To hear the announced signage, between management changes and new openings, there is little doubt that Venice is becoming an outpost of ultra-luxury hospitality. The legendary Danieli is being transformed into Four Seasons; the old beloved Bauer, currently hidden behind scaffolding, will reopen as Rosewood; next door, the finishing touches are being put on the Violino d’Oro, a new entry in the Maestrelli family’s collection, and new brands such as Auberge and Orient Express are on the way while the French Evok group has opened its first Italian address, the Nolinski, in the offices of the Stock Exchange. The building between Art Nouveau, Art Nouveau and Modernist styles is protected by the Superintendence of Fine Arts, and the restoration was so careful that not even the old sign was removed. As Emmanuel Sauvage, founding partner of Evok along with Pierre Bastid, Romain Yzerman, explains, Evok’s hotels are chosen “through the prism of desire and emotion.” On Venice, the sentiment is easily shared, but then it’s the location that matters most: Calle Larga XXII Marzo, among the boutiques of Chanel, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Moncler and Cucinelli (whose windows it houses), a stone’s throw from La Fenice Theater and St. Mark’s Square.
You check in on the third floor. Then you enter a hallway manned by doormen who sort patrons from the bar restaurant into the courtyard and guests whose luggage they take and point to the elevator to reception. Best to walk up to grasp the expertise with which the restorations were carried out, and to appreciate the wrought-iron staircase by Umberto Bellotto, among the first artisans to combine the art of iron and glass in the early twentieth century.
The setting is theatrical, with perspectives framed by arches and columns, and curiosity-provoking objects such as scented candles, Murano floor lamps, and books on Italian art, photography, and literature. There are many of them, scattered everywhere or collected in the bar’s bookcases. There are also over 4,000 books to read, in the company of a spritz or a virgin cocktail. In the small boudoir, amid burgundy velvets, is also a grand piano and a ceiling fresco by Simon Buret that projects the sea into the sky, with urchins becoming stars and fish becoming birds.
Some discrepancies that have arisen in turning commercial offices into five-star rooms, concealed by red velvet curtains. Rooms and suites (30+13) are bright and different in size, features and details. Instead, the common denominator is the style of architects Yann Le Coadic and Alessandro Scotto, who came up with solutions to avoid changing the listed structure. In the suites, some with altana-style terraces over the rooftops of Venice, one feels at home. One finds sweets, a straw hat and a water bottle, black-and-white photographs on the bedside table, and a trolley of gin, vermouth, exotic whiskies, and many inspirational motifs among the bookcases hanging from the ceiling, based on the genius idea of the giant designer who was Franco Albini, the irregular mosaics in the bathroom with a golden octopus as the sole protagonist, the essentiality of a rose in the jar.
On the top floor is a room with a gold leaf jacuzzi in the centre. But the real spectacle here is the view. As the water tumultuously massages the body, the eyes are lost in every direction, and are soothed by the domes of St. Mark’s and the Campanile.
Surely part of the theatricality of the place is the restaurant under the great dome of the former Council Chamber, the stalls of the kitchen of Philip Chronopoulos, a Greek chef with two Michelin stars in Paris who promises simple Mediterranean cuisine prepared with Italian ingredients. In fact, already at Café Nolinski, in the inner courtyard, one can foretaste panzanella and gnocchetti al pesto with grilled cuttlefish, fish crudes topped with arugula, olives, cucunci and cherry tomatoes, and a tiramisu to swoon over. Breakfast, a sacred moment for travellers, is a ritual: on a table set with a floor-length tablecloth, French porcelain and silverware, come eggs, toast, maritozzi and homemade cakes. You’d spend hours there, perhaps reading the Sunday Sun 24 Hours, which requires time and the right atmosphere.