An Elegant Backwater in the City of Canals
Discovering a different, quieter, aspect of Venice at the Hotel Heureka
Article by Mark Nicholls
Away from the Venetian throng of Piazza San Marco, the Bridge of Sighs and the busy waterfront, there is a quieter side to this remarkable Italian city. Wander back from the Grand Canal and take a route over the bridges and footpaths that run beside the canals towards the lagoon, and you will arrive in the Cannaregio district.
Here, the canals are peaceful, even serene. The occasional service boat, water taxi, or straying gondolier will pass you by but you can walk at your leisure along the fondamenta (canal paths) lined with cafes, bars and restaurants frequented by locals. This area was once the garden of Venice, where produce was grown to feed the population, but as space became ever scarcer this greener side of the city began to disappear. Now, it is a less visited, but is a peaceful and picturesque aspect of Venice that will offer a few surprises too.
Today, there are still rare pockets of greenery in an area of the city where craftsmen lived and worked. You can still visit a gold workshop (Battiloro in Titian’s garden) or the Valese Foundry where bronze gondola figureheads are shaped, for example. Cannaregio also has a number of discreet boutique-style hotels.
I stayed at one of the newer ones, Hotel Heureka; a beautifully-furnished 10-room residence which retains the historic character of the building, yet with a modern twist.
It received its name after the owners finally discovered the destination for their hotel – their ‘heureka’ moment. And one of the aspects that makes this hotel so special is that it retains its magical garden.
With waterfront access onto the Madonna Del Orto canal, guests enter a stylish reception and lobby bar to step out into a peaceful haven of shady trees, hydrangeas and colourful shrubs and bushes. A late 16th Century Venetian palazzo, Hotel Heureka’s sympathetic restoration saw the frescoes, columns and vaulted ceilings retained and the two Piani Nobili – long light-filled spaces off which the rooms are set – brought to life with fabulous furnishings and décor. There is also a music room with a grand piano for recitals, and a library and chess room.
Each bedroom has its own distinctive design and identity, oozing individuality with the Venetian architectural legacy combining with contemporary furnishings and fabrics.
The mix of deluxe doubles and suites have four-poster beds, Lacroix textile-drops as bed-heads, double Rubelli brocade silks at the windows, fabulous lamps, designer bathrooms with freestanding baths, and paintings by Julian Khol, specially-commissioned for the hotel, to interpret the spirit of each room.
The benefit of staying in Venice for a few days is that you still get to see the main sites such as St Mark’s Cathedral, the campanile, the Doges Palace and the waterfront but you also have the opportunity to experience the quieter side of the city. Also, in the summer months, you can make an early start and enjoy the ambience of Piazza San Marco in the coolness of the morning before the temperatures rises and the crowds flood in, or later in the evening.
Don’t be put off by the location of Hotel Heureka – distances in Venice are small and you are soon on the main artery of the Grand Canal, crossing the Rialto Bridge, and wandering towards the city’s main square.
The beauty of staying a little further away in Cannaregio is that you experience the pleasures of getting there. Another delight is pausing for lunch Venice style with cicchetti and a glass of wine. Cicchetti are small tapas-like dishes, typically served in bacari (cicchetti bars) and include tiny sandwiches, plates of olives or vegetables, and seafood or meat on a slice of bread or polenta. Eaten late morning, for lunch, or as afternoon snacks, they are taken with a small glass of wine known as an “ombra”, or shadow, as it was originally served within the moving shadow of Venice’s campanile.
Hotel Heureka’s general manager, Andrea Penzo, explained: “We see the Heureka as a quiet place where people can have time to relax and enjoy the house and the garden is very unusual, a real secret in the Cannaregio area. “We know it will take a little longer to visit the centre of Venice but people really do want to be away from the crowds and that is what they find with this place.” The hotel does not have its own restaurant but serves of wonderful breakfast and has an intimate bright bar where you can enjoy an aperitivo or a digestive or sip a cocktail in the garden.
There are plenty of places to eat for dinner. We discovered the Rioba, a couple of bridges over from Hotel Heureka, by a quiet canal, where diners draw up in gondola or water taxi and savour the best of Venetian cuisine. A near neighbour of the hotel is the church of the Madonna del Orto – the Madonna of the garden – where Tintoretto painted and now lies at rest. Later this year the church celebrates 500 years since his birth in 1518.
A fun way to spend an hour or so it learning how to row like a gondolier with Row Venice with instructors who will teach you the technique as you work your way around the quieter canals.
Venice can often be seen as a crowded, bustling island city, and during the summer days, it can get very busy. But if you wander off into the suburbs – or stay at a place such as Hotel Heureka – you can discover a whole new, quieter, perspective of one of the greatest cities on earth.
Enquiries: Hotel Heureka, Fondamenta Gasparo Contarini, 3534, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy / +39 041 524 6460 / www.hotel-heureka.com
Junior Suites with canal view (from 460 euro) and garden view (370 euro), a Grand Deluxe Room (from 270 euro) and Deluxe Room (from 210 euro) are available. The Heureka Suite (from 1,200 euro, available on request). Prices are per room and include buffet breakfast.