A Passage to Venice
In La Serenissima, luxury is as much a mindset as canals are a way of life. A visit to Venice can look like anything from a Bellini at Harry’s Bar, an afternoon at François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi or a ride up Venice’s main thoroughfare – the Grand Canal – in a wood-decked, leather-seated Riva classic speedboat. Shopping is an art form, where to stay an existential question of the highest order. But among the many luxury hotels dotting Venice’s scenic byways, only one remains independently owned to this day and can lay claim to the cultural viability to which the city aspires.
After three generations and counting, BAUERs hospitality brand has expanded to include four hotels: Bauer L’Hotel, Il Palazzo, Palladio and Villa F, all five-star establishments with the exception of Il Palazzo, which boasts a five-star superior rating. Each is unique in both character and service, and is custom-designed to offer a personal experience that meets rigorous standards of excellence.
We arrive at Il Palazzo – the 18th century boutique establishment – through a private entrance. Labeled Luxury by Francesca Bortolotto Possati – CEO since 1997 when she decided to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, Arnaldo Bennati, a shipping tycoon from Liguria who purchased the property in 1930 – Il Palazzo is a living museum.
Rubelli and Bevilacqua silk fabrics cover walls and adorn windows, and copious amounts of light pour onto marble floors and tastefully-appointed bathrooms. Murano glass sconces and chandeliers line hallways, evidence of Bortolotto Possati’s commitment to an indigenous identity and a passion for the art of Old World Venice. An Asian influence also remains evident in Il Palazzo through the vases and silks that speak to the city’s Marco Polian past.
Il Palazzo was fully renovated after Bortolotto Possati returned from an eleven-year stay in the United States, where she earned a degree in English literature and was an interior design consultant in New York City. Armed with a remarkable sense of style, she took control of the BAUERs with an entrepreneurial zeal, investing in the ballpark of €100 million in renovations and adding two hotels on Giudecca Island to the existing properties on Venice proper.
“The BAUERs are a passport to life,” she asserts. We’re not arguing.
Our room on the fifth floor boasts a wrap-around balcony overlooking the mouth of the Grand Canal, with a direct view of Santa Maria della Salute and the Punta della Dogana. If you’re looking for location, this is clearly the place to be.
Among exclusivities such as the Grand Canal Suite, where Miuccia Prada has stayed in the past, Il Palazzo’s Royal Suite is the best kept secret on the island. The sage green and dusty rose, slate blue and soft yellow private palace is divided into two apartments, adorned with original marmorino stucco-work and mosaic terrazzo floors, high ceilings and opulent baths. It is ideal for private gatherings in the heart of Venice, a special occasion or simply an elegant weekend away from home. Floor to ceiling windows look out over the Grand Canal, and because of its artistic and historical value, the suite is offered to a selected clientele only at €15,000 a night. We cross over into the Bauer Hotel – coined Urban – and down a 1940s Art Deco staircase to the main lobby. A speedboat takes us the short ride over to Guidecca and a historic palace designed in the Renaissance by Andrea Palladio, which Bortolotto Possati restored in 2006.
With a unique vision for Venetian sustainability, she decided to open the Bauer Palladio Hotel & Spa that would cater to guests looking to stay and discover the city while enjoying an all-natural organic spa with holistic treatments and rituals. Coined Resort, it sets the stage for a chance to Live as a Venetian. Three lavishly appointed meeting and banquet rooms accommodate up to 160 guests. And out back, three acres of edenic, Renaissance-styled gardens join the resort to the exclusive Villa F, the BAUERs’ newest and most Exclusive creation yet. Having lost their previous splendor and the manicured vegetation that grows so abundantly in the Giudecca microclimate, Bortolotto Possati has masterminded the authentic reclaiming of their original design so that the gardens now bear their 18th century appearance, with the addition of an outdoor pool.
“Staying on the Giudecca provides a different perspective on Venice,” she explains, “one feels something very spiritual while staying in this beautiful Palladian Villa.”
Here is where her extraordinary flair for design really kicks in. The villa is a 16th century residence for Venetian nobility that in the early 1900s was used as an upscale auberge called Casa Frollo where painters, writers and intellectuals would come for inspiration. After an extensive overhaul, the property – remaining true to its heritage – now caters to cultured travellers seeking a Venetian experience with a local feel.
Il Palazzo’s Resident Manager, Pietro Rusconi, ushers us through rooms that speak to an eclectic modern design. The lower floors are elegant and understated, while the upper loft-type apartments speak to a more bucolic sense of comfort that blends the agrarian with cosmopolitan sophistication. Every apartment is a unique world of its own. He explains that Villa F is where intimacy meets practicality; that with eleven independent suites, it is the only residential complex of its kind with hotel service in Venice.
We enter Residenza F and stop to admire seemingly ancient frescos along the walls of a pillared hallway. Great windows frame St Mark’s square in an elongated room that in 2010 served as the backdrop for the culminating scene in the Hollywood blockbuster film ‘The Tourist’, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. While extensive footage was shot at the Danieli, movie director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck opted for Villa F for the climax.
Later in the day, Bortolotto Possati joins us in the Bar Lounge for a Spritz between meetings. With the slightest Venetian lilt, this entrepreneur is multi-lingual and dresses to impress. She serves on the board of Save Venice, a non-profit restoration organization, and the Bauer hosts monthly lectures on Venetian history. Cultural sustainability, authenticity, unparalleled luxury and the restoring of Venice to its former opulence: this is a life choice.
This is BAUERs.
Il Palazzo *****S Luxury
Bauer Hotel ***** Urban
Palladio Hotel & Spa ***** Resort
Villa F ***** Exclusive
Article by Allison Zurfluh