It’s been a decade since the Aman hotel group opened its first Italian property in a jewellery box of a palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal. In a stroke of genius, the Aman Venice would go on to host George and Amal Clooney’s wedding the following September and then every A-lister wanted to stay there – or at the Cipriani, another Clooney favourite and his home in the run-up to the wedding, depending on which one’s top suite was free.
People commented on how public many aspects of the Clooney wedding were – they were seen out and about on multiple occasions over the weekend. While this may say something about the relaxed, friendly nature of the couple, it also says something about the nature of Venice, which can prove quite the leveller.
While the world’s wealthiest one per cent tend to like keeping hidden away, skulking from blacked-out vehicle to hotel to restaurant, you can’t really do that in Venice, where cars are banned from its historic centre.
“That’s one of the things I love about it,” says Emily FitzRoy, founder of luxury Italy specialist, Bellini Travel. “We all at some point have to walk the streets and do what everyone else does, so I’ve bumped into some exceptionally famous people in the past, trying to find the door of some hidden palazzo.
One Biennale I think I bumped into Jeff Koons five times before we finally reunited on the roof terrace at that week’s most exclusive party. He could not have been more charming and friendly.”
So how do the rich and famous avoid the crowds and where do they head? It’s all about tapping into local knowledge and finding those under-the-radar places. There’s a real appetite for seeing artists and artisans at work as many wealthy people will have beautiful things in their homes that were made in Italy but never seen the process, which is often rather extraordinary. Venice is famous for its glassblowing, for instance, something not lost on the creators of luxury holidays.
“Nason Moretti is one of the last few glass factories still in private hands and closed to the public,” says FitzRoy. “The owner Piero Nason is a friend and allows us to bring our clients, his family have had roots in Murano since the 15th century. His wife Giovanna also runs my favourite restaurant on Murano, Acqua Stanca – she used to run Harry’s Bar, then set up Acqua Stanca with her sister in the old bakery on the island.”
“We do a lovely trip to Murano,” says Jules Maury of Scott Dunn Private. “We recently arranged a private buyout of a glass blower’s studio for a couple celebrating an anniversary, so they had the whole place to themselves. After watching the glassblowers in action, they got to blow their own champagne glasses to take home.”
Luxury tour operator Untold Stories says many of its clients choose Venice as the final port of call on a superyacht charter along the Adriatic Coast, spending three nights moored up there and popping ashore – for an after-hours private tour of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, for example – before returning to their yachts for private firework displays over the water.
It’s hard not to feel the pull of the lagoon. For those staying at Aman, its 1930s Art Deco-style launch is another great way to see the city. Designed especially for the hotel, it was inspired by an old photograph found in the apartment of the Count and Countess Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga, the owners of the palazzo.
But to really get the measure of the city, you can’t beat being hanging out with a local.
“We know a contessa who will personally welcome our clients into her amazing 16th-century palazzo, take them on a tour of it and then join them for cocktails or dinner, which she has personally curated, often in her beautiful garden,” says Jules Maury. “One client asked to do that and then to be whisked from there to the Dolomites by helicopter, for a couple of days of skiing.”
With so much on offer, it’s hardly surprising that many of the richest visitors to Venice are convinced anything is possible, whether it’s Knightsbridge Circle organising a romantic dinner aboard a glass-bottomed boat floating on a remote part of the lagoon, A&K arranging an after-hours tour of the Doge’s Palace or Scott Dunn Private taking guests to their own secret soiree on a rooftop offering some of the best views of Venice, reached by an ancient stone spiral staircase hidden down an unassuming alley, La Scala Contarini del Bovolo.
“Venice is such a unique and particular city that we receive crazy requests almost daily,” says the Cipriani’s head concierge, Sebastiano Scomparin. “But even if the request seems impossible, there is always a way. I’ll never forget a Brazilian couple, who were very much in love.
The husband came down to the desk and asked me where there was a Bocelli concert. He was convinced that the ‘maestro’ would be playing somewhere nearby. The closest we could find was at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona two days later so we organised the best seats for the concert and a private plane to take them there and back.”
Those seeking exclusive-use accommodation with hotel benefits should consider the exquisite, 15th-century Palazzo Garzoni, which sits in a quiet little spot between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, on the Grand Canal. Previously owned by the Garzoni family of Bologna and more recently a language school, it now has four beautifully furnished private residences swathed in Venetian textiles by Rubelli and Fortuny, with two-to-five bedrooms in each, which can be rented as individual apartments or you can take the whole thing.
The palazzo also has its own private pontoon and a resident concierge on hand to book tickets and restaurant tables and to arrange parties.
There has never been so many luxury accommodation options to choose from in Venice and with Four Seasons taking over and currently restoring the historic Hotel Danieli and Rosewood doing the same to the equally prestigious Bauer Palazzo, the scene is buzzing.
“Interestingly, a lot of really wealthy people coming to Venice actually want to stay in a hotel,” muses Maury, “whether it’s the Aman, the Cipriani, the Gritti Palace or one of the others, because they want the buzz of that bar scene when it’s time for an aperitivo. Because what’s more Venetian than that?”