LONDRA PALACE HOTEL
When you are deciding about your hotel in the most beautiful city in the world, you should seek out the Holy Quartet of hospitality: a marvellous location, accommodation which is both comfortable and elegant, good food and wine and friendly service. The Londra Palace has all four in generous abundance. And it also has something else, of which no other hostelry in Venice can boast. It has an equestrian statue of the first King of the re-united Italy right in front of its main façade. This is significant, because Victor Emmanuel II loved the best locations. Or, to be more accurate, his monuments did. Since 1887, when the statue by Ettore Ferrari was erected, he has been sitting on his horse, with a sword in his hand, right in the middle of the riva degli Schiavoni. Earth hath few places to show more fair. Following the regal gaze, straight ahead are the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Square. To the King’s left, on the other side of the waters of the Bacino di San Marco, is the exquisite façade of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. And on the royal right is the Londra Palace Hotel.
Alongside these four attributes, a Trinity of excellent gentlemen make the Londra Palace the wonderful place it is. Mr Alain Bullo, as General Manager, sets the tone, and a splendid tone it is. In terms of smartness, efficiency and friendliness, his staff is a credit to him. Then there is Samuel Baston (pictured), the restaurant maitre d’, who looks after his guests with remarkable diligence, well beyond the call of duty. And finally there is the Executive Chef, Loris Indri (pictured), who ensures that the breakfasting and the dining here are occasions of real pleasure.
On each morning of my stay I watched as groups of eager sightseers gathered by the Victor Emmanuel monument, before setting off on their walking tours around La Serenissima. They had sailed in from the Lido, or further afield. I had simply to step through the electrically-operated doors of the Londra Palace to be in the very heart of things. They were standing outside. I was in an armchair of the Biedermeier style, in the white elegance of the hotel’s charming public rooms, next to Corinthian pilasters. I knew I had the better of it.
Tchaikovsky liked this place and found inspiration here, too. In room 106, in 1877, he wrote the first three movements of his fourth symphony. That, of course, was before Victor Emmanuel took up position outside, so the great man would have had to be content with the views over the water. Then the hotel was called the Albergo Bella Riva et Pension; it has been known as the Londra Palace only since 1973. With 100 windows overlooking the Lagoon, this is an establishment which has always attracted those who care about what they see from their rooms.
The famous panorama was certainly on offer in room 508. On the fifth floor, this was an air-conditioned Junior Suite. (I hesitate to give a price for this accommodation, as it changes considerably over the season. My advice is to look for specific dates on the hotel website). This quiet apartment afforded me an exquisite joy each morning: to wake up and delight in a panorama which stretched from the church of San Giorgio on the left to the Redentore (one of the most famous and most complete churches of the great Andrea Palladio) on the right. To be able to gaze through the early mist at one of the sweetest views known to man was a real privilege.
From the corridor I entered straight into the sitting room, with its chaise longue and writing bureau. The patterned blue silk on the walls imparted a sense of luxury, as did the plentiful space. Fitted wardrobes and a pedestal dining table separated the sitting and sleeping areas. In the latter the bed had been made wonderfully soft for my ailing back. The bathroom was clad in marble of golden yellow, and contained a proper bath tub, a separate shower, two wash basins, a loo and a bidet. The toiletries were by Ortigia. On the television, via Sky, I found Swiss Classical Radio, which permitted my ablutions to be performed to the music of Bach and Beethoven.
After such auditory and visual wonders each morning, you might suppose that the breaking of the fast would be an anti-climax. Not so. For under crystal chandeliers, and with The View once more before me, I was able to tuck in with relish to some excellent comestibles – either brought to me from the kitchen or secured from the well-stocked buffet. Mushroom omelettes, smoked salmon, dishes of strawberries, melon and pineapple, slices of fruit tart and lemon cake, croissants and pieces of crusty bread – all were of high quality.
The restaurant in which I enjoyed these leisurely starts to the day is called Do Leoni. This means ‘Two Lions’ and was the name given by Tchaikovsky to his fourth symphony. (The Two Lions he had in mind were the Lion of St Mark, Venice’s patron, and that ‘Lion’ of a poet, Gabriele d’Annunzio.) After some sightseeing of the most leisurely sort – no conducted marches for me, thank you – I returned to this handsome room for dinner, and was looked after very well indeed by Samuel Baston. Beige napery, supportive armchairs, subdued lighting, good glassware by Zafferano and efficient waiters (in waistcoats and aprons) created an appropriate atmosphere in which to enjoy the food of Chef Indri, which is handsomely presented and full of true, robust flavours.
You should expect to pay around 120€ for four courses from the carte. My dinner began with a warm duck salad – pastry parcels of duck confit, admirably set off by quince and pomegranate dressing. Next was a tremendously good pasta dish. This tagliolini was soft and yielding, and made utterly sublime by the many shavings of black truffle cast upon it before my eyes by the redoubtable Mr Baston. Delicious. And the sea bass was nearly as good. Simply grilled and served with roasted potatoes and sautéed onions, this fish was as tasty as it was fresh – and it was very fresh. I ended on a high note, too, with Sicilian orange cake, mandarin mousse and macaroons.
I counted about 200 bottles on the wine list. 16 are offered by the glass. Apart from the champagnes, they are mostly Italian. Prices range from 30€ for a prosecco to 550€ for a 2000 Amarone Riserva (Quintarelli). These other bottles caught my eye: 2006 Cristal (400€), Krug Grande Cuvée (340€), 2014 Cervaro della Sala (130€), 2012 Tignanello (200€) and 2008 Sassicaia (320€). My own drinking included a crisp, white sparkling wine from the Trentino, made entirely from chardonnay grapes (Trento Brut Perlé, 2008, Ferrari – 80€), and another chardonnay, this time still and from Friuli Venezia Giulia, with a gorgeous nose of vanilla and discreet fruit (Jurosa, Lis Neris, 2013 – 62€). I was grateful to Mr Baston for these recommendations.
After dinner I went out for a walk in the cool of the evening, and paused to look up at King Victor Emmanuel II. He looked as if he were used to being at the centre of things. Surely, I thought, he deserved this royal location. And so does the Londra Palace Hotel – for combining wonderfully the Holy Quartet of hospitality.
LONDRA PALACE HOTEL
Riva degli Schiavoni 4171, Venice 30122, Italy.
Telephone +39 041 5200 533
Fax +39 041 5225 032
Double rooms from 360€ - 535€, including breakfast, according to season
Ask about special offers and check specific dates on the hotel website