Belmond Hotel Cipriani - Venice

by Phil Harrison February 08, 2016

Wise souls warn against returning to the scenes of former happiness. Present-day reality can never live up to the rosy memories of yesteryear – or so they say. Why spoil a perfect experience by attempting to re-live it?

We had stayed at Hotel Cipriani four years ago when touring Europe as a couple. We fell in love with Venice – and the Cipriani – and now we wanted to provide our two young children with a taste of the same experience. Could we avoid the curse of the second-time visit, and give our kids some memories they too would cherish?

Perhaps inevitably, the evocative history of the hotel would go over their young heads. Part of the Orient Express family of properties that were recently re-branded as Belmond, Hotel Cipriani first opened in 1958 when Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar and inventor of the legendary Bellini cocktail, decided to get into the accommodation business. Luckily, his eye for a good site was as good as his taste in cocktails. He secured a location on Giudecca Island at the heart of the tiny archipelago that makes up the city of Venice.

It’s still a breathtakingly beautiful spot. Space is certainly a rarity in Venice, but here you’ll experience a serene retreat-type feel, set amongst acres of exquisite gardens dotted with ducks and rabbits, as well as a very friendly turtle rescued from the lagoon, who followed my daughter into the lobby. 

Another first in Venice is the outdoor pool; massive by any standards let alone here, thanks to the builders misinterpreting the original plans. Instead of constructing it to a length of 32-feet, they built it to 32-metres.  

But while you enjoy the luxury of space, you aren’t cut off from the attractions of Venice. The hustle and bustle of the Grand Canal and St Mark’s Square is a mere five minutes away, via private luxury launch. It’s a complimentary service that ferries you in style at any time that you wish.

Keep your eyes discreetly peeled during your stay, as you never know whom you might run into. George Clooney has been a regular over the last 15 years and can often be found behind the bar mixing cocktails – you’ll find his signature cocktail on the menu. And of all the options around the world available to him and his wife to be, they chose Belmond Hotel Cipriani for their wedding day, booking almost the entire property.

Our family was booked into one of the hotel’s Exclusive Suites, and it’s fair to say that this is one of the most remarkable suites I have ever had the privilege to stay in. Like all the property’s suites, it is generously sized, with only one suite per floor. The décor is palace-like and includes a formal foyer the size of some Venice hotel rooms, leading into a huge lounge. The total effect is ornate and opulent but not crushingly so, with priceless antiques and original artworks to dazzle the eye. Fresh orchids and roses adorn the suite and Murano chandeliers hang from over-height ceilings, while polished parquet and Terrazzo floors are covered with richly detailed rugs and period furniture pieces. 

The luxury continues through to the separate master bedroom with its ensuite bathroom finished in beautiful Italian marble. Five full-length opening French windows with original shutters conceal another “wow” factor. Forget views out to the Venetian lagoon, this suite is actually on the lagoon. It feels as if you are on a boat – just step off the window ledge and you’ll be in the water. A romantic lagoon-side private courtyard with table and chairs completes the set-up, simply perfect with a drink in hand to watch the sunset or enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

A hotel founded by a famous bar owner would be odds-on to offer superb eating and drinking facilities. The flagship Oro restaurant is helmed by Executive Chef Davide Bisetto, who creates imaginative dishes inspired by Italian traditions. His skills have earned him two Michelin Stars in France, so there’s no doubting the culinary standards on display here. Oro’s setting lives up to its cuisine, with Murano glass chandeliers, a decadent gold ceiling and lagoon views providing the stage for a memorable dining experience. For less formal eating and drinking there’s Enoteca, which offers the ambience of a traditional Italian wine cellar. It’s the perfect setting to sample some top Italian wines paired with delicious snacks.

Breakfast was a particular highlight for our family. It’s served lagoon-side, al fresco style amongst lush gardens and blooming flowers. It’s a reminder that Belmond Hotel Cipriani has the priceless asset of a prime Venetian location, and knows how to make the most of it.

As with most luxury properties, there’s a spa on the grounds. Unlike most properties, this spa has a connection to one of the world’s most famous lovers. The Casanova Wellness Centre offers you the chance to be pampered in the gardens where Casanova once wooed the objects of his desire. You can unwind in the steam and sauna rooms, but I suggest you book a treatment with your partner in the twin treatment room. Romance and rejuvenation in perfect harmony.

Travelling with young children, there are only so many old castles and picturesque plazas you can visit. The time comes when little people simply want to splash about in a pool or be entertained in the kid’s club. Belmond Hotel Cipriani knows how to look after its junior guests, and our two loved their time in the hotel’s kids’ club, complete with its own pool.

Which brings us to that indefinable, intangible something that can make or break a holiday: service. And I’m pleased to confirm that the service is outstanding in every way. 

Many of the loyal staff have worked there for many years, and they share a real connection to this property. Their attitude is exemplified by the charismatic Roberto who greets you as you arrive at the hotel jetty. Probably the world’s most famous hotel employee, he has met everybody and seen everything. You can be sure he will treat you like a star too, with his infectious charm and sense of humour. 

I feel very privileged to have stayed here and the second time with the kids in tow it was even better. The name may have been tweaked but everything else that I loved about the Cipriani has thankfully remained the same. Only a handful of luxury hotels fall into the category of “unique and unforgettable.” This is most definitely one. If Venice is a must-visit for you, the Cipriani is a must-stay.  

At a glance

Category: Luxury City Hotel.

Suite Reviewed: Exclusive Suite.

What’s great: Seriously, everything. The remarkable location and acres of space, the history and legendary service, the private luxury launch transfer to the hustle and bustle of Venice, the cuisine options, the massive outdoor pool. Oh, and the suite? One of a kind and one of the most impressive I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. 

What’s not so great: Being really picky, the spa and gym are on the small side.

Editor’s tip: One of my all-time favourite hotels, it totally deserves its title as one of the world’s great hotels. Also, pay the extra for a room or suite that overlooks the famous lagoon and book ahead for a nice table at Cip’s Club.

Rate: From NZ$1220 per room per night.
From NZ$5433 for an Exclusive Suite per night. 


Phil Harrison
Phil Harrison


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