Browsing on Mr & Mrs Smith’s website quickly had me convincing my own Mr Smith that we couldn’t possibly travel back to the UK for summer without sampling some of their finest Italian hotels along the way. One upside of our aquatic-themed Italian mini break diversion? That I get to bring you Sassy’s Guide to Venice & Lake Garda!
CANAL-SIDE ROMANCE IN VENICE
Unquestionably, Venice is all about its canals. Thus, whether you arrive by train or plane, use the city’s vaporetto system to get to your hotel. These efficient water buses are the cheapest way to navigate the canals with a view (skip the overpriced gondolas unless you’re a hopeless romantic); buy a ticket that lasts the duration of your trip so you can hop on and off at leisure.
Tucked away behind San Samuele was our boutique hotel, Palazzina G. Discreet to the core, we felt slightly underdressed for its super trendy Philippe Starck designed interiors… especially when informed that previous guests included Johnny Depp, George Clooney and Brad Pitt! Local Venetian materials are juxtaposed with innovative contemporary design, creating a sensory experience throughout. Forget chintzy overpriced Venetian hotels – Palazzina G provides an unbeatable hotel experience at sensible prices.
Our room provided a cooling white respite from the summer heat, with our low-slung bed surrounded by ceiling height mirrors and a private terrace providing the perfect spot for enjoying our breakfast (indulgently served up anywhere and anytime you want!). Palazzina G’s ethereal and artistic feel made it the perfect base camp for exploring the busy, and at times chaotic, Venetian sights and is high on my list of the most stylish hotels I’ve ever visited! Exclusivity mixed perfectly with indulgent quirky modernism makes Palazzina G a total standout.
As a Venice virgin, on our first day sightseeing I obligingly accepted my Mr Smith’s advice and discarded the map. Apparently, the most romantic way to explore Venice is to allow yourselves to get totally lost in it. Beautiful historic churches, sleepy squares and divine bridges were mistakenly yet appreciatively discovered through our roaming antics. My organisational tendencies took over on Day Two as we ticked off tourist boxes. Be sure to visit the Basilica San Marco, an astoundingly beautiful 11th Century church that, whilst busy, cannot fail to impress with its historic and religious significance. A good Sassy tip is to buy your ticket online for only €1 and skip the 40 minute queue.
Food & Drink
Italy is unashamedly all about the food and drink but you have to know where to look to avoid unsatisfying tourist versions. Only buy ice cream from gelatarias displaying signs for artigianato or produzione propria such as Il Doge on Campo Santa Margarita, as this means their product is homemade. Skip the packed pizzerias and wind down the backstreets armed with this article and discover the wonderful world of bacari!
Dinner both evenings was as remarkable as it was gluttonous. We first took ourselves to local bars to sip on Campari Spritz. The orange hued Venetian drink of choice, I became addicted to this bitter mix of Campari, soda water and white wine. At unassuming Alle Testiere, a tiny seafood restaurant near the Santa Maria Formosa, we were nestled amongst locals, dined the Italian way and have honestly never tasted more delicious Italian food. We dined waterside on our second night at Linea Dombra, perched on the edge of their overwater decking with front row seats for the sunset over the canal.
Venice is a pricey city but the food is worth it, so be sure to factor up to €200 per dinner meal into your budget if you really want to sample the city’s finest delights (fear not, gelato and bacari are wonderfully cheap).
LAIDBACK BEAUTY IN LAKE GARDA
Unlike in Venice, our Lake Garda hotel was more of a focal point of our stay and we spent most of our time relaxing, eating and sleeping in the beautiful setting of Villa Arcadio. Perched up on a hillside with unbeatable views down onto the Lake, it provided the perfect place to rest our wearied sightseeing feet. We had rented a car and driven from Venice; as we wound our way up to Villa Arcadio, our hearts melted.
A former monastery lovingly restored and adorned with treasured local furniture and art, it oozed authentic charm and calming rustic vibes. In the centre of the soft stone building, the courtyard lined on one side with romantic tables overlooking the magnificent views was where we enjoyed delicious breakfasts and gorged ourselves on yet more exceptional Italian dining. Breakfast was a satisfying continental spread but dinner stole the show (truffle topped seared scallop and clam linguine – divine!). Luckily for my addiction, the graceful staff obligingly brought me my Campari Spritzes throughout the day, even bringing one to my room before dinner.
Our room was simply styled with clean lines and modern yet unassuming furniture, allowing the innate beauty of the terracotta stones and old beams to shine through. Unfortunately, our room didn’t come with a lake view; instead, our private terrace provided some respite from the sun. Neutral colours, soft textures and architectural features left me feeling the most relaxed I had for a long time, even though I didn’t opt for the in-room spa treatments. We spent most of our days lounging around the infinity pool; whilst slightly cramped by some surrounding sunbeds, it is without doubt the best view from a pool in Italy… and perhaps the whole world!
Surveying the Lake from this heavenly hotel, we fell a little bit deeper in love with Italy. The hotel is set in rolling grounds filled with olive trees and vines and I loved the calming beauty of the building and its surroundings. We were so happy with the impeccable service, delectable food and mesmerising views that we barely left the hotel during our stay!
Nevertheless, we did drive into the local lakeside town of Salo where we sampled some local gelato (which failed to beat the hotel’s inimitable version) and took a ferry across to the town of Sirmione on a medieval peninsula in the lake. There were some impressive buildings and it was nice to amble lakeside but on the whole, the throngs of tourists and commercial shops had us wishing we had instead spent the money on hiring a boat for the day and lounging around waterside like the rest of the glamorous Italian weekenders. Only that would have been worth tearing ourselves away from Villa Arcadio for!
Five days later, fourteen pounds overweight and wallets most definitely feeling the pinch of Italian prices, we tore ourselves away from our slice of heaven and headed back to London. After five decadent days and four gastronomic nights spent in Italy, this trip’s defining statement became gloriously apparent. ‘If at the end of your visit to Italy you aren’t packing a few extra pounds, then you are definitely doing something wrong’.
In future, all relative-visiting sojourns will be sure to involve a snippet of indulgent holidaying for us at more of Mr and Mrs Smith’s exceptional collection of worldwide hotels… although for the sake of my waistline, maybe not always in Italy!
Photo credit: hotel photos by Adrian Houston