Wise Hotel Selection in Venice

Venice is one of the most popular destinations in Italy and with good reason. The city is one massive museum. Perhaps it fails as an example of typical contemporary Italian life as the city now lives and breathes for tourism. Still, it certainly provides a fascinating glimpse into what has always been an astounding, if not enchanting place. Of course, even in the most beautiful city, a poorly selected hotel can ruin an entire vacation. During a 2005 trip to Italy, we soon found out how this can be the case as we experienced our own version of "A Tale of Two Cities".

We rarely travel on Thanksgiving week but when we do, we typically take long trips that allow us to take advantage of extra vacation days. In 2005, we joined my cousin and his wife for a trip to Italy. Our trip consisted of the usual visit to Rome followed by a side trip to Venice. We had planned to stop in Bologna, my hometown, on the way back to Rome but a strike by railway workers caused us to stay an extra night in Venice. Normally, this would be good news but since our original hotel was sold out during that unplanned night, we had to find a different hotel. While our visit to Venice was by no means ruined, it certainly ended on a bit of a whimper compared to where it started.

Our first two nights were spent at the Locanda Ca' Del Brocchi in Dorsoduro, one of the less touristy sestieri of Venice. This mostly residential area is quiet yet still offers a few sights like the Peggy Guggenheim and Le Zattere plus plenty of restaurants, peaceful squares and maze-like calli. The eastern part of Dorsoduro, where we stayed, is connected by the Accademia bridge to San Marco. It is centrally located but feels like a million miles away from the touristy areas of San Marco. Our hotel, the Ca' Del Brocchi was located a mere two minutes from the Guggenheim on a tiny rectangular-shaped piazza occupied by a few residences and a neighborhood school. The hotel service was exceptional, our rooms were comfortable and well-appointed, the bathrooms were clean and modern and the breakfast service was simple but sufficient. We really could not have been any happer with our hotel.

On our third and unplanned night, we moved across the canal to the Hotel Torino, located just a few minutes from Piazza San Marco. The hotel was a far cry from the Ca' Del Brocchi. The rooms were worn and dingy, the bathrooms were scary and the nightly rate was considerably higher. The included breakfast was fine but who really cares when the room's dingyness trumps everything else? Furthermore, in theory, one would think the location would be ideal. Major sights were within very easy reach. Yet, unlike Dorsoduro, the area felt overly touristy. Restaurants in San Marco clearly cater to tourists, shops are more expensive and the crowds are noticeably heavier.

Lessons learned?

  • Do your homework when picking the hotel. Unfortunately, we had to act quickly do to a train strike so our options were somewhat limited.
  • Central is not necessarily better. In popular cities like Venice, you're like to face higher costs and poor service at both hotels and restaurants. If you can, choose something that is a little off the beaten path.
  • Beware hotel web sites. The Hotel Torino is a perfect example. Take a good look at the photographs of the hotel rooms. If they look like they were taken with a Kodak Disc camera, look elsewhere.
...and, as is certainly the case with Venice, truly try Dorsoduro, Santa Croce or even Castello. Visit San Marco but make the other sestieri your home.

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