For me, the most important asset in a hotel is a sense of place, and in Venice that translates to being on the water. The city’s tangle of lacy palazzos, domed basilicas and shadowed stone alleyways cast their own beguiling spell, but the true magic lies in the waves slapping at the feet of the bridges, the gondoliers pushing through the blue-green canals, the streetlights shimmering over the lagoon at night.
I can’t think of a property better positioned to take in Venice’s unique ambience than Hotel Londra Palace. Gleaming after a top-to-tail refurbishment, this elegant contessa of a hotel enjoys a front-row seat on the San Marco basin, where the Grand Canal meets the Giudecca Canal and where the layers of the past feel close and real.
Venice is comprised of six main sestieri, or neighborhoods, and Hotel Londra Palace is in San Marco — the beating heart of the city since the medieval era. Top-of-the-list sights such as St. Mark’s Basilica and its namesake square, the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs are within a few minutes’ walk. The tradeoff? Crowds flock here, just like those infamous St. Mark’s pigeons. A significant part of the hotel’s appeal is its restful air and sense of escape from the teeming walkways.
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Access to the Londra Palace is simple, thanks to a nearby vaporetto (water bus) stop as well as a water taxi dock directly across from the front entrance. Taxis are a splurge, but worth it at least once during your stay — you’ll feel like royalty cruising through the waterways in a handsomely clad private vessel.
While Venetian decor tends toward old-world opulence, the Londra Palace cuts the richness with tailored notes like crisp linens, matte surfaces and monochromatic layers of pattern. Its two wings were purpose-built in the 1800s as hotels, rather than converted from former homes, and later merged together for a total of 53 rooms. Nineteenth-century figures such as composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and poet Gabriele d’Annunzio were once among the guests, and the property retains a whiff of the era. Heavy, tasseled keys are still issued in lieu of key cards, to be left with reception as you head out for the day.
Bathrooms are compact but well-appointed, with marble walls and flooring. Some have only a walk-in shower rather than a standalone tub; be sure to check this if you have young kids.
Each room sleeps a maximum of three people, but a limited number of connecting configurations can support larger families, from Classic and Deluxe Rooms to Junior Suites. Cribs are available on request for babies and toddlers.
Accommodations in the Deluxe category and above overlook the San Marco basin, some including small balconies. My second-floor room had a window that opened to a direct view of the water. Heaven … especially at twilight, when the sidewalks empty out and an air of quiet descends.
As befits its Relais & Chateaux designation, Hotel Londra Palace offers destination-worthy dining at the beautiful Do Leoni restaurant. You could start the day Italian-style, with just a cappuccino and a fresh cornetto pastry, but you’d be missing a lovely breakfast buffet — breads, cakes, cheeses, charcuterie, fruit, and a handful of hot dishes, all delicious and well prepared. On the lunch and dinner menus, local specialties such as cuttlefish and bacalà (salt cod) keep company with fried rabbit and mint-flecked sea bass. Children can order from the Lion’s Menu, a selection of kid pleasers like tomato-basil pasta and mini steak frites.
In nice weather, get a table on the terrace out front, overlooking the famed Riva degli Schiavoni promenade and the basin just beyond. People-watching is among Venice’s greatest pleasures, and there’s no better spot to indulge.
A small wooden rooftop terrace offers a place to get a bit of sun and take in the full 360-degree view, and the staff can arrange a picnic there as well. There’s no swimming pool or fitness center (neither is common in Venice’s boutique hotels). This is a city made for walking, though, so it’s likely you’ll get all the exertion you need simply navigating the back alleys and strolling beside the canals. And if the heat and crowds of high season begin to feel oppressive, it’s an easy vaporetto ride from the hotel to the Venice Lido beach clubs, where you can cool off with a dip in the Adriatic.
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