Palazzo Volpi, Venice: La Serenissima’s Little Secret

Hidden in the heart of Venice, Palazzo Volpi, a once dilapidated 16th-century palace is now one of the city’s most enchanting retreats

A passion project of husband-and-wife team Anna Covre and Frederic Tubau, founders of award-winning Parisian-based design studio ANNA&FRED, Palazzo Volpi is a serene, scented vault of soothing creams and tasteful furnishings

Fast feet slap cool, hard stone. It’s early summer, mid-afternoon and Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo bursts into life. School’s out and so are the kids. Children chase pigeons, mothers chase children, boys chase girls who chase boys who chase footballs in the hope of slotting it home between two white marble tombs on the red-brick façade of the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

A light breeze breathes life into a red and yellow flag bearing the winged lion of St Mark. Beneath a bronze Bartolomeo Colleoni, gondolas float to and fro. An accordionist with a handle-bar moustach pulls and puffs his mellifluous music into the air. Pigeons strut, coffee wafts, church bells toll. Tumultuous tranquillity.

We’re watching the cut and thrust of Venetian life from the first-floor window of our invisible three-bedroom suite midway along the southern side of this ancient ‘campo’ – Venetian for square. On this spot in 1782, Pope Pius VI commemorated the day of Pentecost, when, 50 days after Easter Sunday, the Holy Spirit visited the Apostles during the Feast of Weeks harvest festival. The basilica opposite houses the tombs of 25 Venetian doges, rulers of the republic from 697–1797. Venice’s history bewitches. Suitably, our hideaway for the weekend is a converted 16th-century palace. As boltholes go, it’s really rather special.

A passion project of husband-and-wife team Anna Covre and Frederic Tubau, founders of award-winning Parisian-based design studio ANNA&FRED, Palazzo Volpi was designed to fill a gap in the market.

“Our aim was to create an accommodation offering that was luxurious and private,” says Covre. “Something contemporary in style, designed using the highest quality materials, which would provide a secluded stay alongside locals in one of the city’s hotspots.”

After a half-hour water taxi from Marco Polo airport, Palazzo Volpi is less than a five-minute walk from the Ospedale ferry terminal. It sits pretty in one of Venice’s most attractive squares, close to Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, yet far enough away from other tourist attractions to draw only the most explorative of visitors. Down in the square, you’re more likely to lunch with locals than cruise-ship day trippers.

The façade of Palazzo Volpi was immortalised in 18th-century oil paintings by Canaletto and Francesco Guardi. In the previous century, the property housed the embassy of the Brescia republic; in the century after, the consulate of Argentina. Anna and Fred inherited a building that had remained untouched for 70 years, it’s sole occupant a lonely preist. The pair reopened the premises as a swanky three-suite hotel in January 2018.  

You’ll find it through an unassuming opening next to the no-thrills, toasted-sandwiches-done-really-well Rosa Salva, one of the oldest pasticcerias in Venice. Go there for nourishing breakfasts and coffee al banco (at the bar). Be warned, however, order a latte and you’ll get a glass of milk. Behind a hefty, high-tech security door, a serene, scented vault of soothing creams and tasteful furnishings awaits. Brands including Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Viktor&Rolf and Bottega Veneta have all employed Anna and Fred’s services. It is easy to see why.

A curving staircase leads up to the three expansive apartments. The largest is a three-bedroom duplex for up to five guests. A lower-ground-floor, super-spec kitchen – complete with sparkling water on tap – leads out to a beautiful, tree-lined, terracotta and red-brick courtyard. The two other suites are sprawling one-bedroom apartments with living rooms and kitchens. All come with daily maid service. A private chef can also be arranged.

Mirrors, lots of them, some disguising TVs, reflect a colour palette of salmon, pink and taupe. Living rooms feature custom-made cotton-linen sofas and silk-velvet chairs. Rugs are from India; glass from France. Bedrooms sport four-poster beds. Light-washed wooden beams are a running theme, as is white marble flooring. All furniture and table-top lights were designed by ANNA&FRED. Everything is available to order. Chic, chic, chic.

Outside this sanctuary of calmness and light, Venice’s labyrinth of lagoons, calles and campi beckon. Take a stroll, get lost, get boozy on Campari spritz and carafes of local plonk. Go al fresco, savour fritole, cicchetti, pizzetta and tramezzini, discover passeggiata, that magical golden hour before sunset when light fades and gossip circles and spreads in pools and whirls, hire a codega, take a river taxi, do pay €80 for a 20-minute gondola and €12 for a coffee in Saint Mark’s Square. Just don’t forget that Venice shuts up shop by 10pm. Bellissima la Serenissima.

Suites at Palazzo Volpi are available through Passepartout Homes, starting from €450 per night, www.passepartout-homes.com