, and restaurant Dopolavoro is Michelin-starred.
With all that on offer, you may not be so keen to take the free shuttle into town. Understandable.
JW Marriott, Isola delle Rose Laguna di San Marco, 30133 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 852 1300
Few hotels can match the Danieli — an icon for all the right reasons. Composed of three buildings, the hotel is centered around the 14th -century palace of Doge Dandolo– who built his home next to his office, the Palazzo Ducale.
With columns, coffered roof and monumental fireplace intact, there’s no fancier lobby or bar area in town; and the guestrooms in the main building are equally impressive.
The two modern buildings are nothing to be sniffed at, however, having undergone refurbishments by Jacques Garcia and Pierre Yves Rochon.
Since it’s a Luxury Collection hotel, if you’re a points person, staying here lets you earn with Marriott (or Starwood, until the schemes are merged). But there are better reasons to stay at the Danieli — from the glorious old-school concierge desk to the rooftop restaurant with 270-degree views from the prisons of the Doge’s Palace to the lagoon and Riva degli Schiavoni all the way to Sant’Elena and the Lido.
Danieli Hotel Venice, Castello, 4196, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 522 6480
Unlike the other luxury hotels on the Grand Canal, the Centurion Palace has ditched the traditional frou-frou Venetian style and opted for thoroughly modern bling.
Bathrooms are clad in real gold leaf (right down to the flooring), bedrooms are given bright palettes, from rusty orange to scarlet, and ceilings in the main wing can be enormous — nearly 22 feet high, with vast windows overlooking the canal.
It’s been done out of necessity rather than sacrilege, says General Manager Paolo Morra; the 19th-century neo-gothic building had few period features left, so rather than invent what wasn’t there, they decided to create something that hasn’t yet been seen on the Grand Canal.
And they’ve done so spectacularly. But some things remain the same, like the bar and restaurant pontoons cantilevered over the water, offering views from the Accademia Bridge to the lagoon.
There’s also a calm courtyard, often patrolled by the house cat.
Centurion Palace, Dorsoduro, 173, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy, +39 041 34281
The Bauer used to be two hotels, joined by a communal lobby: the 1940s brutalist (read: love-it- or-hate- it) Bauer L’Hotel, and the more classical 18th-century Il Palazzo, right on the Grand Canal. 2017 saw them come together to form a single property — and with 200 rooms at its disposal, it’s a winning combination.
Rooms still divide roughly down the lines of the old properties — entry-level ones are more likely to be in the modern building, while the top suites are those overlooking the Grand Canal — but there’s a good range through both buildings, and the décor is flouncy-Venetian- at-its- best throughout.
Top level suites get access to Il Settimo Cielo, or Seventh Heaven — a spectacular rooftop bar and breakfast room (other guests can book meals there) — but the ground-floor “civilian” eating areas are hardly bad: Breakfast is served on a terrace cantilevered over the Grand Canal, with gondolas parked up next door.
Bauer Hotel, S. Marco, 1459, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 520 7022
One of the grandest dames of the Grand Canal, this salmon-pink 14th-century palazzo near the Ca’ d’Oro and Casino was built by the Sagredo family (“Ca” means “house”) and only became a hotel in 2007 — and even then it was designated a national monument.
You’ll see why as soon as you walk in, taking the monumental staircase up from the grand lobby to the main “piano nobile” floor, complete with stucco, gilding, frescoes and gargantuan paintings on the walls.
In comparison, rooms are fairly tame (apart from the top-level suites, of course, which are opulence incarnate), but they’re comfortable and relatively spacious by Venice standards. But it’s worth staying in a box room just to get access to the opulent breakfast room, bar and public areas — especially since staff enforce the guests-only rule with hawk-like precision.
Ca’ Segredo, Campo Santa Sofia, 4198/99, 30121 Venezia VE; Italy, +39 041 241 3111
Come here in September and you’ll be shoulder-to- shoulder with A-listers. The grand dame of the Lido island, built in 1908, the Excelsior is the single focus for the glamorous Venice Film Festival — little wonder, when it has a swish private beach, restaurant with sweeping views of the Adriatic, and decadent Moorish design in the guestrooms to match the turreted, tumbling façade.
Onsite is a pool (a rarity in Venice) and six restaurants; offsite, for those wanting to stay on the Lido — a hive of active and eco-friendly tourism — there are tennis courts, bicycles for rent, and even a golf course and equestrian center nearby. A free water- shuttle whisks you to St Mark’s Square, 15 minutes away.
The only downside? It’s open seasonally, from April to October. On the plus side, during the 2017 closure, it’s down for a renovation.
Hotel Excelsior, Lungomare Guglielmo Marconi, 41, 30126 Lido VE, Italy; +39 041 5260201
Ca’ Maria Adele
Most Venetian hotels take opulence to the max, but few amp up the romance as much as Ca’ Maria Adele, a 12-room bolthole on Dorsoduro, next to the iconic Salute church. Low-lit, rabbit-warren corridors lead you to the rooms — all different, but equally dramatic, and loaded with antiques, damask wall coverings, Murano glass chandeliers and rich floor-to- ceiling drapes.
Outside the rooms, there’s a sumptuously furnished communal lounge and a wildly romantic breakfast room, but the real draw is the “altana” or rooftop terrace, overlooking Giudecca across the water.
Ca’ Maria Adele, Sestiere Dorsoduro, 111, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 520 3078
This fantastic little hotel on the Grand Canal, Palazzo Barbarigo occupies a small, unassuming building reached via the alleyways of San Polo.
Once inside, however, everything changes: From the mirror on the ceiling of the lobby, reflecting the sparkling water outside, to the chic bar upstairs, complete with balcony- for-two cantilevered over the Grand Canal, you know you’re in for something special.
Room décor strikes out boldly from Venetian norms, with a sultry art deco feel — all low-lighting, feather-fringed lights and velvet furnishings — but the feeling’s refined, rather than OTT. What’s more every single room has a view of the water — whether that’s the side canal or the Grand one slapping against the ground-floor walls.
Palazzo Barbarigo, San Polo, 2765, 30125 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 740 172
With crowded waterbuses and taxis that squeeze even generous budgets, getting to and from your hotel is often the only drawback to a stay in Venice.
Not so with Locanda Vivaldi; make your reservation direct with the hotel, and it’ll throw in a free one-way transfer in its vintage boat from Piazzale Roma, the main terminus.
There are other reasons to stay at the Vivaldi, however; its lagoon-front location on the Riva degli Schiavoni, for starters. Most of the 27 rooms have views — either of the side canal or the lagoon itself — and summer sees the restaurant move to the rooftop terrace.
The look is traditional — heavy drapes and deep colors — and for those wanting a more home-from- home experience, the hotel also has a hot tub-equipped apartment, Ca’ Bollani, in an adjacent building.
Locando Vivaldi, Riva degli Schiavoni, 4150-52, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 277 0477
Hilton Molino Stucky
Hilton upended the Venice hotel scene in 2007 when it converted the derelict Molino Stucky flour mill on Giudecca island into a behemoth 379-room hotel and convention center.
Don’t underestimate it as a boring chain property, however; the 13-building complex (of which eight are open to guests) is full of original features, from steel columns and beamed ceilings in the lobby and guestrooms to a statue of the mill’s founder by the spa — which used to serve as his office.
The spa, by the way, uses Elemis products, and was the largest in Venice until the JW Marriott pipped it to the post.
The hotel’s out-of- the-way location — it sits on the far end of Giudecca, a 10-minute boat ride from St Mark’s Square (there’s a house shuttle, for which a €6/$7 charge is levied per guest, per stay) — comes into its own in summer, when the rooftop pool opens and the restaurant sets up tables outside on the waterfront.
The rooftop bar — on the eighth floor — is open year-round, however, and offers possibly the best view of the city skyline. It’s the place to be at sunset — though note that, as it opens at 5 p.m., during the winter it’s already dark by the time it opens.
Hilton Molino Stucky, Giudecca, 810, 30133 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 272 3311
All the cachet but none of the crowds is what’s on offer at this gloriously relaxed island retreat, far out in the lagoon on semi-deserted Torcello. Harry’s Bar founder Giuseppe Cipriani opened his restaurant-with-rooms in the 1930s, and its tranquil surroundings have attracted the likes of the British royal family, Elton John and Winston Churchill.
Most visitors come for a meal — served on the veranda outside in summer, and made with local ingredients throughout (they call it “Cipriani cuisine”) — but to really soak up the atmosphere which allowed regular Ernest Hemingway to write two books here, you’ll need to stay over.
Upstairs are six bedrooms — two singles, one double, two junior suites and a suite. The décor is, as you might expect, a throwback to simpler times — you’ll find stacked bookcases rather than fancy sound-systems — and the inn has conserved artwork by some of its most famous clients.
It’s a stay unlike any other in Venice — and because of its distance, it’s more suited to regular visitors who want to experience lagoon life, rather than those wanting to sightsee in town.
Locanda Cipriani, Piazza Santa Fosca, 29, 30142 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 730150
A stunning conversion of an old glassworks factory on Murano, the Lagare’s 118 bright rooms, located around a central courtyard, have hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows, while works of art by local glass-blowers Venini are dotted around the premises.
Its island location isn’t ideal for first-timers, but for those wanting a different take on Venice — and after a taste of island life once the furnaces die down and the tourists retreat — it’s a stylish winner.
Lagare Murano, Riva Longa, 49, 30141 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 736250
As befits its status in the Design Hotels fold, this is a bold modernization of a 500-year-old merchant’s house on Dorsoduro, near the Accademia.
Not too modern, mind you; it’s been entirely redone in Art Deco style, with furniture from the 1930s and 1940s, and futurist art on the walls by Fortunato Depero. It’s such a thorough theming that even the doors to the 29 rooms have geometric patterns engraved on the wood.
The accoutrements, however, are thoroughly 21 st -century, with a hammam, free non-alcoholic minibar and trendy, Futurist-themed restaurant, La Rivista.
Ca’ Pisani, Rio Terrà Foscarini, 979A, 30123 Dorsoduro, Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 240 1411
There’s little to dislike about the Flora. It’s locally owned — the Romanelli family took on this simple 40-room property in the 1960s — and furnished with care.
Rooms may be a little small — this is a three-star hotel within a couple of minutes’ walk from St. Mark’s Square, after all — but they’ve been thoughtfully put together, with comfortable mattresses on the antique beds, original terrazzo flooring, and Ortigia amenities in the bathroom.
The Romanelli family own two other properties — the fin de siècle-style Novecento and Casa Flora, a designer apartment in an adjacent building — but nothing comes between repeat guests and the Flora.
You’ll find old hands propping up the bar in the evening, sitting in the tranquil courtyard in good weather, and scouring the family’s blog, insidevenice.it, for ideas of what to do — they’re big proponents of sustainable tourism.
Hotel Flora, S. Marco, 2283A, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 520 5844
Gio & Gio
Cast aside all your aspersions about B&Bs, because this delightful place is more of a super-stylish home that just so happens to have three rooms for rent.
Owner Gianni has walked the line between traditional and outré pretty perfectly — in the communal lounge, an understated cream couch sits beside a florid gilt mirror, while a lush rug is slung over sober parquet flooring.
Rooms nod to Venice’s past, with Fortuny fabrics and antique furniture; but again they’re sharpened up with modern drapes, lamps and bedside tables.
One of the rooms (the junior suite) has a tiny balcony overlooking the canal outside, but since you’re a five-minute walk from St. Mark’s Square (the apartment is right beside the Giglio church) you’re in the middle of the action anyway.
And don’t be alarmed about the intimacy — this may be a small B&B, and Gianni lives on site, but there’s no sense of claustrophobia; guests are pleasantly left to their own devices.
Gio & Gio, 30100 Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy; no phone
What started out as a restaurant has turned into a design-led, five-room residence on a quiet side street on the far end of Dorsoduro, near the San Basilio vaporetto stop.
Owner Francesco Pugliese has opted for a modern take on traditional Venetian flounce, with ornate rugs, Rubelli fabrics and and gilt-framed mirrors teamed with contemporary furniture and modern mosaicked bathrooms.
Three of the junior suites have private walled gardens — where you can get dinner from the restaurant delivered on room service — while the others overlook the courtyard and gardens. It’s a different, more local take on Venice than a standard hotel — in a deliciously tranquil area of the city.
Avogaria, Calle Avogaria, 1629, 30100 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 296 0491
Something completely new for Venice, Casa Burano is an “albergo diffuso” — or “scattered hotel”, an initiative sweeping Italy which takes unoccupied houses in a village and creates a “hotel” around them — turning each apartment into a room, and ditching the public areas.
This one — the first for Venice — was the idea of the local Bisol family, who run Venissa, a vineyard and restaurant with rooms on Mazzorbo island, linked to Burano via a footbridge. Casa Burano offers something different: the chance to live like a local on an island that, during the daytime, is wall-to-wall Instagrammers.
Burano has a strong local community, says Matteo Bisol, that changes vastly in the morning and evening when there are no tourists around. Rooms are bright and modern, with great views of the famous colored island houses.
Casa Burano,Via Guidecca, 139, 30142 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 527 2281
Hotel Fenice et des Artistes
Nowadays the Fenice et des Artistes is a budget hotel; back in the day, however, this was a glam hangout for the artistic set, sitting behind the world-famous opera house — and, in fact, linked by a secret passage so divas like Maria Callas could slip to bed without being menaced by fans.
The rooms today won’t win any style awards — they’re simple three-star affairs — and the views are largely of the hotel’s pleasant courtyard or the alley leading to the Fenice (though some overlook the dark canal at the back of the hotel), but this is still a great choice for a budget break, with a huge amount of history packed between the walls.
Restaurant Taverna La Fenice, is an extraordinary place that again has seen everything; it specializes in meat dishes, so if you’ve had enough of Venetian fish specialties, here’s where to come.
Hotel Fenice et Des Artistes, Campiello Fenice, 1936, 30100 San Marco, Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 523 2333
Few hotels can top the views from this hostel. Plum in the middle of Giudecca island, overlooking the city center, from Dorsoduro and the Salute church to St. Mark’s Square, its iconic bell tower and the gothic Doge’s Palace.
There’s no need to share a dorm to enjoy them, though; there are five private, ensuite rooms — at a fraction of the price of a hotel.
Originally a grain warehouse, the building has been converted into industrial design-led digs, and touches like exposed brick walls, beamed ceilings and Chesterfield-style armchairs will wipe any bad memories of past dormitory stays.
On the plus side, there’s the friendliness of a hostel — especially during the warmer months, when the waterfront outside turns into an unofficial extension of the lobby. There are regular events, including movie screenings, karaoke nights and DJ sets.
Generator, Fondamenta Zitelle, 86, 30133 Venezia VE, Italy; +39 041 877 8288
Julia Buckley is a UK-based travel journalist specializing in Italy, hotels, and disabled travel.
All copyrights for this article are reserved to http://rss.cnn.com/rss/edition_travel.rss