Aman Canal Grande
Palazzo Papadopoli, Sestre San Polo, Venice. 24 suites from $1,700 (€1,150). amanresorts.com
James Bond couldn't do it better. A black Mercedes was waiting for us at Venice's Marco Polo airport for a three-minute drive to the dock. There, an immaculately lacquered speed boat took my wife and I on a wake-spinning ride across the lagoon.
Entering Venice by a side canal, we emerged in the Grand Canal, passed under the Rialto Bridge amid a flock of gondolas and eased in to a private dock in front of one of the grandest and most private of the canal-side palaces: The Aman Canal Grande.
After two years of meticulous restoration, the five-star palace opened last year as the first new hotel in central Venice in years.
Steps from Venice's famous Rialto Bridge, the hotel is the newest incarnation of a palace built by the noble Coccina family in the 16th century.
The hotel provides a luxurious water taxi transfer from the airport or train station. You could get to the hotel from the land, but only if you know that the estate is down a narrow passage near the church of San Silvestro and that you have to ring a bell to summon someone to unlock the garden gate.
When the palace was owned in later years by the ultra-wealthy Papadopoli family, it commissioned 18th-century master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo to paint ceiling murals – with no limits on the number of angels and titans allowed to encircle the palace's many vast rooms. The family also created two private gardens – an unheard of luxury then – by demolishing two adjoining villas. The Papadopoli family still owns the palace and descendants live on the upper floor, using income from the hotel now managed by Asia's Aman Hotels and Resorts to defray the crushing costs of maintaining the place.
Dine in or dine out
Who would want to miss the experience of dinner at the palace? As my wife and I entered the vast grand salon at eight, musicians were playing a flute concerto, seemingly just for us. Other diners arrived soon after, but the ornate baroque ballroom and its four equally grand side rooms were so vast we could choose a room and window with a view to suit our mood. The menu was remarkably diverse, featuring specialties done with the local catches and vegetables in season. I started with a Rialto Market seafood soup and followed up with a filetto di rombo (fresh caught turbot) served with spring vegetables arranged so artistically on the plate I couldn't resist taking a few selfies with the food before enjoying the meal. The service in the restaurant, as it is throughout the hotel, is incredibly personal without hovering. When you're ready to order, someone suddenly appears as though by magic to take your order.
If I could change one thing
The hotel's low-slung furnishings are new and contemporary but awkward. At breakfast, I ended up sitting sideways as my long legs didn't quite fit under the table top.
The handmade guest slippers provided in the bathroom are highly coveted gondoliers' slippers, known as furlanes, and are made of velvet plush enough for a pope. These are slippers you'll be taking home as souvenirs.
The author received a reduced rate from the hotel.