John Ruskin is known around the world for his lengthy essays, treaties and manuals covering everything from geology to ornithology. Yet one of the best-loved works by this infamous Victorian critic was in fact a fairy tale, which was never meant to be published at all. The King of the Golden River tells the story of three brothers. The oldest two are greedy and desperate to be rich and enjoy the finer things in life. The younger brother is a content and kind-hearted chap, somewhat unfortunately named Gluck. I am sure you can guess which one ends up swathed in gold. Yet despite the cliché of good triumphing evil, Ruskin was intent on keeping the tale moral-free, creating it purely for the reader’s unbound pleasure. (Let’s skim over the fact that he wrote it for a twelve-year-old girl… who later became his teenage bride – pretty clear where the distaste for morality comes from).
The John Ruskin Suite at the Gritti Venice
I pondered Ruskin’s seeming disregard for wealth from the second floor of one of Venice’s most iconic and expensive hotels; The Gritti Palace. My bed for the evening was in the very spot that the Ruskins once spent an entire winter – in the preposterously decadent suite now labelled the John Ruskin Suite.
With a painstakingly restored Murano glass chandelier crowning my boudoir and an elegant blood red velvet chaise longue fringing the enormous bed, I gazed towards the Santa Maria della Salute through windows swathed in gold-trimmed drapes – the decadence of the eponymous Ruskin suite felt somewhat ironic. But in all seriousness, it could have been called the Muammar Gaddafi suite, because really who gives a toss about the name when this is where you’re staying…
The Gritti Palace – Location and a bit of History
Dating back to the 15th-century, the imposing palazzo was originally built as a private residence for Doge Andrea Gritti. Occupying a prime spot on Venice’s Grand Canal, it commands postcard views across the gondola dotted river towards Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and the world-famous Salute church. With manic St Mark’s just five minutes away, its location makes it central and convenient. But of course, those finding it a little close to the action may take a leaf out of Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor’s books and moor up at the hotel’s iconic jetty.
Now, I am sure Ruskin would agree that it isn’t what’s on the outside that counts… Inside, the lavish grand abode is a prime example of a traditional Venetian hotel offering done well. A £50m refurbishment which took place a few years ago has seen the frescoes, Murano glass and precious Rubelli fabrics restored to their former gleaming perfection.
The Gritti is a sumptuous, lavish, grand-dame of a hotel. It’s a destination in its own right, for those seeking old-world glamour and culture. It’s not a place for card-carrying Soho-House tech try-hards or experiential millennials. It’s an institution – full of wonderful characters, Texan oil-men, nondescript fund-managers and mummified Parisian socialites with enormous hair and their toy-boy lovers.
Club del Doge, the hotel’s signature restaurant, is also arguably Venice’s most beautiful dining room. Unfortunately, it was fully booked on our stay – unsurprising given that its terrace, which sits alongside the Grand Canal, is one of the hottest tables in the city.
Service at the Gritti
Managing a hotel of this size, as opposed to smaller boutique properties is often fraught with difficulty – as is accommodating the whims and caprices of guests acutely (and rightly) aware of their own entitlement. However, refreshingly service at the Gritti was stellar and unusually for Italy, everything happened faster than you could say “cicchetti”.
One also can’t help but mention the the artistic treasure trove that is the Gritti Palace, with millions of pounds worth of paintings gracing its walls (my suite had a Titian). The public rooms are awash with handmade mirrors and precious fabrics but as I amble along the historic marble corridors with my journalist’s notebook in hand, it is the wood-panelled Explorer’s Library which calls me. Paying homage to the hotel’s past, the room was designed to make guests feel as if they were visiting the grand home of a great explorer, with rare books, priceless artworks and the odd astrolabe displayed for good measure. Above the fireplace is a famous painting of Doge Andrea Gritti himself, acquired at Sotheby’s last year.
Preparing to check-out, I took in the views of the Grand Canal and Ruskin’s ‘golden city’ from the elaborately draped windows of my suite one last time. As I walked towards reception, I was reminded of another of Ruskin’s musings; “A little thought and a little kindness are often worth more than a great deal of money.” So, I plastered on my kindest smile as I waited for the bill…