VENICE, Italy, Jan. 3, 2016 – Hotel Londra Palace is a remarkable 160-year-old Venetian institution in an imposingly grand six-story white marble edifice overlooking the Venetian lagoon of St. Marks Basin. A member of the Relais & Chateaux family of world-class hotels, it has exquisite views all along the sweeping waterside fondamenta Riva degli Schiavoni, stretching down the length of the Castello district, or sestieri, of this ancient city.
Originally built in 1853, it is actually the combination of three separate buildings, creating a marvelously stellar boutique hotel experience where tradition and grandeur merge with magnificent results.
Its 53 rooms and suites are each completely unique, done over in Biedermeir style with elegant brocades, damask walls, antique furnishings, marble bathrooms and incredible views, with over 100 windows overlooking St. Marks Basin.
Having undergone a complete renovation five years ago, Hotel Londra Palace captivates the mind with its vaulted ceilings, stunning décor and impeccable staff, all under the guidance of hotel manager extraordinaire Alain Bullo.
Londra Palace, named after the city of London, is one of the grand facades along the Venetian waterfront. It faces a large statue on the steps of the lagoon, erected in 1877, of King Vittorio Emanuel II on horseback.
Just a couple hundred yards or so from the Doges Palace and the glories of St. Mark’s Square and the heart of Venice, it also is the gateway to the quieter, more bucolic streets of Castello, where some of Venice’s most acclaimed new restaurants are.
A grand façade at the front of the hotel gives way to a compact but gorgeous lobby, all creams and marble, with the distinctive Venetian tile floor leading to its world-class restaurant, Do Leoni.
A rooftop patio at the top of the building provides 360-degree views of all of Venice, from the Armory to the south, to St. Marks Basilica to the north and Santa Maria della Salute basilica to the west.
The gleaming towers of Venice stretch out all the way to the point beyond the Arsenal in the late afternoon sun.
Londra Palace is famous as the hotel where Tchaikovsky stayed in room 106 while writing his Fourth symphony in December 1877. Across the decades it has continued to be the residence of choice for streams of Venetian visitors seeking the personal charms of a boutique hotel, stunningly located, with the brilliant expertise of a world-class resort.
The junior suite overlooking the lagoon is a Venetian wonderland, walls covered with gold damask cloth, 12 foot vaulted ceilings, a beautiful arch separating the sitting area from the bedroom and a similar inlaid arch above a sumptuous king-size bed.
The arches are covered with a greyish-siena damask, with thick embroidery separating the arching sections from the gold damask wall coverings.
Antique desks and side tables and lovely Murano glass fixtures add to the precise attention to detail.
The bathroom is a beautiful interplay of gold and pink marble, with a deep tub and antique porcelain fixtures.
A wonderful marble balcony overlooks the Riva degli Schiavoni, with breathtaking views stretching down the waterside from the Armory at the end of the Castello district to the nearby islands of San Giorgio and Giudecca.
In the other direction stand the pillars at the entrance to St Mark’s Square, the Palace of the Doge, and the towering edifice of Santa Maria della Salute Cathedral at the mouth of the Grand Canal.
Throughout the day, and especially at sunset and sunrise, it is a thing of beauty to stand transfixed on the balcony and watch the bustling street flow by below, the glorious changing of colors against the buildings and facades as each day begins and ends.
Vaporato (water buses) ply the lagoon of St. Marks Basin, along with ferries, motoscarfo (water taxis), gondolas and the occasional cruise ship in a constant and delicate water ballet.
As the sun goes down, Santa Maria della Salute is lit up in an explosion of fiery reds and oranges.
All around are the quiet warren of streets of Castello sestieri, filled with some of Venice’s most acclaimed and cutting edge restaurants, a patchwork of back alleys and local hangouts, exemplifying the truly charming and bucolic side of Venice beyond the usual tourist haunts.
Dinner at the award winning Ristorante Do Leoni on the ground floor of the Londra Palace is a grand affair in a setting of sheer opulence, a stunning room with a series of white Murano chandeliers and walls covered with creamy gold patterned damask.
Maitre d’hotel Samuel Baston and a precision staff steers the course of an extraordinary dinner like a finely crafted yacht, enveloping the evening with an ebullient charm and elegance.
Red mullet with artichokes and a lemon ricotta cheese is a fabulous starter, the mullet crisp and tender, the artichokes a tangy counter taste to the smoothness of the ricotta.
Home-made Tagliolini with lobster and cherry tomatoes is simply outstanding, a classic Venetian dish rich with langoustines, the olive oil in the Tagliolini punctuated with the sweetness of the tomatoes, an all-encompassing taste explosion that is devoured with relish and gusto.
A mixed fish grill of sole, scampi, cuttlefish, sardines and scallops is a treasure of the sea brought to life. All the wonders of the Venetian lagoon and the Adriatic are arrayed like an orgy of seafood, beautifully sumptuous and delightful.
Ristorante Do Leoni also has a full vegetarian dinner, in keeping with changing tastes, that is innovative and exceptional without losing the Venetian quality of the dinner.
A winter aromatic salad reveals the garden of earthly delights grown on the nearby islands of Murano and Burano, punctuated with pears and apple and a lovely olive oil and balsamic vinaigarette.
Pumpkin soup with a timbale of black Venus rice, paired with artichoke flavored with mint is a culinary triumph, the soup pungent with flavor, the rice anchoring the plate with substance and crisp taste, the artichoke playing off the two as a tangy counterpoint.
An eggplant Parmigiana with marjoram perfume and a courgettes sauce is a spectacular main course, the eggplant wrapped in the shape of a bowl, the Parmigiana like a thick layer of soft flavor in a exceptional conceptual feast.
A phenomenal vanilla soufflé extravaganza completes the meal in spectacular fashion, laying out the rich, perfectly baked Souffle’ under a layer of hot strawberries and Madagascar vanilla sauce in a glorious ritual of presentation.
The night shines incandescent on the fondamenta below the balcony as the lagoon shimmers in the glow of light bulbs off the water, a rapturous view enhanced by days of wonder in this corner of Venice.
Londra Palace takes both the Venetian and the Relais & Chateaux experience and wraps it in a warmth of hospitality as remarkable and ancient as this city itself, elegantly displaying a side of Venice well beyond the expectations of the ordinary.
Rooms start at around $325 for a standard room, $425 for a deluxe room, and $550 for a junior suite overlooking the lagoon.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal