The click clacking of heels on the cobbled streets tingles your senses. The background rumble of water taxis sets the stage for your Venetian experience, a melange of excitement and and a whirl of confusion – it’s almost impolite not to get lost in Venice.
To the naked eye, Venice is Italian. The Venetians speak Italian, eat pasta and dress impeccably, however they decided to part ways with mainland Italy in the 5th and 6th centuries, notably to avoid pillage by the Goths, Huns and Lombards. This island city, although there are more than 100 islands in its 212 square mile ecosystem, is influenced by its bygone trading partners; a delightful fusion of Byzantine and Islamic architecture. Everything built on the watery foundation of madness and genius.
And it looks easy. The Venetians having built a haven to protect from invasion, have inadvertently questioned the sanity of every visitor since. Perhaps that was the point, although it hasn’t deterred millions of tourists from flocking to its Grand Canal every year. According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. So, don’t have a schedule or a plan. Maps are not much use and you would be hard pushed to identify a local in high season. Therein lies its beauty. Gaze into the distance, pick a land mark, walk towards it. Invariably you won’t reach it on your first attempt, but the diversions along the way are well worth the frustration.
The focal point is the Grand Canal. Pulsating with gondolas and the uber fashionable wooden water taxis. The gondoliers are ant-like in their determination to reach their destination in the most efficient manner possible. I don’t blame them, the fare costs as much as a week’s wages for the humble gelato vendor. A Venetian gondolier can expect to earn around $150,000 a year. Perhaps a career change is in order if that’s possible.
They are the fashionistas of the canal. Proud and instantly recognisable in their straw boater, red ribbon delicately poised to attract attention. For those less water confident, there is no need for alarm. The gondolier is one of the oldest professions in the world, they must undertake four hundred hours of instruction, pass a rigorous exam which tests not only physical endurance but navigational skills, knowledge of other languages and, most importantly, knowledge of Venice’s culture and sights. By the way, equality is not this profession’s strong point, until August 2010, there had never been a woman gondolier. The licence had always been passed down male family members and the physical strength needed was thought to be too much for any woman.
I’m happy to report that Giorgia Boscolo changed all that. She is the only woman ever to have completed the training and was given her licence despite reservations from her father who commented that he was not sure whether it was a “suitable profession”. Still, she is only allowed to drive gondolas as a stand-in for a fellow male gondolier. I guess chauvinism is still alive and well.
At the heart of the Grand Canal is Aman Venice. The pinnacle of virtuosity and decadence. It stands out, other buildings lack its sparkle, it’s the matriarch of the Canal. The only appropriate arrival method worthy of its grandeur is the Aman water taxi. Water taxi is somewhat of an insult, the walnut and chrome interieur wouldn’t go amiss in a Bond movie. It was made famous by paparazzi shots of George Clooney and his wife-to-be, Amal Alamuddin – who, incidentally, stayed here along with their raft of Hollywood ‘A’ listers for their wedding. A league of gentleman.
Once disembarked you step into another world, away from the bustle of the river and into an opulence only served justice by the baroque era. Chequered marble floors, ornate lanterns, frescos and statues of the great and good remind you of the company you now keep. The Palazzo Papadopoli, where the Aman is now housed, was built in the 16th century. The Papadopoli brothers bought the property in the 19th century including two adjacent buildings to renovate into gardens. Unheard of in Venice. The gardens are a key feature of the hotel, relax and enjoy a glass of prosecco here, watching the gondoliers make their fortune.
Through heavy trellis doors appears a staircase that leads to the dining room. It is situated on the piano nobile, the grandest floor of the palazzo. The main dining area is in the ballroom, framed with mirrors and original chandeliers.
Just to spoil you for choice there are also the Yellow and Red Dining Rooms, the ceilings are painted by the 18th century artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Wind your way to the Salon on level four, a lofty ceilinged relaxation area with a piano. The library is adjacent to the Salon, you can partake in board games and puzzles over a cappuccino, resting your weary trodden feet. Thankfully an elevator takes the strain to the roof terrace. Visit in the early morning for the magnificent sunrise and if you are lucky, a view of the Alps.
Almost all the suites have views over the Grand Canal. Most suites have combined living areas and bedrooms. The layout is clean and modern, offering rainbow showers, docking station and a writing desk. You’ll find an accessories Pandora’s box, with everything you need, should you have forgotten anything in your haste to get here, including a rose on the bed for the gentlemen that forgot its lover’s paradise. Quite aptly, there is a copy of Davide Oldani’s book, Pop Food, on the writing desk.
Davide is Aman Venice’s Michelin star creative consultant, he conjures up signature dishes using fresh ingredients from the islands, soft shell crabs and razor clams directly from the lagoon.
Bread, pasta and gelato are all made fresh every day in the kitchen. The cutlery is embossed with Davide’s initials, delicately reminding you to savour every morsel. It defies logic not to, the explosion of taste buds when devouring the pan-fried pigeon with spicy apple is hard to resist. The twist on the traditional Italian tiramisu – white tiramisu is a must. Remaining on a culinary note, the breakfast menu is interspersed with Thai dishes the Kai Jeaw, an open Thai omelette with crab meat chilli and fresh coriander will set you up for the day.
There is a small gym, if you feel the need to increase your aerobic activity, not necessary given the mileage you’ll complete trying to get from A to B.
Truman Capote once said that Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go. I concur. You feel slightly intoxicated by its beauty, mildly nauseous by its canals and completely addicted to Aman.
Prices at Aman Venice start from 1,054 Euro (approx. £915) per night including all taxes, based on two sharing a Palazzo Bedroom with breakfast. To book visit amanvenice.com.