There is only one city in the world which has an irresistible charm whatever the season. Come sun, rain or snow, Venice is always worth a visit. Let's meander along the canals together and you can discover with me the secret delights veiled behind the imposing facades of the Venetian palaces.
To begin with, discovering Venice involves learning not to be bothered by the absence of cars, traffic, right angels and even punctuality - or the lack of it. There are more important things to concentrate on in this maze of stilts. Let's not be carried along by the stream, but instead find out for ourselves the hidden beauty of this delightful city on water which Thomas Mann loved so much: “Caught up in a deep dream, rocked to sleep by death, tim e has stopped to slumber here. And life seems so far away....”
We enter the Venetian palace owned by silk baron Alessandro Favaretto Rubelli. His company headquarters is located in a magnificent marble palace on the Grand Canal . Some of the finest fabrics in the world originate here: high-quality silk damask, cotton, velour and brocade. 60 looms produce around 700,000 metres of material a year; the retail price is about 70- 300 dollars per metre. Those people who attach a great importance to the Rubelli fabrics being hand-woven will pay up to 3,000 dollars.
You are one of the oldest and most traditional manufacturers of home fabrics in the world. How has it been possible to uphold traditional craft for so many years?
A. F. Rubelli:
Venice has always been important for the textile industry and till this day has remained a point where East meets West. There used to be weaver's looms to be found all over the city. As I said it was Venice 's most important industry and the reason why the city became rich at all. And Rubelli - my family - has been in the textile business since 1630. After the war Rubelli expanded and now our fabrics are exported world-wide. I enjoy the work tremendously.
Are your fabrics still manufactured using the traditional methods?
A. F. Rubelli:
To an extent yes - some fabrics are produced using the old methods, on a loom, but the number is limited. We do it some tim es for museums and castles, for example in Germany - especially in Munich or Nymphenburg castle, Schleissheim castle or the Residence. But such fabrics are also selected by discerning customers around the world!
The luxurious Rubelli fabrics are available in most European home furnishing stores where you will definitely find enough material to be able to brighten up your own home with silk brocade.
Our next palace, the Palazetto Pisani, boasts an extensive collection of antiques. The heiress of one of Venice's most well-known aristocratic families, Countess Pisani, now administers the properties of here ancestors who bought the palace 250 years ago from Duke Poleni, who was a leading figure in Venice in the 18th century. Recently, the American Laurence Lovett, stayed in the Pisani Palace. He is President of an extremely committed and ambitious organisation which has been set up to try and save Venice from the sea. Countess Pisani is the top hostess in Venice. Her Carnival ball in February and her regular afternoon tea every week is a favourite rendezvous for members of Venice 's high society. We are lucky and are invited, too...
Countess Pisani (English)
Everybody loves this city on water with its touching melancholy and numerous churches and decaying palaces. There are 480 gondolas in Venice - definitely one of the most romantic ways to see Venice . Nathalie treats herself to a gondola trip, and allows herself to be punted across the waters from St. Marks Square. Venice has survived the ravages of tim e and maintained its legendary character. Over one hundred two houses bear witness to the city's turbulent past. The decaying walls of these houses also guard the secrets of Venice 's traditional cuisine which is famous around the world.
We set off in our gondola on a gourmet trip which starts near the market halls. Here we meet the young generation of Venice 's most traditional gastronomes: Arrigo Cipriani is the most well-known and at the same tim e the city's biggest employer. On Giudecca Island, we find him in his pasta factory. The golden-yellow "Cipriani" noodles are now to be found in all the best Italian restaurants and delicatess stores around the world. In addition, this enterprising businessman also opened the dessert bar “Harry's Dolci” in 1983. It is not surprising if the name Harry seems familiar to you, since Arrigo has been true to the Cipriani tradition. The world-famous “Harry's Bar” was opened in 1931 by Arrigo's father, Guiseppe Cipriani, a former waiter. And, as Arrigo admits himself, his father's legendary reputation is something he still has trouble competing with when pursuing his own business in Venice.
For fifty years Guiseppe was the Crown Prince of the culinary scene in Italy. Today, it is his son Arrigo who disappears behind the iron door of the former rope-makers shop. It is here in the legendary Harry's Bar - where Hemmingway used to wash his lobster with whiskey - that the famous Bellini cocktails came into being. This cocktail, which consists of peach juice and sparkling wine, appears in Arrigo Cipriani's recipe books.
Besides the white Carpaccio sauce, Guiseppe Cipriani thought up many other Italian dishes and cocktails here on Torcello Island. Surrounded by fields of vegetable, churches and bridges, the tiny island is about an hour's boat-trip from Venice . Torcello, far from the well-trodden tourist paths, its existence almost forgotten, is an insider tip for discerning travellers.
All good things come in threes, as the saying goes, so old Guiseppe fulfilled one last wish......
As one of the leading hotels of the world, the palace hotel Cipriani has been regarded as Venice 's top hotel for many years. The noble residence is an elegant palace and comfortable English club all rolled into one - with open fireplace, accessories of Murano glass, elegant salons and several verandas.
Although the hotel is no longer in the possession of the famous Cipriani restaurant-owning family. Managing Director Natale Rusconi continues to run it exactly as its former owners would have wished. Each of the 100 rooms is fitted out with fabulous Venetian furniture and magnificent marble baths. The grand hotel also converted the late Gothic building next door into a luxury hotel residence. The Palazzo Vendramin, dating from the 15th century, fitted with exclusive apartments is more reminiscent of an elegant villa and is ideal for honeymooners.
All of the living quarters, with their magnificent view of the bay of San Marco consist of stylish junior suites with one or two bedrooms. The bathrooms, which all have expensive marble finishing, even have bathtubs with underwater massage. The individual butler service, access to all the facilities at the Hotel Cipriani and the astounding view of St. Mark's Square turn each stay into an unforgettable experience!
We continue our trip along the canals, this tim e in a water taxi instead of a gondola, to meet a German countess who lives in Venice ....
Countess Charlotte St. Martini:
Travelling by boat is much nicer than sitting in a car and otherwise you can do everything else on foot in Venice - there are no big streets here, just little passage and bridges, so nothing is very far. There are connecting streets all through Venice and once you know your way around a bit and have a map it is very easy. This is particularly interesting from the cultural point of view because even after 10 or 20 years you can still discover new corners. Although my husband was born here, he takes his camera out every Sunday morning to go through Venice and photograph details.
For those people only staying a few days in Venice , what would you recommend?
Countess Charlotte St. Martini:
That naturally depends how much culture they are after. The “typical” tourist naturally goes to St. Mark's Square first and looks at the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Church. A more sophisticated tourist will go to the galleries and museums, then also just go for a walk. And discover areas that even some of the people living in Venice won't know. What I would recommend such tourist? Go for a long walk! And have a look at the Carnival shops. Especially if you plan to return for the legendary Carnival of Venice in February...
Omnipresent - the Venetian mask - foreign and mysterious!
The carnival in Venice is famous - yet it is not only during the silly season that the inhabitants of Venice love masquerade. “The Venetians all have two sides to their characters”, wrote Voltaire. When wearing a mask, one has a vague feeling that one is moving between the different personalities.....
Like millions of other people, Nathalie also wants to discover the secret places just waiting to be visited. Magnificent yet a little unnerving at the same time, Venice looms around us and we are just extras in a play where the stage is decorated with palace facades. Only those who manage to glimpse behind the scenes will really be able to understand this Venetian play....
They wander along, laughing, talking
Spreading their cloaks like eagles their wings,
Gay voices tinkling, high spirits hovering.
In the crimson light, voices hail, laughter rings
And eyes are all afire;
The day may be over, but beauty still wins,
Here in a place where every yearning is inspired
Where the world's most joyful frenzy sings
In Venice 's masked attire
Anybody wishing to experience the melancholic charm of Venice 's carnival first-hand should visit in mid-February, because it is during the lagoon's spring fog that the Venetians celebrate. My lifestyle tip: If you want to be invited to a beautiful Venetian palace and enjoy cocktail-parties and a private masked ball, please contact
* This special feature "Venetian Palaces" has been one of more than 300 Portraits, produced by Nathalie Gütermann for her TV-Shows 'Nathalie's Lifestyle' and 'Nathalie's Art of Living' that were broadcasted between 1990 - 2003 in Germany and in 15 countries world-wide. The content has been updated with actual information in 2004 for Nathalies-Lifestyle.com © 1990 - 2004. The reproduction or other use of any text, photographs, layout etc. needs the prior written permission of the Chief Publisher.