If you were watching the news the first week in November, you would have thought Venice was definitely sinking this time. I started packing my boots. I and almost 200 other Virtuoso members, staff and partners would make it to Venice come low or high waters to celebrate the success of our year at the Virtuoso Chairman’s Event. The annual experience rewards the network’s highest performers, and it was my first time attending.
When I arrived in Venice to 65 degrees and sunny skies and took an afternoon stroll to St. Mark’s Square along dry cobblestones, I was wondering what all the hype was about. Luckily, this weather blessed us most of the trip, with just a half-day of rain and only an hour of high tides in the morning, normal for Venice this time of year, according to our guide. I checked my misconception then and there that November may not be a great time to travel to Venice, and the party was just getting started.
Checking into Hotel Danieli was like stepping back in time. The lobby atrium and staircase give a sense of place that cannot be denied once you walk onto your balcony for a full view of the lagoon and the iconic San Giorgio Maggiore church. Time to head out, as it’s Aperol-Spritz-o’clock at The Riva Lounge at the Gritti Palace. You can still dine al fresco in Venice in November. Whether or not you are a guest of Gritti Palace, the Gritti Epicurean School is a must-do for foodies and home chefs.
Venice is a box of chocolates for Virtuoso five-star hotels, and our generous hosts confirmed their network slogan, “Italians Do It Better.” Belmond Hotel Cipriani set the tone with a beautiful welcome dinner in the Granaries of the Republic, which used to store spices and salt going back to medieval times. From the exposed brick to the dramatic lighting, if this space is good enough for George & Amal’s wedding reception, it’s good enough for us! We were also delighted by the breathtaking salons at Ca’Sagredo, a historic palace-turned-luxury hotel, already dressing up for the holidays.
We spent our days touring Venice, particularly some of the lesser-known neighborhoods. My favorite was Dorsoduro, where we learned the history of its residents and fun facts about gondolas, their makers and gondoliers. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit some of Venice’s outer islands, like the famous Murano. World-renowned glass-blowers display their skills and sell pieces for every budget, from wine glasses to extravagant chandeliers. Many travelers only save a couple days for Venice, but with so much to explore on this labyrinth of islands, it’s worth a longer stay or return visit.
Beth Jenkins and Jessica Griscavage of McCabe World Travel enjoy the masquerade ball.
To revitalize us after a few hours of strolling the streets, we found ourselves at the Aman Venice. This jewel box of a hotel — an exclusive private palazzo with two gardens — is located a quick walk from the Rialto Bridge but feels a world apart. The following day, Baglioni Hotel Luna’s expansive suite terraces provided another afternoon respite to take in the views and enjoy the creativity of their culinary team. With a few hours free in the afternoon, we had to stop at Harry’s Bar, home of the famous Bellini, and enjoy some Virtuoso-celebrity sightings.
I am sure I speak for the entire group when I say that a highlight of Chairman’s was a private after-hours visit to the Doge’s Palace. For good reason, the Palazzo Ducale is a top attraction in Venice, which means it’s packed with visitors every opening day. Our partner I.D.I. Travel arranged for Virtuoso to tour the palace after closing. Walking the halls of the palace and through the Bridge of Sighs at night with no one else around, I felt phantasmal, transcended into the days of the doges. We ended the tour through a secret entrance to San Marco Basilica that even our guide had only seen once in her life. This exclusive evening certainly epitomized the power of our Virtuoso partners.
Before traveling to Venice, we had been asked to send our measurements for a costume fitting and given a little hint to the Carnival-style ball we’d be attending. On my first day in Venice, I wound my way through streets no wider than an alley to find Antonia Sautter’s studio — a museum of incredible costumes she has designed over the years. Sifting through the intricate gowns, elaborate masks, velvet, beads and lace is an experience in and of itself. We were fitted into our costumes for the exclusive masquerade party that would cap off our week in Venice. A costume experience would be a must for anyone interested in the history of fashion and design.
To end our celebration, I zipped, fastened and pinned myself into my incredible handmade costume, donned my mask and joined friends and colleagues to fawn over one another’s attire — each more elaborate than the next. We enjoyed a cocktail reception and final dinner in an exclusive Venetian palace, serenaded by amazingly talented vocalists. It was a night that made us feel like royalty.
The following morning, we said goodbye to our Doge Days in Venice. Spoiler alert: No, unfortunately, we did not get to take the costumes with us! But I carried home incredible memories, a renewed appreciation for our Virtuoso partnership ... and a new set of hand-painted Murano glasses.