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Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Venice, Italy - Review

Puttin' on the Cip

Aerial view of Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy
Aerial view of Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy

Unlike many historic lodgings that try to keep up with the times by playing the hip card, Hotel Cipriani doesn't cater to whim. This Venice favorite was founded on tradition, and to tradition it remains loyal. It closes for the winter season and reopens in the spring, usually to reveal some great new enhancement. Dining at the Fortuny Terrace Restaurant means donning ties, gentlemen; it also means being treated like a gentleman (or lady) in this fast food era of pandering to the casual lifestyle at the expense of elegance and grace. As for fine wines, the hotel does more than simply serve them. It grows its own grapes right on the grounds.

If this makes the Cip — as it's known to its devotees — sound stodgy, and perhaps even a bit full of itself, rest assured. It's not. From the moment you board the hotel's launch (it runs round the clock) at its private landing stage at San Marco Square, you'll understand why this property is considered one of the finest in the world. Firstly, there's its location. When Giuseppe Cipriani, co-founder of the notorious Harry's Bar, told his well-to-do friends and patrons about his dream to build the ultimate luxury hotel on a three-acre estate on the tip of Guidecca Island, they recognized a good thing and invested.

In the 18th century, Giudecca served as a retreat for both nobles and common city dwellers, who came to take advantage of the fresh air. By the late 1950s, when Cipriani built his hotel, it was still a secluded destination, reachable only by water. The new building was constructed to blend in with the Renaissance structures that surrounded it, and it immediately attracted celebrities and royalty, in much the same way that Harry's Bar drew luminaries such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. One thing was certainly clear: Cipriani had the magic touch.

A guest room at Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy Private terrace view at Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy
Elegant suite
Private terrace

Today, the Hotel Cipriani is a small, exclusive complex that includes the main hotel, two "palaces" — the Palazzo Vendramin and Palazzetto Nani Barbaro — and lavish gardens. When the property was purchased by James B. Sherwood, founder of Orient Express Hotels Ltd., from the Guinness family (of the Guinness brewing empire) changes were made, including the addition of luscious new suites. Overall, though, Sherwood's renovations followed the philosophy that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. In style, the hotel is much as it was when Cipriani opened it: opulent and luxuriously livable.

The 82 guestrooms and suites overlook either the gardens, the lagoon or St. Mark's Square. Each accommodation has been individually designed, and those in the palazzos are the most desirable, especially since many feature floor-to-ceiling windows gazing over the water to the Doge's Palace. The celebrated Palladio Suite (with a secluded private garden and outdoor heated pool) now has competition from the newer Dogaressa Suite, extravagantly graced with antique Chinese lamps, Coromandel screens, Fortuny and Rubelli fabrics and the largest sitting room in the 15th century Palazzo Vendramin. All rooms are generously equipped with basic amenities (including Wi-Fi), and depending on where you stay, you may find a few little extras, such as a kitchenette, a button to summon a private butler or a TV that rises out of a glass-topped table.

While its accommodations are beyond reproach, the Cipriani would not enjoy its stellar reputation without its Casanova Gardens. Named for the lascivious lothario who used these very grounds to carry on his affair with Caterina Capretta and lay in wait for ladies from the nearby Old Maid's College, they once belonged to the wife of the Doge. With their cypress, pomegranate, hanging maple and lavender, they are as romantic today as they were during those Renaissance times. One of our favorite features is their adjacent vineyard, source of the grapes for the hotel's own Casanova Salso, which is bottled by J.B. Sherwood winery in Tuscany. Historically, Guidecca produced a vintage known as “vin salso,” named for the characteristic salty aftertaste caused by the proximity of the lagoon; but by the 1900s, production had ceased, and as a result, the hotel's efforts in viticulture resulted in the first harvest of grapes in Venice since the 18th century.

Fortuny Bar at Hotel Cipriani in Italy Lush gardens at Hotel Cipriani
Fortuny Bar
Lavish Gardens

Given the culinary standing established by Giuseppe Cipriani with the foundation of Harry's Bar, it's no wonder the Hotel Cipriani has a fabulous dining scene. The Cipriani Restaurant (adorned with arches, domes and blown glass), the Terrace Restaurant (surrounded by flowers and fountains) and Cip's Club (with its magnificent waterfront patio), are all guided by chef Renato Piccolotto. Piccolotto began his career at the Villa Cipriani in Asolo, where he had the opportunity to train directly under Giuseppe. He has been at the Hotel Cipriani since 1970, and has been Chef de Cuisine since 1990. Of note are the hotel's cooking classes, which are offered as packages throughout the year. Greats such as the late Julia Child have participated, and the classes are now enhanced by the on-site presence of the Laboratory of Venetian Cooking, which researches and develops ancient recipes of the Veneto.

Hotel Cipriani is home to the Casanova Wellness Centre, whose collection of treatment areas includes a Couple Massage cabin and a fitness center with a steam bath and sauna. In addition, a spacious heated swimming pool (the only one of its kind in Venice), red clay tennis court and docking facilities give the property a resort atmosphere. But despite being handcrafted for leisure, the hotel is also well-equipped for business, with meeting and event spaces throughout the grounds, including garden areas and a pair of historic granary buildings.

In these ways, the hotel is prepared to meet the needs of 21st-century travelers. Yet it does so without sacrificing the qualities that made it great from the start. Under the gracious direction of Maurizio Saccani, the Hotel Cipriani is a place where old-fashioned rules of etiquette reign. Whether you're here (along with the 1,500 boats that gather in the lagoon) to watch the midnight fireworks of the annual Redentore Feast or simply to retreat from the pressures of daily life, you'll find yourself embraced by traditions that are sure to remain strong for centuries to come.

Hotel Cipriani
Giudecca 10
30133 Venice Italy
39 041 520 7744

Going to Venice? Check our 72-Hour Trip
Also visit our Guide to Italy and Top 10 Hotels in Italy
Need some pampering? Check out the Top Spas in Italy

(Updated: 03/20/13 KNF)

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