You know there’s something particularly special about a hotel when you step out of the airport to discover that a gleaming white, chartered water-taxi awaits you. You hop aboard to find dark wood interiors and sink-into sofas. Next, you’re whizzed deep into the lagoon, past gorgeous piazzas, beneath centuries-old bridges, and 30 minutes from the airport – just 10 from the San Marco Pier – you’ll find yourself at the San Clemente Palace Kempinski, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.
When I first laid eyes on the property from the boat, it seemed surreal; an apparition that had risen from the waters. I was soon to find out that the story behind this property was just as unreal.
The property can be traced all the way back to the 12th century. In 1131, the wealthy Venetian merchant Pietro Gattilesso funded the construction of the Church of San Clemente and a hospice for pilgrims en route to the Holy Land. Back then, it was run by Augustine canons. In 1432 the Pope moved the order of the Lateran Canons to this island. It was during this time that the monastery grew thanks to donations. The monastery then saw another phase of growth: In 1643, Venetians donated to build a chapel within the Church – which still stands – to fulfill a vow made during the plague epidemic.
In 1645 the Camaldolese monks purchased the island. But in 1810, the monks left the island due to the rise of Napoleon, which saw the island become a military base. From 1844 to 1992, the island housed an asylum, until it was converted to a luxury hotel.
Much like a palimpsest, the architecture bears traces of the past. To turn the pages of history, just walk the wide corridors beneath high ceilings that hark you back to the monastery. The understated elegance – the deep Venetian red is replaced by sober browns, and a muted gold; dark wood antique furnishings; grand wooden staircases; minimalist accessories – once again hints back to the austere monastery. The result is a space that’s classy; a relaxed sophistication.
My favorite spot is the chapel which remains almost intact with its vaulted ceiling, marble flooring, intricately carved pulpit. Many visitors make the trip to the island solely to say a prayer at this age-old church. Weddings are also often held against this timeless backdrop.
The sense of space comes not just from the décor of the hotel, but from the fact that the property is encased by acres of well-manicured gardens.
The décor is uniform such that the sense of expanse and muted elegance continues within the rooms. The hotel offers 130 rooms and 61 suites. But even the standard rooms are large and spacious, starting at about 400 sq. feet. The large windows ensure you get a view of nature – the turquoise waters, the green gardens. The rooms and suites come with large sink-into beds with wooden headboards. The muted tones continue taupe and dull gold curtains; the pictures in wooden frames; white lampshades held up by a dull-gold base; whitewashed walls, or a muted-tone wallpaper.
The walk-into wardrobe could put a Mumbai studio apartment to shame! As would the bathrooms which come with marble flooring, a shower area, a large tub, two sinks, and Salvatore Ferragamo bath products.
Food and Drink:
The Acquerello restaurant on the waterfront offers fantastic views and Italian-inspired cuisine. If the food and plating remind you of a fiery sunset, it’s supposed to, since everything here is inspired by nature.
It’s never too early to grab a drink at the Clemente Bar that offers an extensive range of beverages from coffee to the finest champagne.
The Garden Bar, La Dolce Restaurant and La Dolce Bar are shut temporarily and set to re-open in April 2020.
The property offers the usual: concierge service, wi-fi, laundry, steam and sauna, room service, pool, kids club, tennis courts, etc. In addition, there’s also an indulgent spa run by the Merchant of Venice chain where you can choose from a variety of treatments: 24-K gold mask, massages with aromatic oils, etc.
Another unique feature is the ‘Pitch and Putt’ golf course where you can work on your handicap.
Isola di San Clemente 1, 30124 Venice, Italy It is a speedy 30-minute water-taxi ride from the airport; 10 minute-ride from San Marco Pier. Complimentary water-taxi shuttles between the San Marco Pier and the hotel, every 30 minutes.
Where: San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice
Isola di San Clemente,1,30124 Venezia VE,Italy
Phone: +39 041 475 0111
Note: The critic was invited by the hotel. But opinions are her own