The owner of the building says that it may well be the most beautiful hotel in the world. It is situated in one of the loveliest cities on the planet. George Clooney chose it for his wedding. Put these three facts together and our expectations were high – but the Palazzo Papadopoli in its new incarnation as the Aman Canal Grande Hotel, Venice, did certainly live up to them.
Palazzo Papadopoli, built in 1550 is truly grand. In 1718 it was sold to the Tiepolo family who filled it with treasures and built up a great library as well as commissioning exquisite frescos and ceilings. In the nineteenth century it changed hands again, bought by the Papadopoli brothers from Corfu. One of the things they did was to buy the two adjacent properties and raze them to the ground in order to create the largest gardens on the Grand Canal. They also hired the architect Girolamo Levi to completely restore the building and he in turn employed Michelangelo Guggenheim ( nothing to do with much- married Peggy) to decorate the grandest floor of the palazzo, the piano nobile, which he did in the most sumptuous style.
At the end of the nineteenth century Vera Papadopoli Aldobranini married Count Gilbert Arrivabene bringing the palazzo with her as her dowry and it is Vera’s grandson Gilberto who now owns it. For many years however, the upkeep was devouring his family’s finances and he knew that ‘something had to happen.’ It did in the form of Adrian Zecha the creator of Aman Resorts. A huge restoration was undertaken and now Aman manages the 7 star luxury hotel while the family retains the freehold and lives on the top floor. In spite of the building’s enormous size there are only 24 guest suites ( which cost from €1,100- €3,200 per night) and this, together with the fact that there is no exterior signage denoting that it is a hotel and, in traditional Aman style, no reception desk, which reinforces the idea that you are entering a family home.
Guests are usually whisked by the complimentary service of a private water taxi from the airport directly to the hotel’s porta d’acqua on the Grand Canal. Once inside the reception hall they are welcomed with hand towels, a drink and a short exploration, all of which we appreciated. The first thing we noticed, however, was the sheer quality of the restoration for we had visited the palazzo in its earlier, less opulent days.
Now taking the grand staircase up two levels to the piano nobile, we were almost overwhelmed by the beauty of the rooms. The ballroom, bar and two dining rooms with walls covered with Rubelli silks contain the exquisite frescoes now impeccably restored, as are the magnificent Murano glass chandeliers. There can be no better place to watch the gondolas passing on the Grand Canal than from this room.
Another staircase leads up to the Salon, a quiet lounge with equally lovely views of the canal. Here a grand piano and comfortable sofas make for relaxation and enjoyment of the many opulent coffee table books and magazines on display. Next to this is a library containing the family’s valuable collection.
Of course we did not take all this in at once. We settled into our comfortable room on the ground floor and informed ourselves of all that was on offer. Amongst the top end suites is The Alcova at one time Gilberto’s mother’s bedroom with painted chinoiserie walls and a Tiepolo ceiling. There is a state of the art spa and of course the spacious gardens. The hotel has also put also together some innovative excursions in which guests are accompanied by local writers, garden experts and art historians, often to places not normally open to the public.
We however, were soon keen to make our own excursion to the Red Dining room for dinner by Ricccardo de Prà. It was Chef de Prà who prepared George Clooney’s wedding breakfast at the hotel in 2014 and whose restaurant in the Dolomites holds the oldest Michelin star in Italy. He turned out to be the jolliest and most charming of men and he came and discussed our requirements with us before presenting us with a delectable meal.
The next morning after having enjoyed breakfast at a sunny table in the Yellow Dining Room, we continued to explore this amazing building. Taking lifts and following twisty corridors, we made our way up to the new roof terrace known as The Altana to take in the panoramic views of the city.
Reflecting on the transformation, we felt that turning an ancient palazzo into a twenty-first century hotel must have involved certain compromises. In general the more modern furnishings are neutral in form and tone and wisely make no attempt to compete with lavish splendour of the original elements.
It is in fact probably the most thorough, meticulous and delicate restoration ever to have taken place in Venice and one which one truly feels privileged to have seen. Although the lovely old building may at first have been surprised to find itself being reinvented as a grand hotel now, with the future secure not only for generations of the Arrivabene family but also for the enjoyment of Aman guests, it must be satisfied that its beautiful rooms will once again be full of life and laughter.