There are many memorable hotels in Venice, so the question is how to make yours stand out? Well, it helps if you have a location on the Grand Canal, of course, from which guests can see a view made famous by artists down the centuries. It helps too if you can say that some of those artists – John Singer Sargent, JMW Turner and Claude Monet – stayed at your establishment. Oh, and that Monet painted San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight while staying here. It’s not too shabby, either, to boast that the bartender who founded the city’s celebrated Harry’s Bar, Giuseppe Cipriani, once worked here, or that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sigmund Freud and Winston Churchill were also guests.
This is all true of the St. Regis, previously the Grand Hotel Britannia, which has undergone extensive restoration by London’s interior design firm Sagrada. The hotel, which unveiled its new look in 2019, is in fact five Venetian palaces; these make up its 39 suites, 130 rooms, Grand Canal-side restaurant, two bars and Italianate garden, also on the Canal. Today, the remarkable history of this place is now married with a glamorous and comfortable interior that has been influenced by the style of local architect and designer, Carlo Scarpa.
Scarpa’s showroom for the Italian typewriter firm Olivetti – now a museum – is on nearby St. Mark’s Square, and is one of the six sites on offer as part of a tour the St. Regis will organise called Uncovering Carlo Scarpa, one of several arts tours guests can enjoy. And certainly, his use of polished marmorino, meticulous detailing and appreciation of light and water are all at play in the hotel, which in its new guise speaks of the city’s elegance and modernity, which is often overlooked because of the sheer weight of history here.
The hotel’s Arts Bar, one of the city’s rare late-night drinking establishments, features a Scarpa-inspired wooden bar cabinet, as well as a Scarpa cocktail, served in a specially designed glass made from Venetian Murano glass that channels the architect’s use of interlocking circles. There are other cocktails here – in other bespoke Murano glasses – dedicated to a host of artists, including Dalí, Monet and even Damien Hirst.
Murano also features in the striking lounge with its huge white glass chandelier – a gift from the Chinese artist and regular guest, Ai Weiwei – which at first glance looks like a celebration of the flowers that you find in the Venetian lagoon. On closer inspection, though, you notice glass handcuffs and a single hand giving the finger, a subtle protest by the creator who was imprisoned by his country’s authorities. The chandelier has a larger sister piece in black Murano glass – altogether more sinister – that hangs in the Palladio-designed church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the facing island of that name. Here the details include glass surveillance cameras, internal organs and skeletons. The staff of the hotel explain that a black chandelier might have been a little too much for the guests in the luxurious St. Regis, while the white one fits in perfectly with the beautiful décor, which also includes works by many other artists (Rosa Brueckel, Gregor Schmoll, Erwin Wurm, Esther Stocker, Tony Cragg and Gregor Hildebrandt). Outside, there are four Julian Opie sculptures called Running in Venice, which overlook the hotel’s terrace.
What’s great about the St. Regis, though, is that though this is unquestionably a luxury hotel, with a capital L, there’s something quirkily intimate about the place. And the mid 20th-century modernist-style reimagining works peculiarly well in this city of great art and culture.
The St. Regis Venice, S. Marco, 2159, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy; stregisvenice.com
By Peter Howarth, the Editorial Director of Secret Trips