Weekend Away: Venice

Weekend Away: Venice
Arriving on an evening flight, I was greeted by name as I walked through the front door of Ca'Sagredo. This 15th century palazzo premiered as a luxury hotel in 2007 after seven years of renovation. As I checked-in, the frescoed grand staircase was especially striking. Upstairs, my room was a spacious display of Venetian elegance: rich fabrics, a sophisticated seating area, and a dressing space all gave touches of another era.

The following morning I stepped onto the balcony to find the canal alive with boats and gondolas. I could hear songs in Italian, the buzz of the market and not a single car. On my way to breakfast, the paintings and frescoes of the portico captured my attention. The morning meal was held in one of the most impressive rooms of the hotel – it wasn't easy to keep my eyes off the intricately painted ceiling and on the silky cappuccino in front of me.

The front door of Ca'Sagredo opens onto a small square, and with a few steps I was boarding a gondola, called a traghetto, to cross the Grand Canal. Gondoliers in black and white striped shirts smoked a cigarette as they expertly rowed across, dropping passengers directly in the center of the Rialto fish market. This daily attraction is a showcase of Italian life – and its produce features heavily on menus across town.

You might see the chef of Ca'Sagredo perusing the morning market of fish, fruit and vegetables. In the future, Ca'Sagredo plans on offering a unique cuisine package centered on the market. The chef will assist guests to select the best ingredients, and bring the produce back to the hotel's gourmet kitchen for a cooking lesson. To Italians, cuisine is an art form; from the way it is displayed at the market to arrangement on the plate. After my wander through the market, I was ready to see what other types of art Venice has to offer.

Crossing the Accademia Bridge over the Grand Canal, I entered one of Venice's most exclusive neighborhoods, Dorsoduro. It was here that Peggy Guggenheim (niece of Solomon Guggenheim) chose to settle. Her former residence now displays work from 20th century masterminds including Picasso, Max Ernst and Jackson Pollock. After browsing the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, there was another piece of art I wanted to see: the architecture of Venice itself. I left the museum behind for the best view in town.

The belltower of St Mark's Square looms above the city. In seconds, an elevator shot up 20 stories above Venice. When the doors opened, 360-degree views of the island greeted me. The domes of St Mark's Basilica were distant from this height, and I could barely see the canals between the red roofs below. I had saved Il Campanile for an afternoon attraction, and was rewarded by the golden light of sunset bathing the city. Back on solid ground, a nearby Vaporetto stop brought me efficiently back to the doorstep of Ca'Sagredo.

One of the most innovative restaurants in Venice is located on the ground floor of the hotel. L'Alcova overlooks the Grand Canal, and features a strong 'back to nature' concept in its cuisine. Local produce is showcased on the menu, from sea bream to genuine lagoon clams. The German background of Chef Klostermauer can be seen on his refined plates, providing a fresh twist on traditional Venetian cuisine. The accompaniments set this restaurant apart: pumpkin mousse was paired with sea bass and nutty chocolate cake was lightened by fresh slices of mango.

The 42 rooms and suites of Ca'Sagredo display hints of the hotel's former life as a noble residence. The two-story Library Suite dates back to the early 18th century, and offers lovely views over the Grand Canal. The Sebastiano Ricci Suite has an aristocratic feel to it, extending to a full 100 square meters. The Sagredo family crest in mosaics on the floor is almost as beautiful as the 18th century stucco ceiling. Antique furniture, Italian marble bathrooms, and frescoed walls will transport you to another time in history.

Touches of elegance form my memories of Ca'Sagredo: opera music over breakfast, a small carafe of warm, frothy milk to accompany morning coffee, and the Italian greetings of the sharply dressed staff. This attention to detail makes Ca'Sagredo an ideal option for a destination wedding, event, or celebration. The ballroom can host 20 to 100 people, and an on-site event planner provides Italian hospitality.

Stepping out to a sunny day the lavish pink façade of the hotel looked even more exquisite. Voted by Condé Nast Traveller as one of the hottest new hotels in the world, Ca'Sagredo is making a lasting impression. As my private water taxi rounded the curve of the Grand Canal for the final time, I realized that the city had me under its spell. The fascinating charm of its winding streets, outdoor cafés, and foggy bridges delivered the spirit of romance I had arrived in Venice to find.

When to go:

• Venice is best visited during May, June, September and early October. The summer months can be warm and somewhat crowded. If you want to have the museums, restaurants and attractions to yourself – travel in the off-season but be sure to bring your umbrella.

Where to Stay:

Ca'Sagredo, Campo Santa Sofia, Ca D'oro, Venice, Italy. Telephone: +39 041 2413111, www.casagredohotel.com

Where to Eat and Drink:

• L'Alcova – The restaurant of Ca'Sagredo displays creativity and artistry in its locally sourced cuisine. With only five tables, it is essential to book in advance. In-room dining is also available if you'd prefer the privacy of your suite.
• Bar L'Incontro – Before your meal at L'Alcova sip the most famous drink of Venice, the Bellini, in the relaxing atmosphere of Bar L'Incontro.

What to See:

• Il Campanile: The belltower of Piazza San Marco has an elevator that brings visitors straight to the top. Admission is 8 euro, with an additional fee for an audio guide.
• The Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Open daily (closed Tuesdays) from 10am – 6pm, The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is both a gallery and a historical palazzo. Located on the Grand Canal in the exclusive neighborhood of Dorsoduro, the Peggy Guggenheim collection brings together impressive pieces of 20th century art in the heiress's former Venetian home.
• Rialto Fish Market: (Tuesday – Saturday, 6am – Noon) A stroll through the Rialto fish market is an essential part of any trip to Venice.