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Venice's Very Best: The Hotel Danieli

by Laura Elizabeth Frommer and Ian David Frommer

Although several months had passed since our wedding, we were still in a honeymoon state of mind when we traveled to Bologna for an academic conference.  It was May, springtime in Italy, romance in the air. Which might explain why, although it was entirely out of character for both of us, we acted on impulse, hopped on the train and in less than two hours found ourselves in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

A view from the Hotel Danieli capturing St. Marks Square and the Grand Canal
Footsteps away from St. Mark's Square, Venice's Hotel Danieli seemed the destination most likely to suit our mood. Built in the Venetian gothic style, the red palace with white turrets and balconies framed in pointed arches looks out onto the Grand Canal. At night gondolas passed beneath our window, the boatmen singing songs that could only be of love.
The Danieli speaks of romance and mystery. It is actually three connected buildings that contain in total 230 rooms. At its heart is the Dandolo Palace, built at the end of 14th century by the Dandolo family, descendents of Venice's first doge, Enrico Dandolo, who conquered Constantinople and brought back to Venice some of its greatest artistic treasures. After the republic's demise in the 1790s, the palace was divided into various spaces.
An enterprising Venetian, Giuseppe Dal Niel, rented one of the floors as luxury guest quarters in 1822 and gradually went on to acquire the entire palace transforming it into a grand hotel. Following the French fashion, he chose the name "Royale" for his property, but it was his name that stuck, Dal Niel, or the easier to pronounce nickname, Danieli.

In its early days, the Hotel Danieli attracted tourists, nobles, businessmen, artists and intellectuals on the order of Goethe, Wagner, Dickens, and George Sand during their Venetian stop on the "grand tour" of Italy. In more recent times the guest list has included such as Leonard Bernstein, Harrison Ford, and Steven Spielberg.

In 1906 the hotel was enlarged by the annexation of the adjacent 19th century palace now named Casa Nuova, and in 1948, the final piece of the triumvirate, the palace Danielino was built completing the complex.

The atrium within the Dandolo Palace
The atrium within the Dandolo Palace

"From inside you don't notice the difference," Francesca Forni, the hotel's public relations manager explained. "The Hotel Danieli is one hotel and there is no difference in quality among the three buildings." She escorted us into the hotel's entry, a multi-storied atrium of the Dandolo Palace with its gleaming terrazzo veneziano - a floor composed of stucco and pieces of marble that is unique to Venice.  We were also struck by the golden staircase which winds up before soaring gothic arches and paintings in the style of Caravaggio to a glass roof. We wandered through opulent public rooms of stunning beauty with Murano chandeliers, marble floors and pillars, frescoed ceilings, couches upholstered in the finest silks and damasks, and precious antiques. Francesca was right. The hotel was one continuum. We could not tell where one building ended and the other began.

In the Dandolo Palace, Francesca told us, all rooms have at least one piece of antique furniture. "Our most impressive rooms are the four historical suites on the two sides of the first and second floor," she said showing us the two-bedroom, two-bathroom Doge Suite and pointing out the bedroom ceiling with frescoes by the eighteenth century artist Iacopo Guarana.
The palatial Doge Suite overwhelms with its grandeur. Still, being of a more of a romantic turn of mind, we were smitten by Room 10 in the Casa Nuova, witness to the famous love affair of George Sand and Alfred De Musset between 1833 and 1834. "This is one of our most popular rooms," Francesca said, "especially with the French."

Yet we were perfectly content with our room in the Danielino, all done up in pastels of pale pink, blue and yellow with 18th century-style Venetian furnishings.

The inscription above the door of room 10 commemorating its famous guests
The inscription above the door of room 10 commemorating its famous guests

A wraparound rooftop terrace restaurant atop the hotel overlooks the Basilica de San Marco, the island of San Giorgio, the Giudecca, the end of the Canal Grande, the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, as far as the Lido and the Adriatic Sea on one side and the Dolomite Mountains on the other. How extraordinary it was to see the mountains and the sea from the same site.

We dined on "Gran misto di Pesce all griglia," a two-person dish of mixed grilled fish, and a Venetian specialty; "Garganelli con Melanzane, Pomodoro Fresco e Mozzarella," short pasta with eggplants, fresh tomato and mozzarella. We drank a wonderful Pinot Grigio, a perfect accompaniment to a dinner in the most romantic of settings.

Through its long history, the Danieli has changed hands many times; yet it continues to be well preserved. Everything seemed to be in perfect condition. "We work on the restoration of a few rooms every year," Francesca told us. "Every winter we do major restoration which is very difficult as the Danieli is protected by the local authorities.

The beautifully restored atrium of the Dandolo Palace
The beautifully restored atrium of the Dandolo Palace

"About ten years ago, the hotel was completely renovated," she added. "More recently, about four billion lira (about two million dollars) were invested in a new sewage system to clean the water that goes out from the Danieli to the Canal." "That comes with the territory," said Claudio Staderini, who has been manager of the Danieli for the past five years. "It is important to preserve Venice. It belongs not only to Venetians but to people all over the world. We have the responsibility to respect the city, its history, to keep up with its restoration. It a treasure of the world."

He warmed to his subject and unwittingly to the subject of our particular visit. "The romantic life is the life of Venice," Claudio said, "and the right place for romance is the Daniele. It is not just a place for lovers, but a place for lovers to have a very intense and unique passion. The word Daniele means passion. When you stay here, nobody can guarantee what will be the result in the end. But something is going to be changed - for the better in most of the cases. That is the legend of the Danieli."

Hotel Danieli
Castello 4196
Venice, Italy I-30122

Phone: 39/041/522/6480
Fax: 39/041/520/0208

Laura Elizabeth Frommer & Ian David Frommer are food, wine and travel writers, from a family of famous writers, based in the Washington DC area, . They love to share their passion for globe trotting and fine dining with their readers. (More about these writers.)   

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