The last thing I expected to be doing on a luxury break in Venice is wrapping myself up in big black bin bags, held in place by strips of ugly brown parcel tape, with bright blue waders and a pair of (admittedly slightly unnecessary) sunglasses to complete my look. This was not some sponsored “worst dressed” charity fashion event, however, but rather more a concerted bid to beat what I later found out were the fourth worst floods in Venice’s entire history.
But let’s back up a bit. I had been invited to the City of Canals to experience the charm and luxury of the beautiful Hotel Heureka, a newly opened boutique hotel situated in the heart and history of Venice, overlooking the Madonna dell’Orto Canal at the front, and with sweeping views straight across the lagoon at the back. Designed by Plan A Einrichtung, the hotel boasts contemporary design and striking architecture, making it an Instagrammer’s paradise, with unique furnishings, luscious fabrics and fun touches throughout. Consisting of just 10 individually-styled rooms, the hotel has a distinct look that is all its own, and a sympathetic two-year restoration project now sees a neat bridge between the architectural grandeur of the building’s past and the contemporary quirkiness of the interior design. Hallmarked by four-poster beds and coloured tile mosaics, each suite is a haven in which to escape and unwind (and then update your Insta feed).
If you can bear to tear yourself away from the comfort of the bed, then head outside, where Hotel Heureka hides a treasure in the form of a spacious secret garden. A little woodland oasis of tranquillity, by day the garden is the perfect place to relax under the leafy canopy of the trees. As night descends, it is an enchanting spot in which to while away an evening under a blanket of stars.
The best way to arrive at this private palace is by private transfer, and the best way of doing that is through Venice Quality Transfers. Helmed by the lovely Trisha Perolari, this private water taxi transfer business was set up with an aim to break even after 15 months. That in fact happened after only three and the rest, as they say, is history. Trisha and her team – which has grown with the business – will meet you at the transport hub of your choice, whether that’s on the platform at Venice Santa Lucia Train Station, or the more common pick-up point of Venice Marco Polo Airport’s arrivals hall. A swift glide across the lagoon from the airport to the hotel can be completed in less than 30 minutes.
In my case, this was just as well, as I had been invited to an evening of prosecco and cicheti by the maverick founder of London’s Polpo restaurants, Russell Norman (no relation – or at least, we don’t think we’re related). With the help of fellow Kent girl Anna Gilchrist cooking up a storm in the kitchen, the evening was designed to showcase Russell’s flair and passion for using local Venetian ingredients (think pickled vegetables from the nearby island of Sant Erasmo, and fish fresh from the lagoon), in the beautiful setting of one of the city’s newest boutique hotels. The endless platters of flavoursome, almost rustic, food were obligingly served with bubbling glasses of delicious prosecco from the Bisol vineyard.
The following day, while the tourists headed off to Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, I stuck to exploring Cannaregio, the quiet siestiere that Hotel Heureka calls home, to uncover the “undiscovered” side of Venice. First of all, a visit to Battiloro, a family business that sees beaten gold transformed into wafer-thin sheets for use in the art, food, building and beauty industries. The applications for the many hues of gold and silver that the company produces from its tiny workshop are as varied as they are international (think tiles, temporary tattoos and gold leaf as edible food decoration).
One such use of this most precious of metals is the gold face mask treatment offered at The Merchant of Venice Spa at San Clemente Palace Kempinski. The effects of the acqua alta – the famous Venetian high tide – and the resulting poor weather scuppered my chances of making it across the lagoon to try it out, so I decided to brave the tourist crowds and head to The Merchant of Venice’s flagship boutique on Campo San Fantin instead, right by both Teatro La Fenice and the Rialto Bridge. The beautiful store, originally a pharmacy, is now a treasure trove of perfumes and colourful bottles. I was initially swayed by the fresh scent of Blue Tea, the newest of The Merchant of Venice’s perfumes, but in the end, it was the rich, woody and seductive Venezia Essenza that made its way into my basket.
By now, the water had come cascading down the street in a fast-flowing torrent, and an escape to sustenance (read: a bottle of bubbles) was most certainly in order. A couple of hours enjoying pasta and prosecco meant delaying the inevitable and eventually, I had to accept that the only way I was going to make it back to the hotel was to wade through the flood waters of the swollen canals. Now above knee-height, this therefore meant employing the slightly unconventional tactic of binding myself in bin bags and hoping that the water wasn’t so deep that the streets were entirely off-limits! After a slightly soggy trudge from one end of Venice to the other, the hotel was a very welcome sight indeed, particularly when the staff came to greet me at the door bearing towels and slippers.
Up early the next morning, and you’d never have guessed at the sheer extent of the floods the day before. A clear blue sky promised a day of adventure, and so it was that I ventured away from the mainland to the island of Burano, with its gorgeous candy-coloured houses lining the edge of the canals. It is well worth the “island hop” to come here and admire the quaint painted colour splashes of this charming neighbourhood (and did somebody say Instagram?).
As the day drew to its close and the sun retreated into the depths of the lagoon, I headed back to Venice proper, taking one last look up at Hotel Heureka, before the team at Venice Quality Transfers arrived to whisk me back over the waves to the airport. This was one city break that I certainly shan’t be forgetting in a hurry!
Hotel Heureka has flung open its doors and is ready to offer guests a warm welcome – and a “heureka!” moment of their own….
Hotel Heureka – www.hotel-heureka.com
Venice Quality Transfers – www.venicequalitytransfers.com
Battiloro – www.berta-battiloro.com
Nexa Eventi – www.nexave.org
Perfumes by The Merchant of Venice are available in the UK from Harrods, Harvey Nichols and House of Fraser.