Oltre Il Giardino

San Polo, Venice, Italy Book from Eur220

Reviewed by Emma Taylor
A small, stylish, tranquil hotel in off-beat San Polo, with art-filled bedrooms and a secret garden
If you’ve ever wondered what it's like to stay in a country villa in the middle of Venice, then this is your place. Oltre Il Giardino (‘beyond the garden’) is a bucolic villa owned and run by Lorenzo and his Franco-Venetian family. They converted house, which once belonged to Gustav Mahler's widow, into an intimate city retreat. Its bedrooms are spacious and serene, its drawing rooms are filled with Edwardian art and family heirlooms, and there’s an easy grace about the place that makes you feel immediately at home.

Alongside one of the city’s countless canals, you’ll find a diminutive dark green door to will lead you through an urban oasis of bamboo, lavender and (inexplicably) gnomes to your Venetian home-from-home. It really is evocative of the secret garden, with ivy covered red brick walls, a small window to the canal outside and little nooks for al fresco summer breakfasts. Expect sheer style and a warm welcome - a stylish sanctuary in Venice.

Highs

  • Comfortable and down-to-earth, but with luxurious touches: Bulgari toiletries, soft robes, antique tables, silk drapes, delightful artefacts and paintings
  • A beautiful, private walled garden for delicious breakfasts and relaxing afternoons
  • When we revisited in 2013, we welcomed the quiet location - your tucked away from the main thoroughfares and people can't walk past the hotel
  • A good option for families, with a safe walled garden, Suites with space for children and Lorenzo can recommend English speaking babysitters
  • Good value for Venice, especially the Double Rooms

Lows

  • It isn't as close to the main tourist attractions as other hotels (this could be a plus though), but St Mark's Square is a 10-minute vaporetta ride, and you can walk to the Rialto in 15 minutes
  • Rooms are beautiful but understated, and not all ensuites have bathtubs
  • No restaurant, though breakfast is great and there are some good eateries close by

Best time to go

Late spring and early autumn are the busiest in Venice, while summer is mid season: very hot and humid and full of daytrippers, but slightly less pricey. We visited at the end of February and found the city to be relatively quiet, creating a stunning, peaceful mood. Don't rule out the winter: in the earlier months you may enjoy blue skies and breakfast in the garden; later on expect cold and clouds, though this has a certain out-of-season charm.

Our top tips

  • Rather than ascending the busy Campanile di San Marco, take a vaporetto across the water to the Chiesa di San Giorgio bell tower. It's much quieter and the views encompass all of Venice's most iconic landmarks
  • To be sure of a room in high season, you should book at least 3 months in advance, or if you’re going to the Carnival (normally February), 6-12 months ahead.
  • Great for...

    City Style
    Family
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Boutique Hotel
    • 8
    • Breakfast (+ restaurants nearby)
    • All ages welcome
    • Closed: 4 Jan 2016 - 3 Feb 2016
    • Pool
    • Spa Treatments
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    Room:

    Rooms

    The hotel's bedrooms are spread over 3 floors. All are tastefully and individually furnished, with paintings and portraits from the family's personal collection, an eclectic mix of restored furniture and brightly coloured bedspreads. Excellent ensuite bathrooms are stocked with Bulgari products and lots of fluffy white towels. There are LCD TVs and the emphasis is on comfort and quality rather than designer cool. All the rooms can be double or twin-bedded, and all (except the Ivory Double Room) can accommodate a third person or a couple of children.

    We stayed in the Green Suite next to the hotel entrance. It's on the ground-floor and is the only room with door to it's own secluded patch of the garden. It has a separate sitting room with a double sofabed. The bathroom has both a bath and shower, and if you have any mobility problems then this is the room for you. It's also the best room if you have small children, as there are no stairs to negotiate and they have direct access to the garden (which is securely walled around).

    On the first floor is the Turquoise Suite, again with a separate sitting room and a double sofabed, as well as a huge bathroom with a bath and shower. On the same floor are the 2 Double Rooms: Cacao has a double bed, a single sofabed and a bathroom; the Ivory Room is the smallest, with just a double bed. Minimal and neutral décor makes them feel fairly spacious, and they enjoy the same garden or canal views as the Suites (albeit through fewer windows).

    On the top floor, sitting amongst the eaves with the best canal views, are the Junior Suites, Blue and Grey.

    In an annex just steps from the main building are 2 newer suites: the Aubergine Junior Suite and the Ecru Canal Suite. These rooms were designed by the same interior designer, AZA. Aubergine has an antique chimney and 2 windows that directly face the canal; Ecru is great for families as it has a large drawing room and can be adjoined to a bedroom with twin beds.

    Features include:

    • Air conditioning
    • Bathrobes
    • CD/DVD player (on request)
    • Central heating
    • Cots Available
    • Extra beds
    • Hairdryer
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Phone
    • Safe box
    • Toiletries
    • Tv
    • WiFi
    • Wifi internet

    Eating

    Not everyone falls in love with Venice at first bite, and often it's the cost that puts people off. Happily, the area of San Polo has several low-key, high-quality restaurants where you can tuck in without splashing out. Lorenzo recommended one of his favourite haunts, Antiche Carampane, which is just a 5-minute walk away (although ask for directions as it can be tricky to find). It’s a friendly, family-run establishment with incredibly delicious food (the best of our trip) sourced fresh from the Rialto Market daily. We feasted on tagliolini in a spider crab sauce and John Dory fillet with broccoli pesto and clams. This excellence hasn’t gone unnoticed so ask someone at the hotel to help with booking a table.

    At lunchtime, grab a bite at one of the city’s barcari - small bars with even smaller dishes called cicheti (mini sandwiches, salads, cured hams and cheeses). They’re fast paced and often filled with locals; we sat next to a gondolier on his lunch break.

    At the hotel itself, a charmingly presented breakfast is on offer. It's a sociable affair in the communal lounge, or out in the garden as late in the year as November. There's ham and cheese, croissants, bread, fresh fruit, yoghurt and cereals, juice, tea and coffee, plus some delicious cakes and pastries for those of you with a sweet tooth.

    Features include:

    • Breakfast
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Restaurants nearby
    • Room service
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • Take to the water! The vaporetti (waterbuses) are a cost-effective and practical way to see the city, while the gondolas offer a quintessential (if pricey) Venetian experience. For something in between, hop on one of the traghetto, which commuters use to cross the Grand Canal

    • Take a short walk to the Rialto fish and produce Market, for fresh, edible offering of all shapes and sizes, a little beyond this you’ll find the iconic Rialto Bridge

    • Venice's churches are myriad and stunning; spend an evening enjoying a Vivaldi recital at the Chiesa di San Vidal, where Renaissance masterpieces adorn the church’s walls

    • Marvel at St Mark's Square : it’s the centre of the action with the glittering Basilica di San Marco, the historic Palazzo Ducale, and the Museo Corror lining its tourist filled centre

    • Exercise your flexible friend - San Polo's shops are great for clothes, leather goods (bags, gloves, etc), tasty treats and Venetian masks

    • Take a waterbus to the nearby islands of San Michele (a huge cemetery park), Murano (famous for glass-blowing), Burano (fishing, lace-making and gaily-coloured houses) or Torcello (with 7th- to 13th-century architecture, Byzantine mosaics and a tiny resident population of some 80 people)

    • Or just explore the labyrinth of narrow alleys and little hump-backed bridges - getting lost is all part of the fun here and it's very easy to do!

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Boat trips
    • Historical sites
    • Museums / galleries
    • Nightlife
    • Shopping / markets
    • Traditional cultures

    Kids

    Kids will find Venice completely fascinating with its macabre history, ancient buildings sinking into water, maze of alleyways, boat rides and houses on stilts. This is a great place to come if you have children - families are made to feel very welcome and the walled garden is lovely. There's no charge for cots, and extra beds can be added to all rooms except the Ivory Room.

    Best for:

    All ages

    Family friendly accommodation:

    The Green Suite on the ground floor is highly recommended as it has a sitting room with a double sofabed, plus direct access to the garden. The Ecru Suite has a drawing room and can connect to a twin room

    Babysitting:

    Babysitting is available on request. It's best to provide some advanced warning to avoid disappointment. Lorenzo can recommend 2 English speaking women whom he knows and trusts

    Baby equipment:

    • Baby cots
    • High chairs

    Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

    Kids Activities nearby:

    • Take an evening gondola ride, magical!
    • Visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, small enough for kids to engage with & has a lovely garden
    • Swim at the Lido
    • Beaches not too far distant
    • Ice cream shops seemingly on every corner
    • Take a water taxi to the islands

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    9/
    Rooms
    9/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    10/
    Value
    10/
    Overall

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