A private island in the Venetian lagoon and an oasis of peace with a view over St. Mark’s - these are the exclusive benefits of the luxury five star San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice.
This article was originally published on the magazine Hotel by Where Venice edition
The San Clemente Palace Kempinski hotel can only be accessed by the hotel’s private launch or water taxis that are far removed from public vaporetto routes. As soon as you step onto this private island, owned by Mr. Selim Uyar, you’ll find yourself in a Garden of Eden where nature, history and architecture interact in perfect harmony.
The setting that greets guests arriving at the docking station, is magical. Before guests reach the stately main building of the hotel, they will find themselves in a garden furnished with raffia sofas and tables.
The garden, which is open throughout the day, is the ideal spot to enjoy a gourmet meal, sip a sophisticated cocktail or just admire the lagoon city, perhaps at sunset when you will be captivated by the white silhouette of an ancient church, featuring an unusual façade decorated with semi-circles. This church dates back to the 12th century, and is currently open to the public and renowned for its exquisite altar.
The island was first settled in 1131 when a Venetian merchant funded the construction of the church and a hospice for crusaders and soldiers on their way to the Holy Land. During the 15th century, in addition to being inhabited by an order of Augustine Canons, the island became known as the ‘gateway to Venice’ when it became the practice to take the ‘Bucintoro’, the Doge’s ceremonial barge, to the island to meet distinguished visitors.
In 1645, the island became the property of the Camaldolese Hermits, whose vegetable gardens, planted with fragrantly scented aromatic herbs, still exist today. Following the fall of the Republic of Venice, the Hermits abandoned the island and San Clemente became a military garrison and later a hospital which closed in 1992. In 2003, following an important project involving the reconversion of buildings and spaces, a luxury hotel, whose brand changed several times, opened on the island. In 2015, the property was purchased and restored by Turkey’s Permak Group, which, invested large sums in the project and teamed up with Venice’s Department of National Heritage and Cultural Activities to restore and breathe new life into the church.
“I love Italy and the Italians,” says Selim Uyar, the owner of the island and the President of the Permak Group. “When I saw the island and the ruins of the church and monastery, I had a vision of what this place could become.
The restructuring of the site was divided into three stages. First, we tackled the main building, then the gardens, and, finally, the rooms and suites. Teaming up with Kempinski (editor’s note: the San Clemente Palace is the only Kempinski hotel in Italy) was a natural process because we talk the same language and have the same concept of luxury. Similarly, our partnership with The Merchant of Venice for the products used at the Spa stemmed from our desire to associate the name of an international brand with something that was both Venetian and of historical note; something that would evoke the ‘genius loci’, the Camadolese herb garden and the church.”
A Blend of Luxury and Remembrance
“The island was known for its hospitality from ancient times, when it welcomed crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. Therefore, it is not surprising that the island was converted into a resort in April 2003. Since that time, it has seen a succession of different hotel brands,” explains Alessandro Heinrich, who has been there for 15 years, and joined the San Clemente Palace Kempinski as it head concierge, when it first opened. “The initial restructuring work lasted for 3 years and involved 200 people. The island had been abandoned for years and was only inhabited by a caretaker who made his living by bartering the fruit and vegetables that he cultivated with the fish caught by fishermen passing through. Our ‘guest book’ features the names of various VIPs including U2’s Bono, who stayed on the island. I’m a huge fan of the group, so I was thrilled to have the chance of meeting and talking to him. There are also numerous amusing anecdotes like the one about clients who phone us to ask whether there are parking spaces on the island or whether they should leave their cars in St. Mark’s Square.” Since 2016, the hotel has been a part of the Kempinski chain, which interprets luxury with painstaking attention to detail.
“Kempinski is Europe’s oldest luxury brand which celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2017,” says the hotel’s general manager, Silvio Iacovino, who joined the team in 2017 after working at high-end properties in Switzerland, Canada, London, Dublin, Luxembourg, Lyon and Marseille. “While luxury was formerly synonymous with opulence, today real luxury references the property and its historical background. From the history of the location to that of its food, our end goal is create a multisensory experience for our guests, bringing a wow factor to their stay. We have gone from offering a tailor-made experience to anticipating their needs. You need to stay engaged with guests from the time they make the reservation until they check out. There is no better way of understanding customer preferences than listening to and addressing their needs. For this reason, our staff members include ‘Ladies in Red’ whose job is to deal with guest relations. Luxury is also about communication, it means making sure that guests never feel alone, without being intrusive. This is the concept that I try to convey to my staff. Perfection lies in the details and our job is to offer unforgettable memories, thanks to the quality of our services and interaction targeted at solving problems effectively.”
Storytelling in the Kitchen
The varied gastronomic offerings at the San Clemente Palace Kempinski are continually enhanced by innovative creative ideas and tempting options. The jewel in the crown is the Acquerello gourmet restaurant from whose waterfront terrace the views over the lagoon and Venice’s unmistakable skyline are absolutely stunning. Its menu offers unusual pairings that highlight Italian excellence infused with both Venetian and local flavours.
Nestled amidst the verdant surroundings of the hotel’s age-old park, just steps from the swimming pool, the hotel’s La Dolce restaurant offers a more relaxed ambience. Its menu features classic Mediterranean cuisine, including a must-try pizza – baked in one of the few remaining wood-fired ovens in Venice – as well as delicious seafood dishes and freshly barbecued meat. This year, the hotel has added the new Al Bacaro restaurant to its dining options. This is an elegant, informal alternative to classic Venetian ‘bacari’, where guests can savour typical, high-quality ‘cicchetti’ accompanied by craft beers and wines; a classic Venetian aperitivo ritual, enhanced by a truly magical atmosphere at sunset.
Giorgio Schifferegger, a native of Alto Adige, helms the San Clemente Palace Kempinski’s gastronomic kingdom, assisted by a brigade of 47 people, 34 of whom are chefs. “I was a rebellious child and my dream was to become a pilot. However, while I was growing up, I was strongly influenced by the scents of my grandmother’s orchard and my father’s tales of famous restaurants and prestigious hotels – he was a real globetrotter. After attending a cooking school, I worked at various restaurants in Italy and France, before joining the kitchen staff of the San Clemente Palace Kempinski in the summer of 2017. Cooking became a style of life, a philosophy. My motto is ‘tell a story with food’. Every dish should be accompanied by a story. Every course – but also every ingredient – has a story to tell, a producer, and a country of origin that deserve recognition. For this reason, we decided that it would be a good idea to offer our clients authentic guest experiences like accompanying fishermen to see how the fish served at mealtimes is caught, or visiting the Sant’Erasmo vegetable gardens from which the kitchen staff source our herbs and vegetables. I know and select all our suppliers. My aim is to source as many authentic Venetian products as possible – all the ingredients used at the Al Bacaro restaurant are either grown or produced in Venice. My second choice goes to made-in-Veneto products, including Barena or Laguna honey, craft beer from the Antoniano brewery, or meat from the Sartori di Verona, a butchery that still makes salami based on ancient traditions. Failing that, I make sure to choose only products that are Made in Italy. I also handle deliveries, with all the problems that running a restaurant on an island involve.” The chef’s painstaking attention in finding only the finest, local ingredients, results in dishes that tell the story of the area and its beauty. “My cuisine is instinctive, seasonal and, above all, created to be savoured here,” continues Schifferegger. “Nothing is revised because each flavour must be authentic and local to offer long-lasting memories. Although it’s impromptu, impulsive and bold, it’s firmly grounded in the principles of French cuisine.” When asked about his signature dish, the Executive Chef – whose aim is to achieve prestige and be listed in the world’s most exclusive guides – replies “The reimaging of a classic dish, tagliolini with sarde (sardines), but prepared in a broth of shellfish and smoked butter en vessie (cooked in a pig’s bladder) .”
From Cuisine to Fitness
While the San Clemente Palace Kempinski is an oasis, with a jogging track that stretches for one and a half kilometres, the interior houses The Merchant of Venice Spa, an exclusive ‘temple of luxury’ dedicated to relaxation and fitness. The Spa offers treatments and massages using oils created by the famous Venetian perfumery brand, based on time-honoured remedies imported over the centuries from the East by Venetian merchants. Located in a two-storey building lying adjacent to the hotel, this 380 square metre space includes a wet zone featuring a Finnish sauna, a Turkish bath and emotional showers, a relaxation lounge, a wellness area, a fitness area with Technogym equipment and four treatment rooms. The Spa’s exclusive selection of treatments, combined with the scents and essences created by the Merchant of Venice, include the exquisite Rosa Moceniga, a rare floral native of China renowned for its relaxing and toning properties. “We have a recreation supervisor who organizes and handles guests’ experiences. In addition to yoga lessons in the park in summer, guests can indulge in our exclusive Summerhouse Experience which combines the benefits of our wellness treatments with the harmony of nature, to regenerate the mind and body,” explains PR and Communications Manager Erika Bello. “Those looking for total privacy can book the Spa Suite, offering 50 square metres of pure relaxation with a spa whirlpool tub.”
Grand, Deluxe or Suite?
The accommodation at the San Clemente Palace Kempinski is also unique. The hotel boasts 128 rooms and 62 suites, plus eight different signature suites, including the San Clemente Suite, a stand-alone top floor apartment which formerly housed the monastery’s laundry (several of the hooks used to string the lines on which the washing was hung are still visible): 200 square metres of luxury and comfort, a private dock leading directly to the room from the water, a private check-in and a breathtaking view over the lagoon. “In addition to our signature suites, our clientele’s favourite rooms include the Grand Deluxe with a corner view overlooking the church and the lagoon,” says Room Division Manager Marko Ludovici, who gave us a detailed outline of the 17 different types of rooms offered by this luxury five-star hotel. “Our guests, the majority of whom come from Britain, the USA, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, are particularly impressed by our services. These include the Kids Club – open from 2pm to 10.30pm – which allows parents to enjoy the sunset and a gourmet dinner in peace, our 24h room service offering a wide selection of warm dishes and the Bacaro’s buffet-style cuisine.”
From Good Wine to Luxury Hotels
The story of Berthold Kempinski, the founder of the oldest luxury hotel group in Europe in 1897, reads like a novel. A German family of Polish origin, the Kempinskis were successful wine merchants, who expanded their business to several cities in Germany. Berthold and his brother opened a wine shop and subsequently a restaurant in Berlin, which became the most famous locale in the city. Since Berthold Kempinski and his wife Helena had no male heirs, they invited their son-in-law Richard Unger to join the business. Berthold finally transferred the firm to him on condition that he keep the Kempinski name. In addition to the wine and restaurant business, Richard built up a successful property empire, opening the first Kempinski hotel in Berlin in 1918. During the Second World War, the Unger family were forced to flee to America. Berthold’s grandson Friedrick Unger returned to Berlin in 1952 to open the Hotel Kempinski, for years the only luxury hotel in the city.
San Clemente Palace Kempinski
Set on a small private island, the luxury five-star San Clemente Palace Kempinski, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, is located less than ten minutes from St. Mark’s Square by launch. Immersed in a green oasis of peace and tranquility, the hotel allows guests to experience Venice in a relaxed manner far removed from the bustle of San Marco.
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