If you haven’t been to Venice, I’d forgive you for thinking it’s a gloriously romantic city, where the water sparkles against a picture-perfect backdrop. The truth is it’s expensive, busy and the water isn’t sparkling blue. In fact, it’s rather murky and a little smelly. So, when I was invited to stay at Hotel Excelsior, I thought I would spend most of my time fighting crowds just to get a spot on the beach. Oh, was I wrong: Hotel Excelsior is actually situated on a separate island, called Venice Lido; It’s peaceful, clean, quaint, and even has a beach! You can reach Venice Lido by car, a private boat or sea taxi from Venice as we did. It takes about an hour and only costs €15.
The walk from where the sea taxi docks to the hotel is about 20 minutes, though you can take a bus or the private boat takes you straight to the front ‘door’ – red carpet entrance and all. Situated on the far end of the island, Hotel Excelsior is in a quiet area, very different to what you’d get in central Venice. Designed by entrepreneur Nicolò Spada and renowned architect Giovanni Sardi, the attention to detail is impeccable, from the reception area to the bedrooms. One of the main features of this hotel is that it has the biggest rooms in Venice, not to mention a wonderful outdoor swimming pool, gym, beach cabanas, multiple bars and restaurants, as well as an incredibly beautiful function room for weddings. It’s also home to the world-renowned Venice Film Festival, which takes place annually in September.
Once at the hotel, our check-in process was very smooth; Passports were scanned, bags were taken to our room by the concierge, and the receptionist even gave us a quick tour of the hotel, before taking us to our room. On arrival, we were very kindly upgraded to a suite, which had incredible views of the sea. Even a perfectly chilled bottle of wine, some fresh fruit and complimentary water were waiting for us – they really do go above and beyond with the finer details.
Opening the door to our suite, we couldn’t believe the enormity of it. The first door takes you into a hallway, with a separate bathroom on the right. Ahead, is the ‘lounge’ area, with a sofa, coffee table, fridge and coffee machine, as well as a table and sea-facing balcony. This led onto the bedroom, which was every bit as grand as you’d expect: Large windows, another coffee machine and fridge, a TV, a huge bed, and a mirrored wardrobe, which really opened up the room. Just off the bedroom was another large bathroom, with two sinks, and a marbled shower room.
The colour scheme was simple, a mix of white, grey and lime green, this let the architecture of the room really speak for itself. There are pillars in both rooms with wonderful archways carved out and this shape was mimicked in all the furniture, including the headboard of the bed, the chairs and the sofa. There were also a few plants dotted around the suite, as well as paintings on the wall.
There are 196 rooms in the hotel, of which 23 are Suites. Though regardless of size, each bedroom is decorated with the same opulent detail.
Most of the restaurants and bars are on the beach-side of the hotel, offering wonderful views of the ocean. Guests can choose from the Elimar Beach Bar and Restaurant, which features classic Italian dishes or the slightly more luxurious Tropicana Restaurant, which offers more fine dining. The Blue Bar has a wonderful cocktail menu, while the Pool Bar is your all-day go-to when you just can’t bring yourself to leave the water.
We enjoyed sunset drinks in Blue Bar, graced by a wonderful live pianist, before heading to Tropicana restaurant for our evening meal. The menu features just a few dishes, changing regularly to capture the best of the season’s ingredients. Bread and golden olive oil were brought to the table first, and a sommelier came over to help us choose our wine, recommending a traditional sparkling Italian wine. To start, we chose three starters: beef carpaccio with freshly shaved summer truffles, pan-fried scallops with a breadcrumb crust, and the prawn carpaccio and codfish, with tomato gazpacho. The prawns were definitely our favourite, bright red in colour and incredibly sweet, with the cod offering a lovely texture. To follow this, we had a traditional lobster dish, which came with a crunchy raw vegetable salad and potatoes, doused in rich olive oil. It was nice but the hero was definitely the linguine with baby squid; perfectly-cooked pasta, generous amounts of squid all served in a deep and rich seafood sauce.
On this occasion, we were too full for dessert though they sounded lovely: Mousse Leggera al Cioccolata Bianco (white chocolate mousse with honeycomb and lemon), Biscotto Fondente (homemade biscuit with figs, mascarpone and ice cream), and Sfoglia (butter puff pastry, mascarpone and strawberries).
Breakfast was served in the Tropicana restaurant, and guests could choose to sit inside or outside, with a sea view. The selection was huge, from traditional cooked breakfast and cured meats to salad, pastries, yoghurts, fresh fruit and cereal. Plates piled high, we enjoyed our breakfast looking out to the sea, with a fresh pot of coffee.
Out and about
The hotel offers a free shuttle boat service to and from Venice, making getting around incredibly easy. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to St Mark’s Square, so it’s a lot faster than getting the sea taxi. Once you’re in Venice there’s plenty to do, from visiting the iconic buildings and soaking up the city’s history, to taking a trip in a gondola or simply eating your way around Venice’s best gelato spots.
There’s also another two islands not too far from Venice: Murano and Burano, which are famous for glass making, lacework and extraordinary kaleidoscopic buildings. If you fancy a spot of shopping, the Sam Samuele district offers a range of boutiques, and Le Mercerie is lined with top designer shops.
Back at the hotel itself, there’s a range of activities to keep you occupied. For days when you just want to relax, you can hire a luxury beach cabana (which includes service from the Tropicana restaurant and bar), book yourself a massage or take a stroll along the beach. If you prefer something a little higher paced, kayaks, pedal boats and windsurfing are available too. Just a 10 minute walk away, there are also tennis courts and a renowned golf course – one of the oldest in Italy. And if helicopters are more your style, you can even book yourself on a ride. There are also regular food and drink events, featuring some of Italy’s finest chefs, so be sure to check if there are any on when you book your stay.
With there still being some uncertainty around travelling at the moment, the hotel was mostly full of local Italians, on a ‘staycation’. The hotel does welcome families too and even offers a kids club between July and August, as well as babysitting service. But really the Hotel Excelsior seems like a luxury retreat for couples, honeymooners or those who just want to treat themselves to a slice of the good life for a few nights.
The best thing
Every single member of staff treated us as equals and with respect, which is something I don’t always feel in top-class places like this. Though for me, the best thing was being right beside the sea. Nothing beats a morning walk along the beach (and a quick dip) before the rest of the Lido has woken up.
The worst thing
It’s pricey and everything is charged at extra. But it’s 5-star luxury and anyone visiting here should be prepared to just go all out. Sometimes, it’s worth it.
The hotel is only open during summer, from April through to October. Depending on when you visit the hotel, rooms can start as low as €250 per night with Iconic Suites starting at €3,800. You can also take advantage of a selection of special promotions, from family packages to experiential offers.
New for 2020, the hotel has also updated their suite offering to include a Suite Ambassador, when you book any of the presidential suites. This gives guests access to a whole range of exclusivities such as daily beach cabanas, personal training sessions, and of course, a dedicated Ambassador to assist guests with all their needs.