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Tour Venice Like a Star

Here's a guide to the hotels and restaurants of this historic yet ultra-touristy Italian city.

It's the great sinking city: Venice is a romantic pilgrimage for wide-eye couples holding hands along cobblestone alleyways and cuddling side by side along canals navigated by cigarette-smoking gondoliers in pantaloons.

If not carefully planned, Venice is a bus-and-name tag nightmare of digital cameras and pigeon poop that never seems to get beyond St. Mark's Square. For others, it's a sexy small-town getaway enjoyed within well-selected restaurants and bars accessed via chic wooden motorboats that intersect the island without so much as a touristy ripple.

When to Go

The Venice Film Festival takes place at the end of August (Aug. 27-Sept. 6), with the city ignited by Hollywood parties and tinselly events. Cinema stars make grand entrances along private valet areas and red carpets laid at various festival sites along the Lido and St. Mark's Square.

On a Gondola

While most festival packages and credentials are sorted well in advance, tickets are also available on same-day basis at the Piazzale Casino and PalaBiennale. ( )

This year, the festival opens with the Coen Brothers' "Burn After Reading," starring George Clooney. Other stars expected for 2008 include Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron and Anne Hathaway.

Where to Stay

If money is no object, we suggest staying at the


, where Steven Spielberg, Madonna and Elton John make their temporary Venice home. It's one of the world's most exclusive and expensive hotels, located on a private island along Venice's Grand Canal, with trademark Olympic-size swimming pool and private chauffeur a la antique Riva.

For those looking for even more exclusivity, with the money to spare, Cipriani offers three historic villas available for private rental with room for up to 20 of your closest Hollywood friends.

If you're looking for Venice's newest hotel hotspot, check in to

Ca'Sagredo Hotel

located near the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's Square.

This 15th Century palazzo is a registered landmark that took over seven years to refurbish. The hotel interiors are accented by frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo and Pietro Longhi, elaborate marble detailing and new be-seen restaurant, L'Alcova overlooking the Grand Canal. Rooms have been meticulously renovated within the former library and living areas of the palazzo where such Renaissance minds as Galileo once spent the winter season.

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If booking a room at one of Venice's historic hotels, like Gritti Palace or Danieli, keep in mind that the hotels are once-in-a-lifetime, and renovated just about as often. Think Versace 1963 with tube-TVs, and more gilding than a Beverly Hills McMansion.

Stylish travelers are best to book somewhere more intimate, along the narrow canals of the inner city where

Palazzo Barbarigo

is located.

Palazzo Barbarigo

Moby Gest, who also operates all of fashion designer Alberta Ferretti's hotel properties, manages the little known boutique property. The palazzo hotel features cozy apartment-style rooms, groovy lobby bar and modish decor that set it apart from Venice's old hotel guard.

Where to Eat

Much of the local dining scene is plagued with touristy cafes that can satiate worldly travelers even before the first bite. Be choosy when eating at the various establishments on St. Mark's Square, unless being rushed into a private second floor dining room or attending a special event: Head over to the Benetton family's Hotel Monaco and its prized

Grand Canal Restaurant


The restaurant was once a favored watering hole of Casanova himself, and today offers some of the best views in Venice, overlooking Santa Maria della Salute and San Giorgio Island. The menu includes daily fish specials (not from the canal), and Venetian delicacies like sautéed calf's liver.

No trip to Venice is complete without a dinner at

Harry's Bar

, where you will join the likes of Truman Capote, Jackie Onassis and Peggy Guggenheim before you.

Harry's Bar originated in the early '30s as a small watering hole by bartender Giuseppe Cipriani, who'd been plucked from a nearby hotel by a wealthy American benefactor to open the legendary establishment. Today, guests enter through a narrow alleyway in San Marcos into a cramped first floor bar with hushed diners in Hermes ascots and Chanel suits.

The menu is what you expect of most Cipriani restaurants -- namely, expensive, and ripe with Italian deliciousness. Regardless of what you order, don't forget the Bellini or Dirty Martini; it's rumored they invented both.

If Harry's has any true local competition it would be at


, a historic grand eatery on St. Mark's Square. Constructed amongst several porticos of the historic square, the dining room is a distinguished return to 18th Century Venice. The décor mixes ornate woodwork, dramatic ceiling details and velvety-red upholstery reminiscent of the days of Don Juan, who was a frequent visitor of the downstairs café.

Today, the restaurant is host to European elite like the Monegasque Royal Family, Brad Pitt and Claudia Schiffer for elegant dinner and private parties during Venice's Biennale.

Where to Play

Venice is not known for its nightlife. Be deliberate and plan your night out in Venice with precision. Many party revelers arrive expecting the elaborate nightlife that fueled Casanova's many conquests, but instead get lost amongst touristy cafes with electronic gaming machines and overgrown pizza shops serving meals by the slice.

Begin around 4 p.m. at

Aurora Café

, and its cappuccino and Prosecco scene of fedora-wearing artists and retail workers in skinny jeans and glittery high-tops.

As the sun begins to tuck behind the city's rooftops, head toward

Bacaro Lounge

, just down the street in San Marcos. This two-story cocktail bar and restaurant offers a lively happy hour scene that's convenient spot for drinking away the afternoon siesta and grabbing a few nibbles.

An upstairs dining room begins to fill up with early diners around 7 p.m., and a haughtier European crowd comes in around 9 p.m. when you'll make your way out the door.

As the evening fog invades the canals surrounding San Marcos, this boisterous supper club is one of the few stylish hangouts to spend the evening aside.


is a hybrid restaurant and social lounge within a 15th Century palazzo offering a cozy restaurant, wine bar and cocktail lounge popular with the city's jetset visitors.

The space features a dark and masculine design of black tufted-leather couches, stacked-stone walls and alcoves draped in black fabric. A separate cocktail bar hosts weekend DJs and jazz nights attended by celebrities like Elton John, Christina Aguilera and Tommy Vee.

Michael Martin is the managing editor of -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.