There is no doubt that The Gritti Palace is one of the world’s great hotels. It is also one of the most famous, although it combines its fame with the kind of discretion which, doubtless, is welcome to its many important guests. It embodies the grandeur, the beauty and the style of La Serenissima. Small wonder, then, that I have loved The Gritti Palace for many, many years. Indeed, it has long been my belief that there is only one thing better than arriving in Venice, and that is arriving in Venice when you know you are staying at The Gritti. A few years ago this glamorous lady (for are not all grand hotels ladies?) was ’restored’. Yet the restoration, which cost many millions of pounds, was so discreet and so expert that – and I mean this as the highest compliment – it is now as if nothing had happened. Perfection still reigns. And the welcome I received on my recent visit was still as warm and as genuine as always – as genuine as the fine pieces of antique furniture which continue to decorate its sumptuous salons.
The best restaurants are not always easy to find, particularly in the complicated warren of streets which is Venice. But the serious gourmet must persevere, for the rewards are great. Even when you find it, the Ristorante Do Forni from the outside does not look much different from all the other surrounding (and lesser) establishments. But this busy dining room has been patronised by some of the world’s most important persons – like the President of the United States and the Head of the Orthodox Church. Indeed, for over a century, persons of taste and means have flocked to Do Forni, close to St Mark’s Square, to treat themselves to wonderful food and remarkable wines, served with flair and panache.
Hotels can do many great things. One of them is to save remarkable buildings. In Venice the Hilton company has done just that, for its Hotel Stucky Hilton inhabits a magnificent period piece of architecture in red brick. It is on the Giudecca, that part of Venice which is across the water from St Mark’s Square. From the piazza San Marco the hotel shuttle boat goes back and forth throughout the day with cargoes of hotel guests. I suppose this massive structure was originally some sort of factory or warehouse, but now it is a stylish and elegant destination for travellers with means. The transformation has been done with great flair and, as I stepped from the boat on a cool, dark evening, I was impressed. I had made the journey not to stay but to eat, for I had heard interesting reports of the hotel’s Ristorante Bacaromi.
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See also Dining in France