A modern take on Venice through the eyes of a Turinese and a French man
Palazzina Grassi, a masterpiece renovation of a 16th-century building overlooking the Canal Grande in Venice, orchestrated by the one and only Philippe Starck and Turinese businessman Emanuele Garosci.
Since its opening in November 2009, there has been abundant praise of how Starck’s magical mix of eclectic interiors, over a rich canvas of Venetian tradition and heritage, has made Palazzina G, in my opinion, the only luxury boutique hotel in Venice to achieve this artistic combination with undisputed success. On first impressions, one would say that the hotel is solely design-led, but after visiting the hotel, I realised that there were other things equally interesting to talk about other than its design.
The part of town where Venetians live
Maybe the first point that needs to be discussed is its location. Art lovers would be keen to know that, other than its prestigious presence on the Canal Grande, it is also right next door to the Palazzo Grassi – Venice’s modern art museum. The palazzo was initially built in the late 18th century by the Grassi family, wealthy newcomers from Bologna, who naturally had the desire to cement their position in high Venetian society. Today it is owned by François Pinault, the self-made French tycoon who owns, amongst other things, the Gucci Group.
The second point is its surrounding area. Although only 5 minutes away from San Marco – in my own words, the continuous circus of mayhem – it’s a residential area where Venetians live in blissful peace. Your average tourist hotel would have evident and brash signage demonstrating its existence; but not Pallazina Grassi. You wouldn’t know it was a hotel if you walked past it. It just merely blends in as another historical palazzo in Venice – understated and private from the outside – with only a stylised, yet discreet bull’s head above the entrance doors, designed by Algerian-French artist Aristide Najean.
The intrigue continues when you enter through the doors. No evidence of a reception. This is where Garosci’s ’disruptive’ thinking starts coming into play. For Garosci, his hotel is like his ‘home’ on the lagoon. So why have an intrusive ugly reception desk that instinctively creates a formal, unrelaxed atmosphere? Garosci has a point here. Not having a reception also creates curiosity and intrigue amongst first-time guests, and forms part of the hotel’s eclectic DNA.
The “typical” Venetian experience
So let me enlighten you with some more of the hotel’s other guest experiences because that’s what true hospitality is all about, isn’t it? – Authentic experiences and discovery. Breakfast is served at any time of the day, anywhere in the hotel. If you fancy eggs and bacon or caviar and salmon, the chef is ready to prepare what you desire. For dinner, it gets more interesting, with dishes designed on the personality traits of the guest, while one watches from the counter in the show kitchen. So if for example the chef prepared for me a dish of pasta with tomatoes peppers and capers, would it mean that I’m a profoundly passionate hot-headed signorina with a tendency to be sharp and bitter at times? A hint of sarcasm there perhaps, but Veneto born Paolo Businaro – the mastermind in the kitchen – has a degree in psychology as well as culinary expertise. Nevertheless, the idea is fun and captivating.
Dining with the Venetian nobility
Cooking and eating with a Venetian Countess is also somewhat different. Enrica Rocca, Countess of a noble Venetian family, can treat hotel guests to a real culinary experience, where cooking is all about fun and pleasure. The journey starts in Rialto market where you can buy fish only found in the lagoons of Venice. The tour continues to her 19th-century family residence where all the food preparation and cooking is carried out, ending with a delicious dinner around the kitchen table with insight into Enrica’s family history and stories of Venice that you would never find in the Lonely Planet Guide.
Rain, shine, snow or fog, Palazzina Grassi can make to you feel ‘temporarily Venetian’. It can take you away from all that predictable tourism, and instead lead you through a discovery of private dwellings and unique dining experiences. Only then can you say that you’ve visited the real Venice.
Hotel Palazzina Grassi – Tel. +39 041 5284644. 26 rooms including five suites. Rooms cost from €350-€4,000 depending on seasonality. www.palazzinag.com
Palazzo Grassi – François Pinault Foundation – Campo San Samuele, Tel. +39 041 5231680, www.palazzograssi.it
Enrica Rocca Cooking School – www.enricarocca.it
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, Palazzina Grassi, Venice