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Venice's Most Fabled Hideaway

The Story Of A Legend

Set on Giudecca Island, a five-minute ride by private launch from St Mark’s Square, Cipriani, A Belmond Hotel, Venice captures everything La Serenissima is famed for. Here’s what makes us special: past, present and future.

What makes a legend? You need heroes, dreams, drama; historical facts mixed with compelling fiction, or just tales that become ever more outlandish with each telling. And you need a joyful outcome for all.

Our story began in 1956, when Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of the celebrated Harry’s Bar in Venice, decided to build a haven for jet-setting travellers close to St Mark’s Square, yet away from the city bustle. It was a time when Italy was still celebrating a post-war dolce vita, as encapsulated by films such as Roman Holiday and Summertime. He chose a three-acre plot on the tip of the then-deserted Giudecca Island, and secured funding from three wealthy Guinness sisters.

Just two years after the project began, glamorous guests were arriving in their droves. Affluent Americans, French nobles, English aristocrats, European royalty, actors and artists from across the globe were drawn to the relaxing, private atmosphere, the outstanding service and the gorgeous rooms decorated with Murano glass and Fortuny fabrics.

Giuseppe was very hands-on, his grandson Bonifacio Brass remembers. “He was loved by the staff and he took great pleasure in greeting them every morning. He put his heart and soul into making a place that was truly luxurious. He was also a pastry chef and he put on sumptuous buffet breakfasts with incredible pastries. He was meticulous about details.” The guest list reads like a Who’s Who, from Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy to Vanessa Redgrave, Sophia Loren and Catherine Deneuve.

As the hotel expanded, Giuseppe hit on the idea to install a swimming pool. And herein lies a tale. Allegedly, when the Guinness sisters arrived to view it they cried, “We didn’t agree to an Olympic swimming pool!” “But that’s what we settled on with your architect,” replied Giuseppe. “25 by 50 metres.” “No, we said 25 by 50 FEET!” they retorted. The manager at the time, Enzo Cecconi, now 81, clears the matter up. “The truth is, it measures exactly 33 x 13.5 metres. I know because it was me who led the work.”

Whatever its dimensions, the titanic pool has become one of the most exclusive attractions and meeting places in Venice. Writer Erica Jong, a longtime aficionado of the city, says it’s the first thing that springs to mind when she thinks of the hotel. “The crazy pool with the wrong dimensions because the Italian architect was talking in metres and the London one was talking in feet…! But it’s the most wonderful pool because of the salt water—you feel like you’re swimming in the sea.” The author frequently features Venice in her books. “I’ve published 25 books all over the world in 45 languages, including Chinese, and Venice always somehow appears.”

At the age of 72, Giuseppe left the hotel and, in 1976, it became the cornerstone of the Belmond collection together with the revived Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Another legendary hotelier, Natale Rusconi, was appointed as General Manager and was a much-loved part of the legend until 2007.

Former PR Director Nadia Stancioff recalls, “The hotel used to host amazing parties and lavish receptions. Organised by Dr Rusconi, they were very appealing to Venetian society.” She also remembers he was a stickler for detail. “The hotel was known above all for its impeccable service. Printed profiles were kept, indicating habits and special requests of guests, so that the following year they could find exactly the same things and feel truly at home.” Today, Giampaolo Ottazzi ensures Cipriani continues to blaze a trail.

Welcome to a place where such old-fashioned qualities as elegance, courtesy and charm become more than mere fantasy. As real as the delicious cocktail that George Clooney created here with his friend, our head barman Walter Bolzonella. The pair dubbed it ‘Buona Notte’ after the actor’s film, Good Night And Good Luck.

The hotel may look quite different now from the one Giuseppe Cipriani built—additions have included the magnificent Palazzo Vendramin, Cip’s Club, the Granaries of the Republic and our Michelin-star restaurant Oro. But it stays true to the original aspiration: to provide an indulgent sanctuary a world away, yet a stone’s throw, from St Mark’s Square.

An oasis of calm in vibrant Venice, this most exclusive property offers privacy and peace to all who stay here. It’s little wonder that its guests include the world’s most photographed film stars such as Mr Clooney—along with politicians, writers and designers. What’s important is that each of our guests—famous or not—receives the same personal attention.

Here the very notion of service enters a new dimension. Should you wish to play tennis on our red-clay court, you can up your game by taking on a professional tennis player. Care to visit our neighbouring islands? Our private mahogany motorboat, Shirley, has room for up to ten passengers. Her dedicated captain will take you to Murano for glass and Burano for lace. We’ll pack you a picnic and champagne for the sunset.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Cipriani makes your experience of this already exquisite city even more beautiful. From our commanding views of the shapely Venetian towers and domes across the turquoise lagoon to the roses, jasmine and wisteria that softly scent our ancient courtyard, every step brings another postcard-perfect moment. Indeed, our luxurious spa is set in the lush gardens where Casanova once wooed his lovers.

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Birth of the Bellini

Gems from the Past

Birth of the Bellini

So simple, but so delicious, the peach purée and Prosecco cocktail that has become synonymous with Cipriani was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in 1948. Giuseppe, a barman at the time, had lent 10,000 lire to a struggling American student named Harry Pickering. When a much wealthier Harry returned, he presented his friend with four times the sum and suggested he set up his own bar. Harry’s Bar opened in 1931, and swiftly became frequented by writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and Somerset Maugham. Giuseppe conjured up the Bellini when the sun was setting: the pinky golden hues inspired his world-famous cocktail.

Secrets of a head doorman

Gems from the Past

Secrets of a head doorman

Roberto Senigaglia, often the face you see on arrival at the hotel’s jetty, has welcomed many stars during his 25 years at the hotel. He describes his “office” as “the best in the world”, yet it does have its challenges. “Once, a customer dropped her ring in the lagoon”, he confides. He sent a diver to search the ocean floor but the choppy water was making the task difficult. A group of anxious spectators had gathered on the pontoon when the frogman burst through the water brandishing the jewel to rounds of applause.

What the butler saw

Gems from the Past

What the butler saw

Umberto, private butler in our prized Palazzo Vendramin apartments, has enjoyed amazing encounters during his 23 years of service. Like the time he brought his guitar to work for Paul McCartney to sign. Or took Keith Richards’ wife and children for pizza. Or, movingly, met Princess Diana. “She sat on the bottom of the carpeted staircase,” he recalls. “She took off her shoes and, with a big sigh of relief, said ‘home at last!’”

Golden years

Gems from the Past

Golden years

Our historic guest book is a treasured item, its yellowed pages covered with drawings, dedications and words of thanks from stars such as Burt Reynolds, Candice Bergen, Gérard Depardieu and Cary Grant. But it is the first entry, written in 1958 in a flourish of blue ink, that says it all. Iconic French actress Martine Carol’s message to Giuseppe Cipriani simply states: “I’ve travelled three times around the world, but this is where I want to stay.”

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