Venice is one of those cities that can feel like the Epcot version of itself, even when you’re in the historic center. Small pedestrian streets are crowded, making it tough to move forward against the rush, and an 80-euro gondola ride is hardly a better way to get around. Saint Mark’s Square is swarmed with people (and seagulls), and it’s hard to see the basilica behind the scaffolding. (On a recent visit, I witnessed five of them — seagulls, not people — fighting over a whole slice of abandoned pizza. I hightailed it out of there soon after.)
But by staying in the local neighborhood of Cannaregio, the city’s 16th-century Jewish quarter, you can get to know the quieter side of Venice. This neighborhood, perfectly situated right across the lagoon from Murano and Burano islands, is indeed the ideal respite from the hustle and bustle Venice usually offers. It’s inhabited mostly by locals but is also home to Radisson Collection Hotel, Palazzo Nani Venice.
Now before you go drawing links between this hotel and a Country Inn, rest assured: this is no roadside prefab. Radisson Collection is the luxury lifestyle brand from Radisson Hotel Group, whose 31 properties are primarily located in historical digs in cities as far flung as Budapest, Riyadh, Stockholm and Seville. Venice’s 16th-century Palazzo Nani, a former private residence, has been home to Radisson for more than a year, and it’s the perfect luxury cocoon for your Venetian explorations.
After arriving to Palazzo Nani via taxi or the Vaporetto — a public waterbus — from the Guglie stop, you’ll enter the hotel through a discreet doorway into an open, light-filled bar and lounge that opens onto a hidden inner courtyard. The building has had several previous lives, including a school, but it’s been fully renovated and restored with an eye towards historical accuracy. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than the salons on the second and third floors, where hand-painted, towering ceilings and beautiful frescoes provide a wonderful counterpoint to the canal views from the stone balconies.
The Renaissance art innate to this space is expertly juxtaposed, thanks to a collaboration with surrealist photographer Minh T, part of a series between the hotel group and emerging artists with the goal of creating immersive art experiences for guests. The photographer explored the neighborhood and the hotel itself to bring architectural motifs and detail into full focus. Some of his work is displayed in the hotel salon, which adds a touch of modernity to the space and invites viewers to seek out the same sights by wandering through the neighborhood.
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After a day of exploring and adventuring, the hotel is the perfect cocoon with its 52 unique guest rooms, many of which retain Renaissance touches like original exposed beams or textiles from Rubelli, a prestigious Venetian velvet and textile manufacturer dating back to the 19th century. Take advantage of the small gym, boasting state-of-the-art equipment, a sauna and views of a secret garden.
The hotel also has its own in-house restaurant, Zoja, which is Venetian dialect for “joy.” With the goal of mirroring the style and offerings of other small local restaurants, it is known for its wine selection and cicchetti (Venetian tapas) like baccalà mantecato (creamy salt cod) or breaded and fried mozzarella. The central bar is also adept at that oh-so-Venetian classic, the spritz, which can be made using Aperol or one of the local favorites: bright red Select Aperitivo or bittersweet Cynar, which is made with artichokes.
Zoja is indeed a delicious offering, and the breakfast buffet is as luxe as one would hope, with pastries, charcuterie and a short-and-sweet à la carte menu. But Cannaregio also offers a host of other dining options. Ask the concierge — the first in his family to deviate from the generations-strong glass-blowing tradition — for a few suggestions of local spots, and go on a cicchetti crawl through the neighborhood. You’ll discover a truly local Venice, the likes of which many visitors will never be privy to.
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