Hotel Danieli, Venice, Italy

| By Jean T. Barrett | From Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

The best thing about your room at the Hotel Danieli may not be the silken coverlet on the antique bed, or the ornate desk, or the rich Oriental carpeting on the parquet floors. Wait until you walk to the window and brush the drapes aside. Across the sparkling waters of the lagoon is the campanile of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore; to the right, at the entrance to the Grand Canal, are the gorgeous curves of the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, while to the left, steamships and motor yachts chug off to the Lido. On the promenade below, throngs of tourists form into knots and disperse. But from your window, all is serenity as you gaze at the feast for the eyes that is Venice.

For six centuries, the Hotel Danieli has offered a ringside seat to the most beautiful city in the world. The oldest part of the hotel--the Casa Vecchia--was originally built as a palace in the late 1300s by the Dandolo family, a noble clan that counted four Venetian doges in its lineage. Over the centuries, the property changed hands many times, but it wasn't until 1822 that it was opened to paying guests, when Giuseppe Dal Niel rented one floor of the palace to operate as a guest house. Dal Niel was so successful that by 1840 he was able to buy not only that floor, but the entire palace, christening it the "Danieli," an anagram of his own name (he decided his surname was too difficult to pronounce). Since Dal Niel's era, the hotel has annexed an adjoining palazzo and built a third, making a total of 240 rooms. The three buildings operate seamlessly as one, linked by bridges over the canals.

One of the Danieli's charms is its patina of age. The Venetian Gothic lines of the hotel's soaring atrium stairwell have been justly celebrated, but many of the guest rooms, particularly those in the Casa Vecchia, are entirely outfitted in antiques (making the fax machines in some rooms look a bit incongruous). The best rooms and suites command stunning vistas of Venice and are priced accordingly; double-glazed windows keep the din of the boats and tourists to a minimum.

Since 1995, the Danieli has been part of ITT Sheraton's Luxury Collection, now a part of Starwood Properties, enabling guests to take advantage of amenities of the hotel chain's sister properties in Venice. During the summer season, June through mid-September, Danieli guests may pop over to the Lido on one of the hotel's motor launches and hit the beach or relax at the pool of the Hotel des Bains or the Excelsior. Discounted golf privileges are available at the Golf Club Venezia course.

Most guests, however, choose the Danieli because they want to be in the center of things. The Doge's Palace is next door, St. Mark's Square is just steps away, and water taxis and vaporetti (water buses) ply their trade ceaselessly in front of the hotel.

The Danieli Terrazza on the hotel's rooftop is often called Venice's most beautiful restaurant because of its 180-degree view, but it also served up some of the best food I had during my visit. On one dazzlingly sunny afternoon, as the vaporetti chugged over the sparkling waters of the lagoon five floors below, I was charmed by a first course of succulent, fork-tender carpaccio, then seduced by a darkly rich and sensual dish that is a Venetian specialty, spaghettini al nero di seppia--spaghettini with cuttlefish ink. Because the Terrazza has an open-air section that is available from May through September (weather permitting), it is an incomparable spot to linger over a fine after-dinner cigar as you watch the lights twinkle across the water. --Jean T. Barrett

Jean T. Barrett is a Los Angeles-based writer on wine, spirits, food and travel.

Hotel Danieli
Riva degli Schiavoni 4196
Phone (39) (41) 5226480 Fax (39) (41) 5200208
Reservation line (U.S.) (800) 325-3589
Rates Rooms 737,000-935,000 lire (about $409-$519); suites: 1,540,000-4,070,000 lire (about $856-$2,261)