As one of the world’s most famous – and fabulous – establishments, the luxurious Hotel Cipriani in Venice has an idyllic setting, showstopping views and a fantastic children’s club filled with Venetian delights.
Zooming away from the airport to your hotel is always an exhilarating feeling that indicates your holiday proper is about to begin. When your taxi just happens to be the good ship Shirley, and you are bobbing along the busy waterways of Venice on your way to one of the most famed and iconic hotels in the world, amid a clear blue sky with the sunlight dancing on the water like twinkling stars, there’s an added sense of excited anticipation.
As we pull up to the hotel’s waterside entrance, there to greet us with a beaming smile was our Italian host, Roberto, surely one of the most amiable meeters-and-greeters you could ever hope to encounter
Helping each guest out of the boat with a warm welcome and a firm hand, he was soon instructing the children on how he expected to be addressed. “Every time you see me,” he said in his lyrical Italian intonation, “I want you to say ‘Ciao Roberto!’” And in return for keeping their part of the bargain, Roberto promised to furnish the children with copious amounts of bird food for the Cipriani ducks. Indeed, the pond – set within the lush and manicured garden and rainbow of lovely blooms – soon became the preferred meeting point for the youngest guests, who’d gather to seek out the frog and fish who lurked within the shallow waters.
Venice is a truly beautiful city. Its stunning Byzantine architecture of opulent palazzi and majestic churches alone sets it apart, but the fact that it is made up of more than 100 individual islands adds to its unique appeal. It’s also one of the most visited cities in Italy, which makes for a busy old place. You’d hardly guess it, though, once you’re within the tranquil confines of Hotel Cipriani, where the ambiance is casual elegance and you can hear the tweets of the birds (and the occasional iphone), alongside the chinking of champagne glasses as the signature Cipriani Bellinis are supped by guests.
History & design
There’s a fascinating history behind Hotel Cipriani, and its founder Guiseppe Cipriani. Born to an impoverished family in Verona in 1900, the young Guiseppe earned his living waiting in bars, and learning the art of being a good host. “What I liked most about the hospitality business was the service, making people happy,” he noted in his memoirs.
It was through a generous gesture and a stroke of good fortune that led to Cipriani’s success (against his better judgement, Cipriani lent a young American student, Harry Pickering, a sum of money when he was down on his luck. Years later, Harry walked into the bar where Cipriani was working and repaid the loan with handsome interest, giving Cipriani sufficient collateral to set up on his own).
The café society of Venice in the 1930s was glamorous and soon Harry’s Bar, as it was named, was the toast of the town, with regulars including many great actors and writers, such as Charlie Chaplin, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, and Noel Coward.
In 1956, Giuseppe opened Hotel Cipriani, a project he had nurtured for many years to create a luxury hotel, with a relaxed atmosphere, attentive service and simple but superbly prepared food, all of which have become hallmarks of the Cipriani today.
Hotel Cipriani has 95 rooms and suites, varying from a double room with views across the garden, to junior suites with views across San Marco Square, the gardens, pool or lagoon.
When we arrived in our junior suite, there was fizz of the blackberry, fruity and non-alcoholic variety awaiting Joe, along with a selection of fruit, chocolates and a bottle of Prosecco.
The bathroom got an immediate thumbs-up, with its huge marble sunken bath and a plethora of premium bath bubbles and shampoos, creams and potions by Bulgari and Penhaligon’s, as well as an organic gentle bath oil for Joe.
There was a cute mini size toweling robe and tiny slippers and a hand-written welcome note for Joe from Linda, who runs the children’s club, decorated with drawings of frogs and stick-on gems – a tempting taster of some of the craft activities on offer at the Smile Club.
Facilities for children
The hotel is relaxed, but many of the clientele relish the aura of calm. That’s not necessarily the way of all children, which is the reason why the Smile Children’s Club is situated a convenient distance away from the main swimming pool.
The children’s Smile Club is a sunny gazebo of delights with its own swimming pool and activities, from art and craft to water games, cooking classes – yes, yummy homemade pizzas – and wii games. A highlight for the kids was making their own ornate Venetian masks
The big plus of this is that happily occupied children also means parents can have a little me time, whether a relaxing al fresco lunch of delicious homemade pizza and a crisp Pinot Grigio at the Porticciolo Restaurant, or a pampering treatment at the spa. You can also spend a lazy afternoon dozing by the pool, while attentive staff bring complimentary fresh towels, iced drinks and cooling Evian spray mists.
As you’d expect, the dining experience at Hotel Cipriani is top-notch, with four restaurants to choose from. In the evening, we supped Bellinis on the terrace, before dining at the Fortunay restaurant, which specializes in Venetian and Italian cuisine, where we heard tales of George Clooney’s lively evenings at the bar where he created his own cocktail La Buona Notte.
We also dined at Cip’s, the waterside eaterie with views across the water to St Marks – dine early in the evening to watch the sun go down, or see the city’s famous square illuminated as the night darkens and the reflections shimmy prettily on the water.
The following day was set aside for sightseeing, starting with a tour of the Grand Canal with our knowledgeable and amiable guide, Enrico. While I was interested to hear about Lord Byron’s epic swims and hear tales of the Guggenheim heiress, who bequeathed an art gallery to the city, Joe was more interested in the quirky Skinny House (created by a Dutch designer as part of the famous Biennale cultural celebration) and the red riverboats of the Venice firemen.
As we passed the gondoliers in their signature dark trousers and striped tops, Fabio greeted each one, as we admired their effortless strokes and smooth gliding action. We also stopped off at the island of Murano, famous for its coloured glass-making, to watch the alchemy of turning molten red blobs into intricate art pieces and trinkets.
Afterwards, we sailed to Burano, a picture postcard pretty island where the fisherman’s houses are brightly painted in vivid colours. Then, to get out of the immense midday heat, we dined (there’s always a lot of eating on an Italian holiday) at Da Romano Restaurant, where we were invited into the kitchen to see the chef doing tricks with the risotto, as he tossed it up in the pan and it rose almost a metre high.
A fishing trip had also been arranged for the children, so after lunch they headed off in a small boat – with parents banished (as if returning to Cipriani could ever be a punishment!). The children returned with tales of teeny fish – they caught at least one each – and of speedy twists and turns in the boat as the children begged Fabio to go “Faster, faster!”, and he happily obliged, showering their happy little faces with water spray, and letting each one have a go at the wheel.
You can’t visit Venice without seeing the famous St Mark’s Square, so, on our final day, we mingled with the tourists and the pigeons, picking up souvenirs. We also took a “secret itineries tour” of the Doges Palace, winding our way through this former prison and hearing tales about Venice’s corrupt court and the Doges’ most famous former inmate, none other than Casanova.
Why go To see one of the world’s most unique and beautiful cities, and to stay in one of the world’s most famous hotels.
Who is it best for Families who want to live la dolce vita – and what’s not to love about this unique floating city with its stunning architecture and art – not to mention pasta, pizzas and gelato.
Top tip When visiting during the summer months, one of the hazards of the warm nights and waterside combination is mosquitoes, so make sure you use insect repellent. Be wary of leaving windows open at night as that is also when the mossies like to munch!
Highlights for kids Young children will be entranced by the quirkiness of Italy’s floating city, and the chance to ride in a river taxi or gondola. Kids also have their very own VIP club in a sunny gazebo with swimming pool. The cuisine at the hotel’s restaurants is divine – with plenty of kid-friendly pizza, pasta and gelato – and there’s a spectacular children’s breakfast with freshly squeezed smoothies and just-popped popcorn, croissants and breads, cereals and fruit.
While you’re in the area Take to the water for a gondola ride. It is a fairly pricey rite of passage but your children will love it and there’s much to be said for gliding serenely through the waters. Singing Just one Cornetto to the tune of O Sole Mio is optional, but some may find it hard to resist…