'Once we start mingling with the guests, it dawns on me that I am the only Asian amongst this pantheon of European
social luminaries. And, as an Indian wearing a tuxedo, immediately everyone jumps to the conclusion that I must be a
waiter. So, for the first hour-and-a-half, I was totally ostracised. I mean, I could just as well have been in
Siberia for the number of conversations I had. I was about to quietly take my leave when this well-known
jet-setter/socialite comes breezing into the party late, and of course, he's this incredibly popular guy, so people
immediately flock towards him. He starts chatting amiably, then suddenly sets eyes on me. He knows me because he
owns one of our villas, and suddenly, he lets out this scream and rushes over to me. He starts introducing me to
everyone as the co-owner of the Aman Resorts group, and suddenly, the most amazing transformation occurs. Even the
most jaded, world-weary socialites get this intense look in their eyes and begin talking to me in the most animated
way. Suddenly, everyone wants to know me - they want my mobile number, they've lost their Aman Junkie T-shirt and
want another one, they want to know if I can help them get a reservation for our legendary Christmas
[celebrations]... From that moment until the end of the evening, I was the most popular man in the room. It was
For the most part, Aman has been focused on proliferating its extraordinary equity and brand message in Asia. And so 'Aman Junkies' - the honorarium bestowed upon guests who visit the same resort twice with a 12-month period and who receive their coveted Aman Junkie T-shirt as a result - awaited the unveiling of Central Europe's first Aman Resort with dizzying levels of anticipation. The Aman in Venice is the first to be placed directly within the urban crosshairs of a metropolitan city, so it's extraordinary that, amid the sonic and sensory overload that can be Venice mid-Biennale season, Aman has managed to deliver precisely what its iconic name suggests - the promise of 'a place of peace'.
Situated in one of eight remaining Palazzo Monumentali in Venice, the opiatic warmth
of the Aman Canal Grande Venice has its roots in a unique living arrangement. While it is a fully operational hotel,
the top floor of the Aman is occupied by the living quarters of the Palazzo's owners, the charming Gilberto and
Bianca Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga, whose personal belongings still decorate the premises. The effusive Gilberto is
often seen wandering the grounds, occasionally holding court and taking guests on spontaneous tours, extrapolating
on the details of the exquisite Tiepolo frescoes or the Murano chandeliers, and providing illuminating accounts of
the venerable history of his house.
Palazzo Papadopoli, as is its proper name, was commissioned by the high-profile Coccina family of Bergamao and built by architect and sculptor Giangiacomo de'Grigi who took over the direction of the legendary Scuolo Grande di San Rocco from Antonio Scarpagnino after the latter's death in 1549. The building was a masterpiece of frescoes, gild work, mirrors, silk wall facings and ornate scrolling. The palazzo was, soon after, sold to the fabulously wealthy Papadopolis family, who also bought the building next door and razed it to create one of the most spacious private gardens in all of Venice. As providence would have it, Gilberto and Bianca (the current owners) befriended Aman founder Adrian Zecha, and from there began an 18-month project to restore and transform this stunning palazzo into the Aman Canal Grande.
Jean-Michel Gathy was tapped to decorate the interiors, and it was through his discussions with Zecha that the most
important aesthetic decision was made. Rather than add more antiques - or, worse, historical reproductions of them -
to the already exquisite space of Palazzo Papadopoli, they decided to furnish the hotel in a pointedly contemporary
way. Taking a page out of the proverbial architectural book featuring IM Pei's pyramid extension of the Louvre
Museum, they decided that these stridently contemporary furnishings would serve to showcase the 16th-century
traditionalist space in an even more emotionally powerful way.
They were right. Stepping into the Aman Canal Grande's exquisite Piano Nobile Lounge and dining rooms is a bit like
stepping into Titian's masterpiece, Assumption of the Virgin, which hangs, in situ, at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei
Frari just a few hundred metres away. The gilded and frescoed ceiling and walls evoke a transcendence that is
indescribable. Looking up, you feel as if you are ascending towards the beckoning call of God himself. But then the
firmament - as represented by the furnishings on the floor - provides a wonderful return to the contemporary world,
rooting and anchoring the visitor in the present. It is this delicious tension between past and present that is so
achingly titillating, and the source of unending charm as the light of the Grand Canal fades from intense Titian
reds to Bellini peach tones, painting the walls of the palazzo with their majesty. You have the sense of being
invited to the most exquisite and tastefully decorated contemporary home in Venice.
So, has the legendary Aman service made the same transition from Asia to Europe intact? The answer was made evidently
clear to me in my attempt to book a table at one of my favourite Venetian eateries, Vini da Arturo, which is,
incidentally, the best place to eat spectacular meat on the island. The owner, Ernesto Ballarin, is gregarious,
generous and devastatingly charming. He is also very bad at answering his telephone. After calling eight times, the
front-office manager Fabio Visentin sent his extraordinary concierge to walk to the restaurant, knock on the door
and physically secure for me a coveted table, embodying a level of service that is unparallelled in the European
Moving from one point to another inside the hotel is a charming and capricious adventure. Walking from one of only 24
suites to the communal living spaces - whether it's the Yellow and Red dining rooms, the Stanza del Tiepolo game
room or the wonderfully charming Library - you will be stunned by the incredible generosity of space. The ultimate
example of this is the amazing garden area - the perfect place to indulge in an Aperol Spritz as smoke furls off the
sunlight-enriched, Medio Tiempo leaves of your Cohiba Behike, and you are overwhelmed with the affirmation that all
is well in the world.
In your mind's ear, you may hear the words of Charles Baudelaire's 'Invitation to the Voyage':
Child, Sister, think how sweet to go out there and live together! To love at leisure, love and die in that land
that resembles you! For me, damp suns in disturbed skies share mysterious charms with your treacherous eyes as
they shine through tears.
There, there's only order, beauty: abundant, calm, voluptuous.
And it is a beauty - ordered, calm and voluptuous - that is provided so charmingly by the Aman Canal Grande