Aman resorts have quickly gained a reputation across the world for their unparalleled levels of luxury, refinement and informal yet spot on service. The group, which now consists of 31 properties, has grown rapidly since its humble beginnings when the two founders created a boutique hotel in Thailand in 1988. Legend has it the pair struggled to be taken seriously when they predicted that small hotels were the way forward in the luxury hospitality sector, against a tide of 500+ room hotel openings.
The pair initially found it tricky to gain financing for the endeavour, but after its completion, its popularity and loyal clients quickly proved the critics wrong. Now covering 20 countries, the Aman group’s heart still remains firmly in Asia (although some of its most famous properties are in the States). They have outposts in all the expected countries such as Thailand, Bali, and Sri Lanka, but also challenge the usual status quo for luxury destinations and have opened five-star resorts in some more unlikely spots including Cambodia, Java, Bhutan, Rajasthan in India, Shima in Japan and Hangzhou in China.
Their often-unconventional locations in deserts and jungles and on mountaintops add a sense of exploration to the usual luxury poolside holiday. Recently, the group has also been expanding in to the European market with a hotel in the super-luxury skiing resort of Courcheval 1850 and beach resorts in Bodrum in Turkey and along the Peloponnese coast in Greece. However in 2013 the group took a further bold step, by opening a city break destination hotel in the Italian city of canals; Venice. Unlike its sister properties, this isn’t somewhere remote you visit for a week of wellness, relaxation and in-hotel retreat. Instead what it offers (and something perhaps the Aman Group are moving towards) is a next-level of splendour bolt-hole from which you can explore a city.
Venice is no stranger to five-star luxury. Some of the most famous hotels in the world are crammed on to the island of just 50,000 inhabitants. These old-world glamour hotels offer all the trappings of any continental European five star-hotel (cocktail bars, grand settings, a concierge and roof terraces). But, none of them quite reach the heights that the Aman has now set – those which its new jet-set clientele have come to expect. It provides a new star standard.
Housed in the 16th century Palazzo Papadopoli, the Aman Venice resides in one of, if not the grandest private residence on the Grand Canal. In a location removed the crowds found on Piazza San Marco, it offers unrivalled privacy (Perhaps why George Clooney chose to get married there recently). Approached on the water towards the hotel’s private jetty, guests are whisked to the entrance on the Aman’s private 1930’s style custom built wooden Riviera boat.
From there you are welcomed in to a huge building full of refined elegance, only rivalled in Venice by the Doge’s Palace. Twelve-foot tall 16th century ship's lights decorate the front room’s interior, which in signature Aman style has done away with the formality of bell boys, a reception desk or signs. Instead you have two small laptops at opposing corners, each hovered by a welcoming concierge.
This grandiose room instantly sets the standard for the rest of the hotel. Built originally in the 1500's by architect Giacomo De Grigi whilst working for the Coccina Family of Bergamo, and redecorated in 1864 by the ancestor of the current family owners under the guidance of Michelangelo Guggenheim, it was until only recently one of Venice’s few jewels to remain in private hands. The Aman group have sympathetically decorated the inside which they purchased from the owners who still reside in one wing.
The original frescos (some by the Venetian master Tiepolo himself, who once lived in the palazzo) have all been left undisturbed, while chandeliers are made from Murano glass and decorative furniture is consists of fine Baroque and Rococo Italian specimens. The new practical pieces of furniture have been curated by designer Claudio Rebeschini and include Philip Starke-esque modernist white sofas and stainless steal legged tables. Surprisingly the old and new aesthetic works harmoniously within the building and adds a sense of contrasting stripped back contemporary luxury to old world decadence. The building was even awarded the Heritage Award for Best Restoration in Italy in 2014.
The hotel has just 24 rooms, from garden level doubles with white walls and dark wood fittings, to signature suites with views of the Grand Canal, high frescoed ceilings, 16th century fireplaces by Jacopo Sansovino, original Tiepolo frescos and baths overlooking the gardens. There is something for all tastes, ranging from sleek and light to full on baroque over-ornament, with each being subtly elegant. Every room comes with complimentary minibars stocked with champagne, wine, juices and more, plus an array of homemade biscuits and cakes and fruit and nuts. Rooms are also fitted with Bang and Olufsen televisions and iPod docks, while all the lights are centrally controllable – even the key is electronic turning everything off automatically when you walk out the room. Marble baths and king size beds complete the look.
Outside the rooms, the Piano Nobile is a bar/casual restaurant on the first floor, and one of the most Instagram-worthy dwellings we have ever seen. The huge ceilings, ornate panelling, grand chandeliers and silk curtains highlight the Palazzo’s rich baroque history, but have been brought up to date with contemporary touches. From here, a series of bars, libraries and restaurant rooms flow off at every corner, each filled with grand pianos, huge marble fireplaces and cases full of leather books – yet every room feels incredibly light and spacious.
Each corner turned leads to louder gasps of wonder. The garden, which is one of the largest private green spaces in the city is an absolute pleasure to bask in, and is something other five star offerings in Venice lack. You don’t realise how wonderful it is to have a little green oasis in the centre of this city until you have sipped a spritz here. There is also a roof terrace that offers views of the distant Dolomites. The Spa has three suites and offers the usual range of treatments in rooms that provide a tranquil atmosphere in which to unwind in after a day of trampling cobbled lanes. There is a gym too if you're after an energy fix.
The divine restaurant is run by Michelin starred chef Davide Oldani and combines traditional Venetian dishes with contemporary European and Asian fusion cooking. Highlights include the caramelised onion with Grana Padano cheese ice cream and white truffle pasta. You can visit the local food markets in the morning with the day’s chef and even pick your own ingredients for lunch back at the hotel. Breakfast is served whenever and wherever you want it – from the garden to the library or in bed, and night or day they will whip you up eggs benedict or avocado and burrata on freshly baked bread at the drop of a hat and for no extra charge.
The Aman Venice pulls out all the stops to make sure you have the perfect trip. Whether you want to relax in the hotel, they will find you the perfect shady spot from which to sip cocktails or curate the perfect spa treatment, or if you're feeling more adventurous they can organise private after hours tours of the museums or drinks on the private boat while touring the canals. The hotel staff are superb – they never feel in the way and offer first class yet charmingly informal service always with a smile.
The Aman group seem to be hitting the nail on the head just right at the moment, with stunning properties that offer unrivalled luxury without the stiffness one has come to expect from such dwellings. After visiting one, you’re going to struggle with wanting to visit them all – and we for one hope this is beginning of a move in to more European destinations.
You can read more about the Aman Venice and other luxury hotels of the world in the upcoming issue of Candid Magazine, out in June