50 Shades of Venice
It has been said that Venice is the place we have all been to, even if only in our imaginations. Its lapping canals and leaning palazzos are magical in any season, its flagstoned piazzas and stepped footbridges an invitation to wander mindlessly and inevitably get lost as if in a dream. Venice has another historical name – La Serenissima, or the Serene Republic, which refers to an unbroken 1,100-year span of independence. In the 9th century, while many European cities were hidden behind defensive walls, Venice was open to the world, protected only by its lagoon. A mesmerising blend of East and West, La Serenissima was neither wholly European nor completely Italian.
Despite the onslaught of modernity, Venice’s resolutely historic façades make it still possible to feel like a character in a Henry James novel, and to wander wideeyed at the artistic treasures accumulated over 1,000 years of mercantile dominance. All said, it’s thus appropriate that I went to Venice with “the heiress”.
I call my friend “the heiress” because she reminds me of Olivia de Havilland in her second Oscar-winning turn in the film of that name. She has Olivia’s calm elegance that comes from moneyed breeding, as well as the poise of having studied art in Paris and having travelled the world as a homeware buyer for over a decade sourcing desirable décor items of refinement and polish. In Venice, while attending the Biennale, we were staying at the “world’s most inspired design hotel, according to the Boutique Hotels Awards 2017, and I was mindful of having the benefit of a professional’s eye.
Ca Maria Adele is a 12-roomed minipalazzo – or palazzetto – on a side canal off the Grand Canal. The hotel is located in the art-loving Dorsoduro district, directly opposite the Salute Church (or to give it its full name the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute). That’s the great, gleaming, egg-white dome that presides over the entrance to the Grand Canal and that you immediately recognise from all the postcard views of La Serenissima. The Salute is a useful landmark because the Ca Maria Adele is so discreet, so lower-case in its exterior presentation that you could walk past it unknowingly. We happened upon it because we went inside to ask for directions before being warmly informed that we’d reached our destination!
As restrained as its exterior may be, so exuberant are its interiors. Not in a neon palette way, for the Ca Maria Adele is way too sophisticated for cheap colour tricks, but for the intensity, the warmth, the layering and the richness of its rooms.
We stayed in the Room of the Moors which, like all the rooms, comes with its own storyboard concept (cues: sapphire blue, iris) and mood board (voluptuous surrender). Two blackamoor statues grace the interior, which is fabric-covered from floor to ceiling in gold and azure thread count. The plush opulence and intricate Byzantine detailing reminded me of the city’s long trading history with the Levant.
Other theatrical concept options include the Noir Room, the Oriental Room, and the Fireplace Room, not to mention the Mini Palace which, for those seeking absolute discretion, is couched some 50 metres away in a separate three-storey apartment. It has a lounge on the ground floor, bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, and a 10 m² terrace on the top floor with views of the Salute Basilica and Giudecca Island up to San Giorgio island.
The hotel is owned and managed by two brothers whose antecedents are one of the great glass-blowing dynasties of Murano. In fact, in the breakfast room there is an enormous blown-up 1950’s photo, from the family’s archives, of the world’s largest chandelier installed at a casino in Belgium. Standing before this light fixture are half a dozen swan-like society beauties in full satin splendour, all channelling socialite and style icon Marella Agnelli.
A good hotel becomes a great hotel depending on its breakfasts, and Ca Maria Adele does not fall at this morning-after hurdle. Over 70 products are available on the à la carte menu, with selections wheeled into the room by a maid in peach-coloured cap and apron with lace detailing.
Every morning, with the rain beating against the Moorish Room’s windows, I’d leave the heiress asleep and slip down to the breakfast room to start the day with a velvety caffè latte while looking out at the Salute. She’d be dreaming, I was living the dream.
For more information on Ca Maria Adele, email [email protected]mariaadele.it or visit www.camariaadele.it.