Hey, George Clooney: I’ll bet I had just as much fun during my stay at Venice’s Aman Canal Grande hotel as you did on your honeymoon.
Before boarding a Holland America cruise out of Venice this summer, my wife and I got to enjoy the opulent new ultra-luxury hotel created from a sumptuous 16th century palazzo near the Rialto Bridge. We enjoyed a contemporary suite – one of only 24 rooms – that may have been slightly less traditional but no less magical than the historic one you and your lovely bride Amal Alamuddin undoubtedly experienced
But we didn’t have to put up with all the paparazzi, family members and the pack of pesky partiers including Matt Damon, Cindy Crawford, Bono and Bill Murray on your weekend. And we were treated like famous celebrities anyway.
I’ll bet you agree with us that the stay at the Aman palace was one of the most magical nights you and Amal could ever imagine.
We arrived — just as you did — in a superbly lacquered wood-trimmed speedboat whose driver gave us an insider’s tour of side canals before turning into the Grand Canal for the ride under the Rialto Bridge. Making our way through flocks of gondolas we arrived at the hotel’s porta del aqua – the waterfront entrance – where a porter offered us moistened towels to refresh ourselves and the manager was waiting to show us to our suite with a billion-dollar view of the Grand Canal.
The folks who decorated this palazzo were into showmanship long before there was a place called Hollywood. The ultra-wealthy Papadopoli family bought the palace that was originally built in the sixteenth century a couple hundred years ago and decided the place needed a redo and perhaps a little greenery.
They started by buying two villas next door and tearing them down in order to create private gardens–a luxury in Venice.
Then they called in the painters and plasterers. The ceilings already included frescoes by the acknowledged master of the time, Giovani Battista Tiepolo. They added a ton of 24K gilding and more beyond. The baroque walls are now inhabited by squadrons of putti cherubs and angels, and the stairways studded with magnificent trompe l’oeil.
The interiors of the palace, recently meticulously restored by Aman Resorts, are so compelling that, much as we wanted to go out and visit other beauties of Venice, we spent the entire two days of our stay inside the Aman luxuriating in its interior opulence.
The piece de resistance of the original palazzo suites must surely be the romantic Alcova Tiepolo suite, undoubtedly the one selected by the Clooneys for their first night as a married couple. You’re a lucky man, George.
How many bedrooms–even in Italy–have a ceiling fresco by Tiepolo and a bed surrounded by a waterfall of decorative stucco and gilded eagles in flight? The Alcova Tiepolo Suite also features a separate chinoiserie-themed sitting room and a bathroom whose painted door is curved to match the elaborate wall trim, all at a room rate of about $4,600 a night. Made me wonder, though: might all the dazzle in the décor be distracting at a time when your full attention should really be on each other?
My preference was actually the Sansovino suite, a historic sixteenth century room that features tall frescoed ceilings, the original silk wall coverings and a Murano chandelier in the bathroom. The suite, designed by famed sixteenth century architect Jacopo d’Antonia Sansovino, is panelled in wood with a carved ceiling with painted frieze work and the most historic fireplace in the palace. The tall windows offer spectacular views over the Garden Terrace and the Grand Canal.
Or there’s the Papadopoli suite with frescoes in both the bedroom and bathroom. The high ceilings of this stanza are frescoed in both the bedroom and the bathroom and views of the terrace and the Grand Canal.
The suites are grand enough to make you consider calling room service and not coming down dinner. But a meal in the grand salons of the piano nobile is an unforgettable experience.
Unlike the Clooney wedding, I was left to imagine the kind of parties I could have been thrown in such a lavish space. I couldn’t resist taking a selfie by the window overlooking the Grand Canal as the staff brought superb drinks and beautiful plates of appetizers with the vast gilded room behind me as a cellist in an adjoining room discreetly played Vivaldi. You can feel like you have the palazzo all to yourself, unless you run into a fellow wandering and dazzled guest, perhaps a movie star or top athlete, with whom you will exchange shy greetings. We will name no names. But this is the place you want to be, if you want to be anywhere in Venice.
We were offered dinner served in our choice of beautiful settings: in the grand salon, in one of the two adjoining reception rooms, or the library that’s filled with a remarkable collection of art books that spans three centuries.
We chose a corner in the silk-upholstered yellow salon with views of the garden and the Grand Canal and enjoyed a four-course meal served on china embellished with the crest of the Papadopoli family and Murano glassware custom blown for the palace.
The menu was remarkably diverse, featuring specialties done with the local catches and vegetables in season prepared by the palace’s kitchen staff of 20. I started with a soup of fish from the Rialto market and followed up with a filetto de rombo (fresh caught turbot) served with ultra-fresh local vegetables. As with everything in the hotel, the service is incredibly personal without hovering. When you’re ready to order someone suddenly appears as though by magic to take your order.
Oh yeah, life is good in the palace. It’s a great way to be inspired to do more great things for the rest of a long and happy life. George, I wish you and your new bride all the best.