You have to stay in Venice, if only for a night – daytrippers miss the lagoon city’s after-hours magic. Don’t be put off by prices; the financial crisis has turned Venice into a buyers’ market (see deals below), with rooms even in the more luxurious hotels going at fire-sale rates in the off season.
Of course, peak times still pull in visitors in their thronging millions. As well as summer, try to steer away from Carnevale, regattas, Biennale events and important religious festivities including Christmas and Easter. Outside of these times, you’ll find that the Lagoon City is refreshingly quiet and cheaper than it has been for a long time – to sleep in, at least.
Despite the economic downturn, Venice’s accommodation sector continues to change and expand. Some of this is retrenching: at the super-luxurious Danieli, a massive revamp will reduce the number of rooms, providing more gorgeous suites for demanding top-end travellers. Across on the Lido, the historic Excelsior and Des Bains have been taken over by the Four Seasons group (www.fourseasons.com). They will begin a lengthy refurbishment programme in autumn 2009 to emerge some time later as a 160-room hotel (the former) and sumptuous serviced apartments (the latter).
On the Giudecca, the new Molino Stucky Hilton (Giudecca 810, campo San Biagio, 041 272 3311, www.molinostuckyhilton.com), in a vast former flour mill, offers 380 rooms in a smart but ultimately corporate-feeling ambience; its true vocation is obvious in its huge conference facilities. Altogether more elegant is Ca’ Sagredo with its art collection worthy of a major gallery. iQs, on the other hand, continues the Charming House group’s experiments with pared-back style.
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Venice’s B&Bs provide some colourful and homely stays. The plethora of B&Bs in Venice varies from spartan accommodation to rooms in glorious antique-filled palazzi, with an equally wide range of prices reflecting location and facilities. We have listed a few B&Bs here; for more, check the handy www.bed-and-breakfast.it website.
In addition to the cosy B&B San Marco and the B&B rooms just opened up by the restaurant L’Avogaria, a few other places are definitely worth considering. Ca’ Miani (San Marco 2865, calle del Frutarol, 041 241 1868), was one of Venice’s first B&Bs and surely the only such place where you can get an in-house hair-do (Pascal, the French owner, is a hairdresser). Three-bedroom Palazzo dal Carlo (Dorsoduro 1163, fondamenta di Borgo, 041 522 6863, www.palazzodalcarlo.com) is filled with heirloom antiques, but in spite of the grandeur this is a thoroughly laid-back place to stay thanks to Roberta dal Carlo’s warm welcome.
A pretty plant-filled courtyard with a well is the main calling card of Corte 1321 (San Polo 1321, campiello Ca’ Bernardi, 041 522 4923, www.corte1321.com), a three-room ethno-chic B&B. But the prize for the most unusual B&B experience goes to Boat & Breakfast, a lovely 1930s yawl with three cabins, which is moored out on the Giudecca (Giudecca 212A, 335 666 6241 mobile, www.realvenice.it/shaula).
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Over-supply is leading to some good deals on accommodation. For many decades, Venice was a sellers’ market, a place where too many visitors fought over too few rooms, with the result that hoteliers could charge more or less what they wanted for accommodation – which ranged, in many cases, from plain shabby to unsalubrious in the extreme. Even the luxe end of the market wasn’t exactly forced to put on a particularly good show, and a trend was set for Venice charging much more for much less – a trend that extended well beyond hotels and, in these other fields, continues to this day.
Nowadays, however, Venice’s accommodation scene is looking like a victim of its own success.
The B&B revolution
A desperate shortage of beds coupled with a desperate desire to cash in on mass tourism meant that the B&B revolution at the turn of the millennium was hailed as the only way forward.
Until then, the lagoon city’s non-hotel accommodation had consisted mainly of early-curfewed cells in religious institutions. Between 2000 and 2007, the number of non-hotels with beds available for hire rose an astonishing 890 per cent, though the small dimensions of most establishments (an average across this sector of 6.4 beds each) meant that pillows on which to rest your head had increased by a relatively ‘modest’ 251 per cent.
Not to be outdone, hotels were increasing and expanding too, with 20 per cent more hotels offering 26.5 per cent more beds over the same period. At the same time, many were revamping and upgrading, alarmed at the sudden surge in visitor interest for the cute and chic, the homely and welcoming, the touches of style and idiosyncracy – not to mention the lower rates – which made the new B&Bs so attractive.
The statistical result of these shifts was a fall-off in room occupancy in hotels from 72 per cent in 2000 to well below 65 per cent in 2008 (the national average in 2007 was 63.7 per cent) – and this, bear in mind, was before the credit crunch hit – while non-hotels nudged up from 43 per cent in 2000 to just below 50 per cent in 2008. The result for the visitor has been more choice, higher standards and a very noticeable drop in room prices: book on-line for non-peak, non-event times and Venice begins to look like a very good deal indeed. Why city hall and hoteliers should be striving to increase the number of rooms still further is baffling.
If you’re travelling off-peak, be sure to look at the hotels in the price brackets above the one that you’d usually go for: the range between high and low season can be immense.
Facilities for the disabled are scarce in Venetian hotels, partly due to the nature of the buildings. Many establishments do not even have lifts; always check first. We have indicated where disabled rooms are available.
Breakfast is usually included in the price of the room; we have indicated where this is not the case.
If you have turned up in Venice without a booking, make for an AVA (Venetian Hoteliers Association) bureau at the Santa Lucia railway station, piazzale Roma or the airport; staff will help you track down a room, charging a small commission that you can claim back on the price of your first night.
For last-minute bookings from home, try AVA’s detailed online information and booking service: www.veniceinfo.it. Also worth a look is the www.venicehotel.com site’s directory of hotels, B&Bs and campsites.
Some hotels, such as La Calcina and Messner, have apartments for longer stays; these are true money-saving options, especially for groups or families.
The websites www.viewsonvenice.com and www.veniceapartment.com are also good resources for finding an apartment.
Finding your hotel
Even old Venice hands get lost in the city. Make sure you obtain detailed directions before you arrive: ask your hotel for the nearest vaporetto stop, easily identifiable campo (square) and/or landmark (such as a church). Alternatively, you’ll need an excellent map and a fiendishly good sense of direction.
Plush hotels and tourist action centre around St Mark’s square and the riva degli Schiavoni, but the crowds thronging outside the front door can tarnish that pampered feel. On the other side of the Grand Canal, in the sestieri of Dorsoduro, Santa Croce and San Polo, there are chic little hideaways for those who seek style without the glam trappings.
We have given prices for double rooms only. Check hotel websites for prices of singles and suites.
While every effort and care has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this guide, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any errors it may contain. Before you go out of your way, we strongly advise you to phone ahead and check the particulars.
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