Travel

By Linda Heslegrave

Venice is not a common Christmas destination but “La Serenissima, the most serene city”, shows charm and mystery with fewer tourists and relaxed locals going about their business. The must-see sights are open, without line-ups; holiday decorations are minimal; shopping is relaxed – “serene” for sure.

Disembarking from a boat at a hotel’s private launch isn’t routine in Venice either so a stay at the five stars Luna Hotel Baglioni is pure luxury, especially in winter. The Baglioni boat launch is steps from the Grand Canal in the midst of well-known tourist haunts – historic ones like the Piazza San Marco, the magnificent Basilica and the Via Schiavoni, and modern ones like Harry’s Bar. Elegant high end shops line the surrounding streets.

The hotel is said to be the oldest in Venice (the Knights Templar rested on the site in 1118 during the Crusades). Venetian archives show an “Osteria Luna” in the 13th century. The “Locanda della Luna,” or Luna Inn, served overnight guests in the 15th century and portions of the current building predate the fall of the Venetian Republic in the late 1700s. The hotel’s pedigree fits perfectly in this historic city.

The interior luxury and privacy easily fit our image of traveling aristocrats who might have stayed there during their Grand Tours. The chandelier laden foyer introduces its sumptuous luxury. Plush carpeting on the elegant staircase muffles unwanted sounds of footsteps. 19th century furnishings abound in nooks and crannies. The serenity continues in guest rooms with subtle tones of beige and green, lavish brocade and Murano glass lighting. The effect is immediate – elegant Venice recreated in the private spaces.

Venice is a walking city. Without cars it is hushed compared to other Italian towns. Even the aqua alta (the high waters) rise quietly, usually at night. Warning sirens hidden inside bell towers and public buildings announce the coming waters; the more tones, the higher the water expected. Raised boards for walking are set up throughout the city. Hotel employees scurry to set up metal barriers at the doors when the alarm sounds, assuring flood free lobbies. At the Baglioni, the concierge provides galoshes to guests who want to venture out.

Outside, Venice is at the door. Our visit gave us the chance to view the city’s art and architectural wonders and provided entrée to a private palace to discover ‘how the wealthy Venetians’ lived (it’s still occupied by the ducal heirs). Our guide’s long standing familiarity with Venice assured that we learned about the secret, sometimes forgotten, history of even the smallest streets and salacious details not found in any guidebook. Our private evening visit to the Basilica of San Marco was eerie and stunning. We entered the darkened church then quietly sat as lights slowly came on. We imagined ourselves as 18th century parishioners amid the candle and torch lit magnificence of one of the world’s great Roman Catholic churches. The great sculpted horses on the roof are the only existing specimen of an ancient Roman Quadriga, a monumental four-horse chariot. They have a fine pedigree – originally adorning a Roman triumphal arch, ‘found’ in Constantinople in 1204, and brought back to Venice to sit in the Piazzo San Marco. Today they guard from above.

Oh, and that private visit to a Venetian palace? To ward off the chill of a drafty, damp building we sipped Prosecco and wandered through the home with the Duke leading the way. Now that’s special.

Linda Heslegrave is a Toronto based writer. She travelled to Venice with Martin Randall Travel (http://www.martinrandall.com). This year MRT is offering Christmas visits to Palermo, Dresden, Prague, the Cote d”Azur, Turin, Edinburgh, Florence and Berlin.

Originally published December 2012
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