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Londra Palace

Window on the Grand Canal

Venice Credit: Edwin C. Fancher

High on the wish list of visitors to Venice is a window overlooking the Grand Canal. When we reserved at Londra Palace we knew that the address was one of the most sought after in the city—the promenade, Riva Degli Schiavoni, which borders the lagoon and is not far from St. Mark’s. We didn’t specify water view for our suite, but that is what we were assigned and to us it was the best accommodation in the house. From our room we could see across to San Giorgio Island and the tower of its eponymous chiesa. It was a scene that Tintoretto might have painted.

The Italian flag flew above our third floor Juliet balcony. When the wind performed its mischief on the country’s colors we stepped out to uncurl it. Passersby hailed us and we waved back.

We had arrived by lancia, a water taxi, which whisked us directly from the Crystal Symphony to the hotel’s front door. The lobby and reception area might surprise you with its understated size and character. Would everyone fall in love with the Londra Palace? I don’t know. But to us its charm was instantly visible.

Luxury is a word that is most often used in connection with grand hotels, but to me the utter lack of self-consciousness and assertiveness of this boutique property blending total comfort and esthetics was elegant.

Venetians have a total sense of involvement with their city, placing the public good over individual interests. This discipline—what is called particolare—has given the hospitality business here a solid foundation. The finest hotels in the world share one quality, unobtrusive almost invisible service combined with a quick knowledge of every guest’s wishes. The front desk gave us the "International Herald Tribune" and the wait staff knew what kind of coffee we drink at breakfast.

Mauro Zanotti, general manager, had only been on the job since January 2002. The "no rough edges here" attests to his ability to oversee this first-rate property. Mr. Zanotti, the quintessential Italian charmer, said that 30 percent of the guests are American and that the hotel will not book groups.

Do Leoni Restaurant, Londra Palace Hotel, Venice Credit: Edwin C. Fancher

Londra Palace is an historic property, dating from 1860 when two side-by-side hotels stood on the site. A merger created the new space. Tchaikovsky wrote three of four movements of his "Fourth Symphony" while in residence. Guestroom 106 contains photos and memorabilia honoring the composer and a glass in the lobby is etched with his musical notes.

A 1999 renovation updated the 53 rooms and suites without destroying the genteel ambience. Rooms are individually decorated with authentic 19th-century Biedermeier furniture, individually-lighted period paintings, damask-covered walls and sofrito ceilings like in the Doge’s Palace, antiques and gilt-framed mirrors. Large bouquets of fresh flowers add a colorful touch. Pink marble bathrooms are oversized and feature Jacuzzis.

High on everyone’s list in a hotel is internet access in the room. Londra Palace is the only hotel in Venice to offer that service. Key boards are hooked up to the television screens.

Non-guests make up half of the patrons at the hotel’s restaurant, Do Leoni, where the food has drawn raves from guidebooks and other publications. In the warmer months you can sit on the terrace and listen to a musician playing the trombone non-stop six nights a week or if you prefer more sedate surroundings, try eating indoors. Venetian specialties, such as marinated sardines, calf’s liver with polenta and tiramisu, were more than outstanding. If you order all of them at one sitting, you will dine like a doge.

Londra Palace, Riva delgi Schiavoni, 4171, 30122, Venezia. Tel. 30 041 5200533, fax 39 041 5225032. Rates begin at $270 off-season including breakfast. The hotel is a member of Relais & Chateaux, 877-678-9330, and Small Luxury Hotels of the World, 800-525-4800

Fall 2002