A Venetian palace-inspired hotel of cult status charming international aristocrats, Hollywood names, poets, and politicians, created by Nicolò Spada and Giovanni Sardi
Excelsior Hotel in Venice
Hotel Excelsior is a five-star resort located between the Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. The construction of the resort took place in 1908. It opened on the twenty-first of July of the same year. The structure is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Nicolò Spada, and the commissioned architect Giovanni Sardi. Their vision was to create a Venetian palace-inspired hotel that would acquire cult status and attract the international set.
«The mission was to open a residence for the European aristocracy seeking relaxation, beach, and sun, close to Venice», says Cristiano Morelli, Commercial Consultant for the Hotel Excelsior in Venice. «After a few years, Hotel Excelsior became the location of the Venice Film Festival. The event was held on the terrace for the first few editions when the Palazzo del Cinema wasn’t built yet».
As its reputation grew, the hotel’s client base widened. It started, in fact, to attract writers, poets, politicians and lovers of art, history, food and high living. «Today, the positioning of Hotel Excelsior is a Mediterranean resort for discerning customers», says Cristiano Morelli.
Nicolò Spada, the hotel’s founder
Nicolò Spada, the hotel’s founder, was a notable Venetian businessman and entrepreneur. He was no stranger to Venice Lido Island – the twelve-kilometer strip of white sand where Hotel Excelsior is located. Situated fifteen minutes by boat or water bus from St. Mark’s Square – the island that is one of the two barrier islands between Venice and the Adriatic Sea – it can also be accessed by car. Its remote location is one of the hotel’s key differentiators when comparing resorts in Venice.
Nicolò Spada popularized the area – and Hotel Excelsior apart – populating it with Art Nouveau villas, including Villa Romanelli, Villa Montplaisir as well as the Papadopoli Villas. Further, his contribution to the region extends hospitality to a series of unfinished projects tied to this name. «Among the projects that he did not complete was that of the underwater tunnel in 1911. From Venice to the Lido in four and a half minutes. It was to be a sub-lagoon project with minimal environmental impact».
Safeguarding Venetian waters was, in fact, one of Spada’s priorities, explains Morelli. «When the construction of the sewer network began, Nicolò Spada studied how to channel the black waters of debris towards the lagoon so that the entire stretch of seawater overlooking the Lido was immune from domestic pollution. Till this day, the Lido remains the sole beach in Europe to have this type of structure in place», says Morelli.
As a progressive proposal for its time, Morelli goes on to say that «the obstacle for Hotel Excelsior was to convince the public authority to obtain permission to build. Nicolò Spada had, in fact, to undergo thirteen planning proposals before receiving approval to begin work on the site».
Lampoon review: Hotel Excelsior’s structure
The result of such construction and orchestration was a resort comprising one-hundred-and-ninety-six guest rooms, including twenty-three suites. Notably, the rooms at this resort are the largest that can be found in the city of Venice. Junior, presidential as well as family-adjoining suites are available for guests traveling with children or in close parties. Rooms overlook either the Moorish courtyard and fountains, or the Adriatic Sea and Venetian lagoon.
Hotel Excelsior houses up to two-hundred-and-fifty hotel guests at capacity. It can also host two-thousand attendees for private events: weddings, conferences, and press parties. Italian architect Giovanni Sardi – a graduate of the Venetian Academy of Fine Arts – was in charge of the hotel’s design. Sardi was responsible for the design of the original Bauer-Grünwald Hotel in Venice. He also restored the church of Santo Stefano, located in the city. The hotel features historical influences, including neo-Moorish designs and Byzantine-era domes and skylights.
Hotel Excelsior’s interiors
Aside from Sardi’s visionary contribution, «the realization of the internal decorations involved artist Umberto Bellotto. He was a master of glass and wrought iron», says Morelli. Architecturally, the resort has not been stagnant. Since its opening in 1908 Hotel Excelsior has evolved due to modifications instigated in 1914. Palazzo del Mare – which stands alongside it – influenced it.
«The Hotel Excelsior is now the result of the oriental interpretation of Venetian-Byzantine techniques, with external brick walls, windows, and domes, arches under bending, three-light and mullioned windows, machicolations, roof terraces, mosaics with a golden background and towers».
Among its most talked-about features is the Sala degli Stucchi – the Stucchi Room – created in Louis XVI style with an eclectic combination of medieval and arabesque influences. This dramatic space has drawn the attention of Hollywood, and the room features in the award-winning 1984 crime-drama, Once Upon A Time In America, starring Robert De Niro and directed by Italian-born Sergio Leone.
Tropicana Restaurant and The Elimar Beach Bar at Hotel Excelsior
The resort encompasses two restaurants, two bars, a swimming pool with informal poolside dining as well as a fitness center for guest use. The chief culinary experience at Hotel Excelsior is the Tropicana Restaurant, a fine dining establishment with views over the ocean. The Elimar Beach Bar and Restaurant maintains a level of high-class culinary art in an alfresco environment. Further, Blue Bar is a result of Hotel Excelsior’s relationship with the Venice Film Festival. It also draws inspiration from this. Live music, international cuisine, and cocktails denote this venue.
The final culinary experience is the Pool Bar, a laid-back waterside setting which accommodates all-day dining. «Our chefs are mainly Italian. The majority of them, in fact, has worked with us or around the region of Venice for years. Our executive chefs, originally from Tuscany, have been in the region since 2011. We source our food locally and across Italy, as needed. We engage with local businesses and producers to ensure the fastest route from the land to the table», says Morelli.
Apart from its culinary diversions, the Hotel Excelsior also offers the Boutique Arcade, an on-site shopping destination. «The majority of the boutiques are Venetian brands. On the 1,600th anniversary of Venice, which took place in March 2021, our shop windows hosted some noteworthy names in Venetian luxury craftsmanship, including Bevilacqua, Orsoni, Lunardelli, and Martina Vidal», Morelli explains.
Hotel Excelsior’s private beach
Hotel Excelsior’s private beach, complete with cabanas, is one of its primary calling cards. Its location is of historical significance. The first local bathhouse, the Grande stabilimento balneario eretto sull’Onda viva del Mare, was built in 1857. «The formation of Lido’s beaches followed the construction of two large dams at St. Nicolò (north) and Alberoni (south), and smaller ones, starting from the shores in front of each bathhouse, called pennelli», says Morelli.
«Due to its position between two marine systems [the sea and the lagoon], the island benefits from idyllic weather conditions and Adriatic breezes balancing out the heat of the Venetian summer. During the first half of the twentieth century, the Lido had the titles of the Golden Island because of its architectural structures inspired by the Belle Époque».
Amongst this storied history sits Hotel Excelsior and its private stretch of sand. Guests and non-residents are welcome to book the cabanas from June to September. Each comes equipped with deck chairs, sun loungers, towels, a dining table, beach wifi, and butler service throughout your visit. A dedicated Beach Office is on-site for hotel guests and visitors to arrange bookings, which, if staying at the hotel, are routinely charged to your room.
Activities to do in Venice
Activities at and surrounding the Hotel Excelsior are numerous. The Circolo Golf Venezia is located on the island, as is a tennis club with six clay courts. «The hotel has our sports academy that offers tennis lessons with Karel Nováček – the Czech former top ten tennis player – calisthenics lessons with Jury Chechi – the Italian gymnast – and cycling tours with Claudio Chiappucci – the Italian professional cyclist», says Morelli.
For history enthusiasts there are also Venetian fishing expeditions. Whereby guests board a fishing vessel on the lagoon and learn ancient practices of fishing, the skills and insights as told by local fishermen. A series of program initiatives at the hotel also encourage guests to explore the traditions of local eating, dancing, architecture, and cinema. Nino di Costanzo – a two-star-Michelin awarded chef – designs Michelin star dinner experiences. There are also gourmet pizza nights celebrating the history of Italian pizza. Kids are welcome, as well. A babysitting service, in fact, is available, as is a kids’ club for younger guests.
Ad-hoc events take place, too. As an example, photo exhibitions exploring the history of the Venice Cinema Festival, the internationally acclaimed annual event closely tied with the hotel’s DNA. For those who wish to venture beyond the resort, private transfers are awaiting for hotel guests to take them to the city in minutes. An eponymous airport sits at the tip of the Venice Lido as well.
Venice Film Festival
During Henry James’ visits to the Lido, he appreciated the remote atmosphere and dubbed it «a genuine and untouched place». Before him, Lord Byron was a guest. The Hotel Excelsior may well have taken its cue from the spirit of these artists. It, in fact, remains closely tied with the arts, and has been home to myriad artistic events, including the Biennale Art and Architecture exhibitions.
In 1932, the first Venice Film Festival, organized by La Biennale di Venezia, was celebrated at the Hotel Excelsior on the Lido di Venice. For the century since, Venice – and the Hotel Excelsior – have been, respectively, the location and hub of this cultural event. Each September, the cinematic event takes place, drawing creative guests from around the world. To the Lido list that began with Byron and Henry James can be added John Steinbeck, Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Hutton, Ingrid Bergman, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Pedro Almodovar, Johnny Depp, Monica Bellucci, and Cate Blanchet.
Lungomare Guglielmo Marconi, 41, 30126 Lido, Venice.
Constructed in 1908, The Hotel Excelsior is one of the lagoon’s renowned luxury hotels.