Venice - La Dolce Vita, By Invitation Only

Walk through closed doors, sneak into the houses of local aristocrats, explore the backstage of haute couture and order a bag with your own photo. That's on the schedule if you explore Venice together with a genie

By: Zane Altenburga, Travel & Lifestyle Consultant, Elan

Posted on: April 10, 2012

Walk through closed doors, sneak into the houses of local aristocrats, explore the backstage of Haute Couture and order a bag with your own photo. That’s on the schedule if you explore Venice together with a genie.

In this corner of the lagoon, still unexplored and immune to mass tourism, time seems to have stopped. Close to Venice, but far enough from the noise, our villa gives us the feeling of being catapulted into a painting. We admire the scenery of this ancient fish farm caressed by the morning sun rays when a shining Rolls Royce gracefully stops in front of our door. Alessandro Dal Corso’s arrival is rather like a scene from a movie, although nothing in his debonair gallantry is fake. His elegant and classy style topped by the quintessentially Italian appearance makes him rather look like a sophisticated Mafioso instead of the bank-owner that he is. His family has been in the hospitality business for generations, making him a magic host being able to open doors to incredible experiences.

We start the day with a stop at the island of Torcello for brunch at the Locanda Cipriani, a beautiful inn located far from the hustle and bustle of St Mark’s Square, at the end of a silent canal. The inn is run by descendants of the Cipriani family, with the menu little changed from the day when the current owner Bonifacio’s mother Carla Cipriani introduced many classic recipes, including the wonderful vegetarian risotto allaTorcellana. The inn is a rite of passage for gourmets. Entering the bar, there are photos of celebrity diners, almost all the members of the English Royal Family, Hollywood stars and international artists, including Elton John who recently held a birthday party here. Bonifacio remains discreet about former guests, asking instead if we are enjoying his delicious Bellini cocktail made with freshly strained white peach juice and sparkling prosecco wine from the hills of nearby Valdobbiadene. The cocktail, by the way, was invented by his grandfather Giuseppe Cipriani.

We can tell from Alessandro’s smile that he has something very special in mind to extend our gastronomic pleasures, but before that it’s time for shopping. Venice is one of the best places in Europe to buy art, antiques, glassware and lace, but we should not forget the mainland nearby, where some of the greatest names behind shoes and bags have their factories.

Arriving along the Brenta Canal, our first stop is with Cristina Rossi at her family’s beautiful 16th century villa Foscarini Rossi, richly adorned with frescoes and home to the family’s private shoe museum. Since 1942, Cristina’s family have partnered with some of the most famous stylists, producing shoes for Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Fendi, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy and Christian Lacroix to name a few. Together, with Cristina, we admire the artistry of some of the shoes created by the family, before we visit the factory store in search of the perfect pair of Donna Karan slingbacks and more!

Alessandro knows the magic formula of opening any doors we did not even dream to enter, be that the Louis Vuitton factory or the factory of Grazia Pelletteria Bijoux, producing high quality leather bags for some of the big brands. You best understand the quality when you see the state of the art workshop and touch the leather which is being worked upon openly in front of you. There are no production lines, rather each bag is individually crafted with iconic images of New York Times Square, London, Hollywood glamour or indeed an image of personal significance. Amazed, we witness the birth of a wholly personalized bag which became the perfect souvenir to our Venice sojourn.

We have the rare privilege to be invited to supper with Countess Rizzardi in her family house and one of Italy’s most influential architectural monuments, the Villa Valmarana ai Nani, so now it is about time to leave behind the boutique of a printer, whose hand-crafted visitor cards, embossed with fine inks, artfully crown the premium paper, making them among the most sought after business cards in the world; the pleasing company of a master glass blower; and the hand crafted carnival masks, true works of art, in the shops off the Rialto.

The villa enjoys an enchanting location on a hill top overlooking Vicenza with the town on one side and the Valley of Silence on the other. The welcome from the Countess is warm and self-effacing. The air is soft and birdsong from the parkland accompanies the mild lake breeze. She apologises that she has cooked the meal herself and that this will be a very natural little family affair. Needless to say the food is wonderful. All the vegetables and salads have been hand picked from the garden, dressed with the estate’s own extra virgin olive oil. We even find a little hand printed menu, with details of the menu and wines to be tasted, ending with a surprising sweet red wine that goes lovely with the warm chocolate dessert.

After taking leave from the Countess, we head back to Venice and hop into one of the sleek slipper boats, for of course there is no better way to see Venice than from a gondola, nor better appreciate its impact on the eye. As we arrive back to our villa, tailors from Canali are already waiting to take our measurements – Alessandro has taken the compliments about his dapper suit seriously. Answering our admiring glance that questions the next surprise, he lights a cigar and with a smile lets us choose between a private concert of Andrea Bocelli and dinner with Sting.

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As a freelance guide and tour leader, Zane has been in the travel business since eight years, mainly specializing in the Baltic countries. In February 2011, she became a part of the World of Elan, a luxury lifestyle consultancy based out of Mumbai, and since then is busy with organizing customized pirate attacks to small countries and flights to space instead of touring her native Latvia with a number of whimsical globetrotters.

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