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Luxurious Venice Hotels

Hotel Danieli
La signora from Texas was not amused. "Did you hear that crash this morning?" she asked. "I thought the whole building was coming down."

La signora wasn't kidding. At sunrise a boat had shouldered up to the Danieli, which occupies a hectic stretch of Grand Canal real estate east of Piazza San Marco, to collect what sounded like thousands of empty Prosecco bottles. They seemed to fall from a great height.

You don't have to be clairvoyant to imagine the foibles of living in Venice, which is not just an island, but an island with an irrational web of waterways. The Danieli has asked municipal authorities to wait until, say, 8:30, when most guests are awake, for glass to be taken away. But it's a losing battle.

The front-office manager explained that one way Venetians survive their city is by focusing on the trade-offs: the canal that brought the garbage boat also carried serenading gondoliers, who could have been singing just for me, and someone else had to pay for one of La Serenissima's most famous treats.

With glancing views of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, the Danieli is long on treats. Like the Gritti, it's folded into a (14th-century) doge's residence. And yet the two hotels could not be more different. Where the Gritti is intimate, the Danieli is sprawling. Where the Gritti has a residential feel, the Danieli is baronial. Where the Gritti is twinkling, the Danieli is moody.

The Danieli's 233 rooms speak to customers with an appreciation for high, coved ceilings, trompe l'oeil marble panels, and walls painted blush pink. Though there are plenty of regulars for whom only the original Gothic palazzo will do, its annexes have their fans, even if the Casa Nuova is only 19th-century (not Venice's greatest architectural moment) and the later Danielino has a dour faÁade. Americans are said to prefer the additions, which are linked to the main building by covered bridges, because the rooms are generally larger. And only the Danielino offers proper terraces.

It's the thought of how fabulous the Danieli could be, but isn't quite, that produces a sigh. Breakfast is a feeding frenzy, and the atrium lobby has the atmosphere of a train station. With up to 445 people under its roof, this is one hotel that is not in control of its numbers. Still, there's hope. At 12:03 p.m. I gave a still-wet-behind-the-ears concierge a map and a list of 17 shops and restaurants to be pinpointed; at 12:06 I had my map back, duly marked. Hotel Danieli, Castello 4196, Riva degli Schiavoni; 800/325-3509, fax 39-041/520-0208; doubles from $350.

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