Most eighteenth-century visitors to Venice either took lodgings, like Joseph Spence, or put up at an inn, like Goethe, who, in 1786 “lodged at the sign of the Queen of England, not far from the Square of St Mark”. But already, by the last quarter of the eighteenth century, former palazzi were being turned into hotels by the needy Venetian aristocracy. Lady Miller, for example, in 1771, “lodged at a large palace, now converted into a hotel for strangers called the Palazzo Contarini”. This trend was continued in 1824 when the Palazzo Dandolo, built for the Doge Enrico Dandolo on the Riva degli Schiavoni at the end of the XIV century, was turned into the most famous of all Venice’s historic hotels, the Hotel Danieli by the enterprising Giuseppe Dal Niel of Friuli.
With its unique situation next to the Doge’s Palace and bordering St Mark’s Square, the Hotel Danieli attracted many notable artists, writers, musicians and luminaries, including Goethe, Wagner, Charles Dickens, Byron, Peggy Guggenheim, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten Proust and Balzac and three twentieth-century divas: Maria Callas, Greta Garbo and Grace Kelly. John Ruskin stayed there, when he was working on The Stones of Venice as did George Sand with her lover Alfred de Musset. Many of these famous former inmates of the hotel have suites named after them. Danieli is the only one of the six hotels recommended in the 1877 edition of Murray’s Handbook for Northern Italy which is still in business.
Another famous old hotel is the Gritti Palace where John and Effie Ruskin stayed in 1851, a fifteenth-century palazzo whose exterior walls are said once to have had frescoes by Giorgione.
Very different in character was the Grand Hotel des Bains established in 1900 on the newly-fashionable Lido. The setting for Death in Venice, it quickly became popular with the international jet set and attracted film stars like Clark Gable and, more recently, Keira Knightley. But it was closed in 2010 and its future is uncertain.
The other grand hotel on the Lido, is the Hotel Excelsior, which was established in 1908 and played host in 1932 to the inaugural Venice Film Festival. Although historically the hotel attracted film stars such as Ingrid Bergman and Marlene Dietrich, it is no longer a magnet for the beau monde who now favour establishments such as Cipriani’s hotel on Isola San Giorgio.