On a warm summer evening, the sun was setting, casting a golden glow all over the Floating City. The hordes of tourists had all left and romance was in the air as my water taxi gently bobbed up and down along the meandering Grand Canal, when suddenly the two roof top obelisks of the Palazzo Papadopoli, the home of the new Amanresort in Venice, appeared on my right. From afar, it appeared grand, imposing and gleaming – after all it is one the eight palazzo monumentali left in Venice; but as soon as I stepped onto the landing deck and was then guided into the Palazzo’s reception hall, I felt like entering a private house which simply exuded the elegance of a bygone era.
In classic Aman style, no reception or concierge desk was to be seen: Instead, Olivia Richli, the legendary Aman GM I first met at Amangalla in Sri Lanka, waited to great and escort me on a brief tour of the property. Gian Giacomo de Grigi, she explains, was commissioned in the 16th century to build the Palazzo for the prominent Coccina family of Bergamao, who later sold it on to the wealthy Venetian merchants, the Papadopoli family.
Soaring ceilings, well preserved historic frescoes and reliefs take center stage and I can’t help but admire the craftsmanship and attention to detail. I feel like I have stepped back in time as I enter the Palazzo’s ballroom, all gilded in mirrors, more frescoes and shiny chandeliers – I close my eyes and try to imagine the grand occasions, intrigues and games that must have unravelled on many a night in here centuries ago.
Right next to it the two dining rooms with sweeping views over the Canal feature stunning Tiepolo painted ceilings. The brothers’ impeccable taste is evident, they also very much knew what they wanted: along with the Palazzo they also bought two adjacent buildings which they demolished in order to build a garden, a lush oasis of green ideal for relaxation – very unusual in Venice.
Today, some of the 24 rooms look over those very gardens – as does the Spa – but most of them (another unusual feature) look over the actual Grand Canal. Comfortable and spacious, each room is different with its own distinctive features: high ceilings, frescoes, wood panelling and fireplaces; all add that special touch that makes you think that this could actually be a home and not a hotel.
An integral part though of why this exclusive hotel feels like a home, is that its owners, Gilberto and Bianca Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga still live here along with their children on the top floor. Their personal belongings adorn the rooms and corridors, including books and artwork, a grand piano and the original Murano chandeliers commissioned by the Papadopoli brothers back in the early 19th century. Very often they take guests around on tours or invite them for a coffee in their private quarters.
Interestingly, from the moment Gilberto and Bianca met through a common friend with Adrian Zecha of Amanresorts, it took a mere nine years to turn a classical Venetian palazzo into a functional 21st century luxury hotel. This was no easy transformation: Amanresorts are known for resort rather than city hotels. They are also known for their minimal aesthetics – a far cry from the splendor and ornate character of Venetian architecture.
So Jean Michel Gathy of Denniston Architects, a veteran Aman collaborator, was called in to lead the restoration effort and turn this perfect example of Neo-Renaissance and Rococo into a contemporary haven which however, pays due homage to its ‘heavy’ heritage. Gathy has combined silk wall coverings and painted friezes with stark white walls, grey upholstery, B&B furniture and silk curtains which blend in beautifully with the fresco embellished walls and ceilings, and the large windows with their sweeping vistas over the Canal’s historic buildings.
During my few days there I couldn’t help but sit for hours looking out at the ever moving water, the passing gondolas and the surrounding buildings changing colors – all while enjoying the impeccable Aman hospitality. I walked around and did the classic rounds of the Rialto Bridge, the Piazza San Marco and the tiny alleys filled with stylish shops. I couldn’t resist an excursion organized by the Aman which took me to the Doge’s Palace after hours and to an off the beaten track ‘water’ tour of the City.
Even though there’s always something new to discover here in Venice, regardless of how many times you have visited before, for the first time, I didn’t want to discover anything new. I was happy to gaze out at the city from sumptuous suite and enjoy my own private Tiepolo painted ceiling and simply feel what life must have been like in the 16th century. Stupendous yet cozy, imposing yet inviting, the Aman Canale Grande is Venice, in style, at its very best.
Text by Katerina Katopis