Stylish Finds: Venice by Sara Maestrelli

Sara Maestrelli, one of the creative forces behind the Violino d’Oro hotel has a long love story with Venice. Her family’s Collezione Em is a small but growing Italian hotel brand that also includes which also includes the Grand Hotel Minerva in Florence’s Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, the Brunelleschi Hotel right behind the Duomo in Florence, and Villa Roma Imperiale in Forte dei Marmi. But besides their home base Florence, it is Venice to which the family feels deeply connected; a city Sara describes as a place of wanderers and a logical extension of the brand’s other destinations. Here, she talks about her newest hotel project, how she begins each day in Venice and why exploring San Marco is best done at night.

What made Venice a dream city for opening a hotel?

Sometimes people ask “Why Venice?”, it’s a question that always leaves me somehow astonished. I answer “Why not?”Look around, streets are made of water, it’s the most wonderful city in the world. We want to create homes in places we love and we are deeply connected to. Venice has always been a dream of ours and a splendid combination for Florence. Small cities that fill your heart with art and beauty, and your tummy with some of the best food and wine in the country.

What was the biggest challenge to launch this project?

Venice is a very competitive market. With some of the greatest giants of hospitality. The city offers a multitude of accommodations, from the biggest brand hotels to the loveliest bed and breakfasts. Violino is a small hotel, a boutique home, and we are walking into the Venetian hospitality scene gently, on tiptoes. But we are so excited to begin! Also, I should also mention that undergoing a massive renovation in a city entirely surrounded by water is a challenge most of the world cannot even begin to imagine.

If you had to describe Violino d’Oro as a personality, who is she?

She’s an eclectic Venetian art collector that loves to travel. She’s amusing and sophisticated. Fun, yet elegant. She loves to entertain but is also very reserved. She goes to the Opera in silk Fortuny gowns but loves to eat cicchetti on the canal with an ombra de vin at sunset. She is simple, understated, cultured and delicate. And she is ready to host you!

What is your favorite sestiere and why?

That is not easy. Probably Dorsoduro, on the other side of the Accademia bridge. Slightly hidden from the crowds, very Venetian. It holds my best memories of Venice.

Do you have a favorite morning ritual?

The window of my apartment, like many others in Venice, has a balcony (we have designed and made a special pillow for them). Regardless of the outside temperature, every morning when I wake up, I sit on the window and sip my tea while watching early morning life on the lagoon.

What is your favorite place for an aperitif?

Aperitivo is at “Schiavi”, in Dorsoduro. Located on Fondamenta Nani (a “fondamenta” in Venice is a small street with buildings on one side and water on the other). Their cicchetti are iconic, but you have to mind the seagulls that will do their best to steal your food! Summer evening at Da Schiavi with a bottle of their local wine, on the canal, are are my absolute favorites.

What about dinner?

Can I mention more than one? For a romantic evening, da Ivo, charming tiny place with gondoliers passing by on the large window on the canal. For a truly authentic Venetian trattoria, Trattoria alla Madonna; their risotto is legendary. And then a classic, a legend, probably a cliché, but I just love it: Harry’s Bar. My personal favorites: il Carpaccio dell’Harry’s and their lemon merengue!

What activity do you recommend to first-time visitors and why?

Walk around the San Marco neighborhood, including Piazza San Marco, at night. Venice changes at night. Most of the crowds leave, the water changes color, silence falls. The way the city is illuminated is so special—fascinating and mysterious.

What activity do you recommend to repeat visitors and why?

In the spring and summer, hop on a boat in the evening (before sunset) and go to dinner at Risotrante da Nane in Pallestrina. Ask to be seated on the terrace and watch the sun set on the lagoon as you enjoy the best fish in this tiny fishermen’s island.

Do you have a favorite book or film about the city?

Morte a Venezia [Death in Venice] by Thomas Mann. And Peggy Guggenheim’s autobiography, where she paints a wonderful portrait of the artistic scene in the 1950s.

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