Words Darren Styles
It’s the strangest thing. I’ve long known of Belmond’s Hotel Cipriani, to the extent that I all but believed I’d stayed there. I hadn’t.
Familiarity came, I think, because it starred alongside many 'historic' dining exploits in the late Michael Winner’s restaurant review columns in The Sunday Times for years.
As the oft-pompous film director would remind us all, he spent his own money so could stay where he wanted and say what he wanted – and, in the main, he stayed at the Cipriani and its ilk and revelled in the fabulousness of it all.
Well, you would if you could. And until this summer past I absolutely couldn’t. But then came my opportunity and, timed to perfection, I stepped from a teak motor launch on to the steps of Venice’s most spectacular hotel just as the Cipriani marked its 60th anniversary.
Slow and steady wins the race and all that.
I wasn’t disappointed. Set on the island of Giudecca, just across the water from the famed St Mark’s Square, this pink-painted edifice comes right to the water’s edge where jetty and grand entrance meet.
From there, it’s all flower gardens, serenity and the cool of marble, an intoxicating blend of luxury of the moment and the glamour only the patina of a golden age can bestow.
My room looked across the city’s only Olympic-sized swimming pool (an error based around confusing metric and imperial measurements in build, apparently, rather than any sporting pretensions) to the lagoon and waterways beyond, a living view bettered only by bar and restaurant terraces that offered vistas that changed with the light, and the passage of people to watch.
The famed Gabbiano Bar couldn’t deliver me the original bellini — white peaches from the gardens were a necessary magic ingredient but not in season – so instead a martini with just a touch of herbaceous vermouth and the fattest of olives, and all was right with the world.
Alas no Dean Martin to croon along with the piano player, but George Clooney stops by when in town, so Hollywood glamour then and now leaves a calling card.
A choice of restaurants runs from the decadent Michelin-starred Oro to lighter poolside dining at Porticciolo, but we hung out at the casual Cip’s Club, view of St Mark’s and all. Simple Italian cooking done very well: buffalo mozzarella with red chicory from Treviso, sea bass fresh from Rialto market, prepared with lemon and fennel, a gratinated tagliolini with cooked ham – just roll me from here to the biggest of beds with the softest of pillows.
I am generally the most active of travellers, and want to be up and about and exploring the locale, as you might here with Italy’s most extraordinary city on the doorstep — there’s nothing else on Earth quite like the ancient city on the water.
But the Cipriani defies that, it’s soporific with an air of calm that – amid flotillas of passing vessels – has a better idea. Just sit awhile, and take some time out. So I did and, I promise, one day, will again.
Was I sad to leave? Yes, and no. Yes, as it’s a little bit of paradise found. No, because the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express was waiting.
But that’s another story…