If you want to know more about Hemingway’s life and loves in Europe, then look no further than Venice, or more specifically, the 5-star The Gritti Palace luxury hotel.
Situated in the heart of Venice, just a two minute walk from St. Mark’s Square, The Gritti Palace is what Hemingway called his second home in Italy.
Considered by many to be Venice’s finest hotel, the luxury property is not the easiest to spot when you arrive on foot, as we did. A discreet sign at the bottom of a quiet side street. An dark-suited doorman. And classic Riva-style boats circling in the canal, ready to transport guests to the water-side hotel.
It was only once we had entered the hotel that we discover its deserving of its reputation: we are in a mansion, a Venetian Palazzo.
If you arrive by boat, as most do, you’ll notice the stately palace situated amongst some impressive neighbors; The Europa, The Danieli, The Bauer, The Monaco… Magnificent buildings, but none as glorious as The Gritti Palace. Arriving at the hotel’s private pier is theatrical, like stepping into a scene from a film. Fortunately for us, this was real life.
The Gritti Palace was originally built as a private home, housing the powerful Venetian Doge Andrea Gritti in the 1600s. Following several epochs, eras and owners, the building was transformed into a luxury hotel in 1947 when it was acquired by an Italian luxury hotel group and baptised The Gritti Palace after its first owner.
Today it is owned by Starwood Luxury and has recently undergone a total renovation, overseen by American Chuck Chewning at a cost of $60 million (approx £50m). Thus, The Gritti Palace has been pushed even higher up the glamour scale, much to the benefit of both us guests and the city.
Facilities include a noble restaurant, a legendary bar, decadent rooms and suites, and an “Explorer’s Library”, just to mention a few. The hotel is furnished with a traditional style, obvious upon first notice as typically Venetian floors spread throughout the hotel. Soft walls are dressed with silk wallpaper, draping curtains and other heavy-hanging, luxurious fabrics – we are after all in a city famous for silk. Much of the furniture is antique, hand-crafted in its original style.
It feels like stepping another century. Rooms and suites are maintained in the same traditional style, but each is individual in terms of colors, furnishings and fabrics.
All 10 suites are named after famous guests, 3 of them writers and famous Venetian personalities. The suites contain personal possessions and objects that reflect the its namesake.
In the Hemingway Suite, for instance, there is a mighty bookshelf full of books and artifacts that reflect his interests, as well as the novel Hemingway wrote while he stayed at The Gritti Palace; “Across the river and into the trees.” The book contains a personal greeting to The Gritti Palace from Hemingway’s son.
A common denominator in all rooms and suites is the exclusive materials, antiques, art and handmade, fine fabrics from Rubelli.
The restaurant is decorated in a gentry style with typical Venetian lamps, wallpaper, floors and antiques. It is lavish and uncompromising, but still with a warm and cosy atmosphere.
The dishes are classic Italian, created from scratch in a traditional manner. Much time and energy is devoted to the selection of ingredients and preparation, and dishes are presented as they have been for a very long time. No modern vagaries here. The Gritti’s kitchen is also widely known for its risotto. We ate pasta with truffles, Venetian veal liver and exciting accessories. Everything tasted wonderful.
The art on the walls is worth a visit in itself. In the hotel bar, for example, three genuine Pietro Longhi pieces hang nonchalantly on the wall!
The bar, Longhi Bar, named after the artist, is decorated like a boat, with a terrace opening onto the Gran Canal, with views right over to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. This is the place for a Rossini.
Not surprisingly, the hotel’s elite guest list features royalty, celebrities, writers and art collectors. We noticed a handwritten note from the Jolie/Pitt family on the wall in the entrance hall. That said, The Gritti Palace keenly preserves its strong ties to the city and its inhabitants.
The hotel has established an exclusive “Key Club” that allows select guests to access Longhi Bar via a side door. It’s hoped to conserve the site’s Venetian soul. The hotel does not wish to become an isolated retreat for the well-off, after all, many of the hotel’s early guests were artists and writers who loved Venice, while being far from wealthy.
One of them, of course, was Hemingway. Here at The Gritti Palace, he wrote “Across the River and Into the Trees”, which, among other things, was about his deep love of Adriana Ivanich, an Italian noblewoman, considerably younger than himself. The couple were frequent guests at the Gritti.
Considered one of Venice’s best hotels, The Gritti Palace has a price-tag that reflects its standard. It is not without reason that the hotel is often fully booked year-round as many guests return again and again.
For us, it was the friendly, homely atmosphere the staff manage to create that made the deepest impression. That, combined with the hotel’s historical backdrop and uncompromising decor, obviously.
This is not the place for minimalists. But if you want to step into another time and breath in an era when Sommerset Maugham and Hemingway marauded on Venice’s streets and squares, well then you have found your place in Venice.