Piani nobili adorned with exposed-beam ceilings and restored Italian fresco murals evoke an atmosphere of Venetian nobility. In conversation with General Manager, Andrea Penzo
A private palazzo in Cannaregio sestiere, Venice
On the quiet waters of Madonna dell’Orto canal in the northwest sestiere of Cannaregio, across the old Jewish ghetto, rests a private palazzo on the lagoon side of Venice. The palace was built during a time of transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It dates back to the sixteenth century. And, it was later repurposed as a residential property with apartments inhabited by Venetians. In 2014, Angela Valach and Erwin Krause, business partners from Austria, took over the proprietorship of the palazzo from its Venetian owners. After scouting for a location with a garden and canal view for years, «Heureka!» exclaimed the Austrian-born Venice aficionados when they came across this hidden palace.
Two years of restoration and renovation later, the launch of Hotel Heureka, a four-star boutique hotel, took place in the winter of 2017. During the last century, the palace changed many hands before its metamorphosis into a hospitality offering. Hotel Heureka, a restored hideaway, comes as a refuge. It targets those looking to stay off the trodden paths of the tourist trails. Situated twenty minutes by foot from the center, the location offers tourists a chance to discover the island with a fresh perspective. «We understand it takes a little longer to get to the center, but most of our guests want to be away from the crowd and that’s why they choose Heureka», says Penzo.
Hotel Heureka’s structure
Historical sites in this neighbourhood include the church of Madonna dell’Orto. The location includes masterpieces by Tintoretto, Scuola Grande della Misericordia, and Palazzo Ca’ d’Oro. Cannaregio is home to the oldest Jewish ghetto in Europe. The Venice ghetto was one of the first places where segregation and surveillance due to religious differences took place. The neighborhood also boasts of a buzzing nightlife with tourist attractions, such as Strada Nuova, Fondamenta Ormesini, and Calle Varisco, among others.
Owing to the dictates of Venetian architecture, the facade is arranged around a central axis with a stone balustrade balcony and lancet windows positioned right and left of the main entrance. Three floors characterize the palace. The ground floor layout resembles a portego – a Venetian reception hall – leading to the atrium, lobby area, bar, and the secret garden beyond. The staircase leads to the upper floors, where the rooms are located, passing through the piani nobili adorned with exposed-beam ceilings and restored Italian fresco murals, evoking an atmosphere of Venetian nobility.
Next to piano nobile, on the first floor, facing the canal is the music room with a piano. A Murano glass chandelier suspends from the ceiling connecting back to the lagoon side of Venice. On the second floor, weddings, ceremonies, art exhibitions, and other events take place at the piano nobile, used as a ballroom. Next to this lies the in-house library displaying tiles on Venetian art and history, curated by the owners. «From the second floor, the guests can also enjoy the panoramic view of the Madonna dell’Orto canal, the lagoon over the garden, and on clear days a glimpse of the Dolomite mountain range», adds Penzo. Guests can pre-book a water taxi pick-up from the airport with a drop-off at the entrance of the hotel.
Lampoon review: Hotel Heureka’s design
The interior design blends mid-century furnishings with ancient terrazzo floors. Valach, who also owns a design agency, MasterPlan A, in Vienna, Austria, developed it. The ten rooms, available as Deluxe doubles and suites, follow the size and view for their categorization. Some overlook the canal, while others provide the views of the secret garden and the lagoon.
An assortment of characteristics and design elements, such as Christian Lacroix signed upholstery and Rubelli silk brocade curtains on the windows, characterize them. Art by German artist Julian Khol – commissioned for the hotel – interprets the spirit of each bedroom. Three rooms also feature a freestanding tub.
The visual identity of the hotel preserves the history and tradition of Venice with curated furnishings and fabrics. Shapes, styles, eras, and arts are composed like tesserae of a mosaic. Abstract artworks, pink flamingos, Asian antiques – all backdropped by sixteenth-century brick, stone, and wood-painted ceilings. «There is no single design style in the hotel’s aesthetics, it is a mosaic of styles to capture the true spirit of Venice», says Penzo.
The secret garden
The heart of the palace lies in its secret garden. The canopy of the two scenographic pittosporum trees allows the garden to remain fresh at the peak of summer. This section serves as a common lounging space for the in-house guests, equipped with tables, chairs, and sunbeds. Patrons can order a cocktail from the bar, unwinding amidst the blooming pink and purple hydrangeas, while tuning into birdsongs and the sound of the lapping of waves in the lagoon. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nibbles are served here.
The secret garden also hosts miscellaneous events. Each year the hotel organizes a carnival ball for the in-house and external guests. During the Venice Film Festival in 2018, Armani Beauty, one of the sponsors at the festival, took over the palace for ten days to curate the Armani Beauty Suite. The VIP guests attending the film festival made a pit stop at Hotel Heureka for make-up, before heading for the red carpet. No guests were made to check-in at the hotel. The entire palace was, in fact, rented out, exclusively to curate the beauty suite platform for the Venice Film Festival by Armani Beauty.
«The garden is our USP and a very flexible space. We use it in different ways depending on guests’ requests. Normally we have about thirty people seated in this area, but for events we modify the number», says Penzo. The garden has hosted weddings, ceremonies, private concerts, birthdays, and exhibitions in the past. «We are a popular destination for intimate weddings. The host usually books the entire palace», declares the General Manager.
Hotel Heureka’s three-course menu
The hotel offers its guests a three-course set menu for lunch and dinner during their stay. Clients enjoy the pre-booked meals in the common spaces, however, they can also opt for room service. The menu features Venetian specialties such as baccalà mantecato (whipped cured codfish) and sarde in saor (sardines cooked with sweet onions and vinegar) to name a few. The chefs work in tandem with local farmers as well as fishermen. The aim is to bring clean, quality, and consciously sourced produce onto the plate.
A selection of curated menus marks the breakfast. Italian (brioche, coffee), Nordic (salmon, vegetables), salty (cured meats and cheeses), and healthy (fruits, yogurt, muesli). Modifications on the selection also take into consideration the dietary preferences or restrictions of each guest.
The owners haven’t ruled out the possibility of opening a restaurant at the property. «Opening an à la carte restaurant might be a possibility in the future, we’re still trying to figure if it is worth it», adds Penzo. Justus Hoffstaedter manages the lounge bar on the ground floor. The professional is an Austrian mixologist, who blends classic and signature tipples for the hotel’s guests. The bar menu boasts of a fine selection of wines.
Hotel Heureka’s clientele and Covid-19 measures
Heureka’s clientele consists of recurring travelers. People who have already been to Venice and are looking for a quieter experience. A space for travelers exhausted from the crowded streets of the city. Germans, French, and British dominate the occupancy at this boutique hotel. «Eighty-five percent of our customer base comes from Europe, ten percent from the U.S.A and five percent from the rest of the world», says Penzo.
Heureka witnessed seventy percent reduction in its revenues during the lockdown last year. The property, in fact, remained closed from March to June 2020 and from November to May 2021. The structure reopened this month. It is, therefore, equipped with safety and sanitization measures along with a strategy in place for social distancing. They replaced their original buffet breakfast offering with an à la carte one. They also reorganized protocols, «now we give more information during the pre-arrival to reduce physical contact at the time of check-in», adds Penzo.
Sustainability at Heureka is achieved through its core concept of being a palazzo, which remains antithetical to mass tourism. «We strongly believe in our offer of slow and authentic tourism. You can experience the real Venice and its lagoon and canals just like a Venetian. We endeavor to preserve the culture and traditions of Venice», adds Penzo.
Fondamenta Gasparo Contarini, 3534, 30121 Venezia VE
Hotel Heureka Venice is a boutique property located in the heart of the Cannaregio district. The Palazzo combines the comfort of a modern boutique hotel and the charm of a private residence. It dates back to the sixteenth century. Its renovation respected the original architectural decoration.