Hotels often claim that a visit will be like staying with friends, but at Oltre Il Giardino (which roughly translates as “beyond the garden”), it is almost true. With only six guest rooms (€180 to €500) and a breakfast room that reinvents itself later in the day as a cosy salotto, with an honesty bar, this welcoming bolthole is like a boutique country house set in the middle of Venice. In fact, it was once a home – Gustav Mahler’s widow Alma lived here in the 1920s – and much of the current furniture and decor have survived from previous owners, lending an authentic, eclectic, homely ambiance.
The walled garden of the name is an oasis of calm, with its olive, pomegranate and magnolia trees, its lavender and rosemary bushes and flowery corners. Although my visit was early in the year, it was warm enough to enjoy afternoon tea in the sunshine with the sound of birds and bees in the air. Open the garden’s big green door, step out onto a wide pavement running beside a small canal, cross a little bridge, and “beyond the garden” is the city with all its mysterious calli and campi – yours to explore.
As someone who writes about gardens, I must admit I was seduced by the name, plus the fact that it is located in the Frari, a quiet, less touristy area of Venice. Another bonus is that it has its own water dock, so a private water-taxi from the airport will deliver you to the door.
The rooms are spacious and comfortable, all with a garden view, the staff are unfailingly kind and helpful and the continental breakfast got a gold star from me - from the freshly squeezed orange juice to the variety of cheeses, prosciutto, cereals, fruit, yoghurts, pastries and excellent coffee.
For those heading to Venice for the Biennale in the next few months – and beyond – Oltre Il Giardino is a wonderful under-the-radar home from home.