Soaking in a Venetian hotel

Richard Turen

It was not the first time I had checked into a hotel in Venice. This was, however, my first experience checking into a Venetian property while soaking wet from head to toe. It was a tad embarrassing, so — determined to make a make a professional entrance — I told the person at the front desk I was a writer for Reader’s Digest. 

I wasn’t soaked because it was raining. The sun shone brightly over the lagoon as we arrived at the Venice airport, walking out the back door to a “taxi stand” where a boat had been arranged for our family, a rather intimate boat the size of a Starbucks grande caffe latte with a canopy.

I grabbed a position on some pilings just behind our captain and held on for dear life as we headed out to a private island between the Lido and Giudecca. From my vantage point, I was able to see what a Venetian Lagoon traffic jam looks like from the water. It seemed like it was going to be a fun ride until our captain sped up and started following the wake of other boats, all of them larger than ours. The first waves hit me about five minutes in as we sped along, often hugging buildings and ancient walkways I yearned to explore because far out from central Venice there are few hotels or tourists.

At one point I yelled to the captain to please slow down. He replied with a growl that he was working and that he has a schedule and he wasn’t going to miss a ride assignment because some American insisted on sitting behind him. He wasn’t aware that I spoke Italian and could understand him. 

As my wife and daughter reconciled to the fact that I might be swept overboard, I started thinking about how I might make that professional entrance I hoped to make at the luxury property we were bound for, Kempinski’s San Clemente Palace.

After zigging and zagging for about 20 minutes, we finally slowed as we ever so gracefully pulled up to the private dock where two blue-suited valet team members awaited our arrival. 

I had wanted to stay at this property for some time, and I was not on a comp of any kind. If I hated it, I would let you know. But truth be told, I loved it.

My Venetian property love affair began even before I reached check-in as we passed some guests having lunch next to the water with the 12th-century San Clemente Church framing one side of the dining area.

The staff is extremely well trained, and some of them live in the former monk’s quarters, buildings dating to the time this island was a monastery. Virtually every staff encounter was memorably friendly and warm. And the bartenders knew the history of every cocktail they poured.

I started walking the long hallways with acres of marble, more red velvet than Elvis could ever imagine and gold brocade and historical fixtures everywhere. And as I did, I realized what great hoteliers can do to create a masterpiece. You see, the halls I was walking once housed the Venetian mental hospital for women. 

Mussolini committed his first wife to the island until her death.

Now I can wander the grounds of a private “museum” with a beautifully located swimming pool and a sleek wooden boat that transports guests to St. Mark’s Square. 

I had found my new home in Venice. But it comes with a history. 

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