As stars and cinephiles descend on the lagoon, we take a look at the hotspots worth checking out (and checking into).
In 2020, the Venice Film Festival forged defiantly ahead despite COVID restrictions, adding distancing to the usual decadence for a pared-back mostra (show) in which masks were mandatory and the crowd was largely Italian. This year, the world’s oldest film festival is back to full glamour, with stars pouring in from across the globe. There’s a particularly strong line-up of premieres poised to storm awards season and set Oscar rumours swirling, including the long-awaited appearance of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune starring Timothée Chalamet, Kristen Stewart’s turn as Princess Diana in Spencer, and the impeccably stylish Last Night in Soho, a psychological horror featuring Anya Taylor-Joy.
The sartorial splendour will doubtless be as gripping as the cinematic debuts, continuing the hype sparked by Dolce & Gabbana’s recent Alta Moda show in The Floating City. But while we wait for the next rush of red carpet shots and rejoice at the end of quarantine rules for UK travellers, here’s a pick of the places to see and be seen during the 78th Venice International Film Festival, from grand, storied haunts to chic, off-grid spots.
The Packing Edit
For those seeking a spot in the centre of the action, it doesn’t get better than the Excelsior. The hotel stands resplendent in the heart of the Lido in the Venice lagoon, where screenings take place in the majestic Palazzo del Cinema and other venues. The first festival happened within the hotel’s very walls, from which you can still feel all the history and glamour reverberating. The interiors marry palatial Venetian seaside with Moorish allure, adding an almost mystical quality to the spacious suites, all of which is enhanced by perfect ombré sunsets, a secret spritz recipe mixed at the iconic Blue Bar, and the freshest seafood served at the wonderfully old-school Tropicana Restaurant.
Technically fewer than 10 years old, Aman Venice has nevertheless reached legendary status, somehow managing to combine late-Renaissance grandeur with understated charm. Every inch embodies the purest fantasy of Venetian opulence, from soaring chandeliered ceiling to polished marble floor, and there is nowhere better to arrive after the buzz of the Lido and the swelter of the vaporetto. Guests can dine beneath a Giovanni Battista Tiepolo fresco or in the serene canal-side courtyard, Arva; here, cocktails are inspired by Venice’s erstwhile resident, Lord Byron, and impossibly fresh tuna crudo comes from the nearby Rialto Market.
La Casa di Hubert de Givenchy
For those seeking to live like a (very glamorous) Venetian for the festival period, one of the most stylish stays around is Hubert de Givenchy’s former apartment in Dorsoduro, within steps of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The legendary fashion designer also had a gift for interior design, and this three-bedroom Homes & Villas by Marriott International rental in a grand 16th-century building – a unique blend of the outré and the refined – is a testament to his skill. Another detail that makes this the ultimate Venice Film Festival abode is that it pays particular homage to Givenchy’s lifelong friend, Audrey Hepburn, who personally selected the fabric that still adorns one of the walls.
St Regis Venice
To get to the centre of it all, head to the St Regis, which regularly hosts A-listers and post-premiere parties in its majestic Italianate Garden terrace at Gio’s. Here, the canal-side suites are modern, glitzy, and without fault, and breakfast is served on a glorious terrace that offers uninterrupted views of the Grand Canal. It’s the perfect place from which to witness the glamorous goings on, while working your way through the full negroni menu.
EAT + DRINK
Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti
Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti is so tiny, you have to book well in advance to secure one of the handful of tables for the evening. Those who succeed are in for an unforgettable treat; the dishes centre around seafood that’s been picked up at the market each day, so you never know what will be on the daily changing menu, but it’s certain to be fresher than fresh. The spaghetti vongole is one of the best (and most reasonably priced) to be found in the city, and the wine list is stellar too.
The Gritti Palace
It’s one of Venice’s most famous hotels, but the Gritti Palace is also a prime spot for a pitstop. The Riva Lounge bar, perched at the top of the Grand Canal, welcomes non-guests and offers views of the glorious Santa Maria della Salute, plus endless people watching as Rivas zoom by.
Taverna al Remer
This vaulted brick taverna is well hidden down an unlikely alley in Cannaregio, but it’s worth seeking out for an aperitivo overlooking the Grand Canal, free from any Venice stuffiness or stratospheric price tags. At sunset, the relaxed crowd spills out onto the pontoons clutching Aperol or Campari spritzes and cicchetti as live music begins.
Another low-key destination that comes alive at aperitivo time is Campo Santa Margherita, a buzzy square that’s popular with students. If you need a break from the high glamour of the festival, head to one of the many informal café-bars here for a spritz and some downtime.