Hotel Gritti Palace
The Gritti has the most seductive breakfast terrace in Venice-I know because I've tried them all. Tables are set on a handsome deck built over the Grand Canal at an ideal distance from Piazza San Marco: close enough for a spontaneous promenade around the square, but not so close that you're sucked into the vortex created by the inevitable crowds.
As you sit on the Gritti's deck, the only thing that comes between you and the lapping water is a phalanx of flower boxes with white geraniums. Crisply striped chair pads match the awning, and finches skitter up to your bread basket, though the croissants, filled with apricot jam, are too good to share even a crumb. Two nearby vaporetto stops ensure just the right measure of animation. And the views of the church of Santa Maria della Salute are heart-stopping. If Baldassare Longhena had given eyelashes to the Virgin that crowns his Baroque masterpiece, a guest enjoying uova strapazzate on the Gritti terrace would be able to make them out.
Named for the 77th doge of Venice, whose home it was in the 16th century, the Gritti is the most purely Venetian hotel in town, with a va-va-va-voom opulence that leaves you slightly woozy. You like damask?The Gritti's got damask. You like brocade?The Gritti's got brocade. Gilt, marble, ancestral portraits?Right this way. Confectionery Murano glass, with rosettes like translucent buttercream?Certo. In spades. La dolce vita, it seems, means never having to say basta.
Opulence as practiced at the Gritti is the real thing. It's not interpreted, it's not digested, and heaven knows it's not watered down. The style of the 99 guest rooms reflects the beauty-for-beauty's-sake way in which the doges lived. Dozens of hotels in Venice offer vulgarized assembly-line versions of the look. At more than $500 a night in high season, the Gritti isn't giving anything away. But you get what you pay for.
Service is precisely what you'd expect from such a pedigreed institution. You know the way some concierges treat guests like idiots, shielding them from the place they have traveled thousands of miles to experience?Well, not the Gritti. How could I ever forget Maurizio, who talked me out of taking a water taxi to dinner, explaining that the restaurant could be reached easily (and for a tenth of the cost) by vaporetto and on foot?As a dividend, I saw a pocket of the city I would otherwise have missed.
At every other hotel I stayed at in Venice, it was the Gritti's subtlety I missed. When serving fruit, the kitchen goes to the exquisite trouble of arranging a knife between the tines of a fork. And there's a dedicated check-out desk, where you can study your bill in privacy. How civilized.
The Gritti let me down just once, when my shutters jammed against the stone sill, obscuring what I could see of the Grand Canal. As any hotelier will tell you, there are only three things that count in a guest room here: the view, the view, and the view. How does the saying go again-nothing's perfect? Hotel Gritti Palace, San Marco 2467, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio; 800/325-3589, fax 39-041/5200-0942; doubles from $522.