The Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice would rank at the top of any list of Great Hotels of the World. Not only because of its famous position, with Venice a shimmering vision across the water, giving 270-degree views of the Venice Lagoon and the Doge’s Palace. Not only because, set amid flower gardens on a peninsula of the peaceful island of Giudecca, marvellously removed from the taxing hubbub of Venice yet only minutes by private motor launch from Piazza San Marco. Nor indeed for its timeless glamour and elegance, history and romantic past, created in 1958 by Harry’s Bar founder Giuseppe Cipriani and favourite of everybody from English aristocrats to French nobles, European royalty, wealthy Americans and international film stars. Even beyond all these things, it is a Great Hotel of the World because it is excellent at doing what an hotel should be excellent at doing—giving its guests superlative personal service which brings them back, time and again.
The hotel came about when Giuseppe Cipriani brought to fruition his dream of opening a haven for guests within easy reach of St Mark’s Square, yet far enough away from the crowds to ensure peace and privacy. At the time, the three daughters of the head of the Guinness family—Viscountess Boyd of Merton, Lady Honor Svejdar and Lady Brigid Guinness—were all fans of Harry’s and enthusiastically supported his plans, eventually backing him financially. Cipriani chose the tip of Giudecca island, a five-minute launch ride from Piazza San Marco, for his purpose-built hotel, an area known as ‘The Spinsters’ because it was to the convent there where rich Venetian families sent their unmarried daughters. It was also where the legendary lover Casanova would tempt some of them to join him in nearby vineyards.
The Guinness sisters loved the location and agreed to help fund the project, purchasing a two-hectare plot of land. Two years later, glamorous guests began arriving: English aristocrats, French nobles, European royalty and wealthy Americans, followed by the filmstars. The Cipriani became one of Frank Sinatra’s favourite haunts, and Sophia Loren could often be seen smoking on the terraces. They are among so many that Cipriani’s fame has spread far and wide.
It’s not difficult to see why anybody would fall in love with the place. Steeped in Venetian style, the 96 gorgeous guest rooms and suites are all imbued with that elegant Italian splendour, and every room has water or garden views. Opulent details include private balconies in each room, gorgeous fabrics and linens, Fortuny light fixtures and fabrics, elegant marble bathrooms and colour schemes which match the glimmering lagoon, every inch of the interior is seriously indulgent. Book a room with a lagoon view if you can, though the garden views are beautiful too. The elegant interior blends traditional and contemporary details and is enhanced by lovely Venetian accents including artwork featuring images of Venice’s lagoon.
Most hotels in central Venice have been created within the confines of historic buildings, guarded by heritage bodies. Not so for the custom-built Cipriani, where every room in the main building has its own water- or garden-facing balcony, and where even the entry-level rooms are blissfully spacious. But if Venice doesn’t seem right unless your dwelling is ancient, those who prefer to sleep somewhere at least four centuries old can enjoy its annex, set inside a 15th-century palace with a private entrance via an exclusive dock and 180-degree views of the lagoon from floor-to-ceiling windows.
The food at Cipriani is delicious, the Michelin-starred Oro being a highlight. Oro offers a gastronomic experience. A successful mix of French techniques and Italian ingredients, some of which are grown in the hotel’s kitchen garden, resulting in an outstanding tasting menu. As you dine you’ll enjoy romantic views of the Lido and San Giorgio island from the terrace and dining room. Other dining options abound. A light pool-side lunch is offered throughout the day. The laid-back Cip’s Club, which has the dreamiest views across the water to Piazza San Marco, is favoured by locals for informal dining featuring Venetian specialties such as the delicate carpaccio of beef. The Michelin-starred Oro restaurant, designed by Adam D Tihany, is reserved for elegant dining. Prices are not inexpensive but acceptable for a hotel of this calibre. Breakfast features every sweet and savoury option imaginable, a well-stocked buffet plus a full menu offering made-to-order specialties.
Then there’s the Hotel Cipriani facilities, which are fabulous. The Olympic-sized, saltwater pool is the largest (and most famous) in central Venice. Service, rooms and suites, the extensive gardens, the facilities . . . everything is better than ever. Impeccable and discreet service from every staff member allows the hotel to run like a well-oiled machine. Guests’ needs are anticipated at every. The front desk will happily book tours, transfers and reservations as well as share their intimate knowledge of how best to enjoy Venice. Tennis aficionados play on red-clay courts and the hotel boasts a private marina.
People also fall in love with the people here. Such as Roberto, the doorman on the dock, who has charmed Hotel Cipriani guests for more than quarter of a century. He’s a favourite with returning guests, who love seeing the same smiling face when they step off the launch. But Roberto sees it as his mission to make everybody feel special. And so does Walter, head barman for a similar number of years. As Walter says, ‘It’s about knowing what kind of drink your guests want before they do.’
He still smiles when recalling famous guests such as Elizabeth Taylor, whose dog Sugar was served water in Murano glass, and President Reagan, to whose suite he delivered Bellinis when room service was deemed too great a security risk. But with Walter, it’s not about fame or acclaim. ‘With all these important people, everywhere they go on the street they are stopped. And when they arrive at Cipriani, they find the privacy. They feel treated like a normal guest. A normal guest means treated good, treated with love. And this is very nice.’
What’s important is spontaneity—whomever one is serving. It’s not about a stiff, formal hotel welcome, he says; the success of the hotel is its informal luxury. ‘The Cipriani is, when you enter, welcome with a hug.’
As one guest writes about Cipriani, ‘It’s often the little things . . . always a guiding arm to disembark the beautiful shuttle boat, a plate of fresh peaches in the room, gifts from the turndown service. A generosity of approach: like endless mineral waters for the room, chilled water and Evian spray by the pool, wonderful Acqua di Parma bathroom products.
‘Then the big things, those must-do life experiences like breakfast on the lagoon front terrace looked after by the legion of lovely servers and Axel the hawk to scare the pigeons away with a mere look at them! Then the lagoon view terrace in our room . . . sitting at night with a Nespresso watching the boats trundle by, or happy guests returning from St Mark’s Square. Then the laps in the 33-metre seawater warmed pool with views to San Georgio. Just sublime life experiences. Yes it’s expensive, but yes it’s worth it; it’s totally spoiled us now for anywhere else. Thank you Cipriani.’
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