I was invited to the inaugural brunch at the new Molino Stucky Hilton out on the island of Giudecca here in Venice, Italy on Sunday, January 27, and it was fantastic -- great food, great wine and a lovely ambiance. I was a little wary of the Hilton -- did we really need an "American" hotel chain here in Venice? But after meeting the incredibly helpful and charming staff, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Venetians mixed in with other locals who have been professionals in five-star hotels around town. Really! I'm not just saying that because they gave me brunch!
Every Sunday they are going to put out this wonderful spread for 70 euro, which is an elegant, all-you-can-eat buffet. Fresh-squeezed orange juice. Assorted pastries and little sandwiches and breads. Cold cuts, like prosciutto di San Daniele (the best!) and Norwegian salmon. Marmalades and jams. Cold cereal and scrambled eggs and bacon (it is not easy to get eggs and bacon in Venice:)
Does that sound too typically Anglo-Saxon? Well, if you haven't had that kind of food for a while, it is a treat, and I know plenty of Americans who cannot survive without their American breakfast. On to the next:
Salads with different kinds of lettuce, carrots, olives, and vegetables of the season, Waldorf salad! (of course) chicken salad, fish salad, shrimp salad.
Then there is a hot buffet with pastas, wonderful, fresh pasta like tortellini and ravioli.
They prepared a steak in front of me, cooked to perfection, one of the absolute best filettos, I've ever had. Roast potatoes and vegetables. And more!
And then, coffee, of course, and lots of sweet cakes and little tarts, with a pianist playing in the background.
When I first arrived in Venice, the Molino Stucky (the Stucky Mill) was an enormous, empty building, and its future was always changing. Back in those days (1998) I actually lived for a short time on Giudecca, and it was an entirely different island than it is today.
Here is a bit of history:
It used to be the Stucky Mill, producing 700,000 tons of flour per year, and employing 225 workers. The mill was built on the foundation of an ancient convent for secluded nuns from high-ranking Venetian families (that is an old Venetian system -- if you have too many daughters, you stick them in the convent:). The convent was founded in 1222-26 by Giuliana di Collato, a noblewoman.
When the Austrians were in charge of Venice, things out on Giudecca starting declining (much like it was when I arrived). A Venetian of Swiss-aristocratic origins by the name of Giovanni Stucky decided to save Giudecca and transform it into an industrial hub. (Every so often someone comes along and shoots some energy into Venice.) In 1895, the Molino Stucky was turned into the medieval castle-like structure we see today, designed by Ernst Wullekopf, who Giovanni Stucky apparently met at the court of Ernst August, the Prince of Hannover.
In any event, back when I was married to the television director, we would have stayed at this Hilton because we needed the things the Hilton has to offer just to survive the intense work -- the spa, the gym, the plasma TV -- everything the Hilton is famous for. I know it is hard to believe, but lots of people PREFER to stay in the Hilton rather than in some quaint, charming old hotel in Venice because they like their modern conveniences. I will tell you honestly, it is very nice to have the option to wander into the present day every so often, instead of living constantly 500-1,000 years behind the rest of the world:) Also, this Hilton incorporated much of the pre-existing mill structure into the hotel, and I am quite sure that was not easy to do. It has lots of original touches sprinkled throughout, and displays the products of local craftsman and local artists. This Hilton is very supportive of the Venetian community, and that is another reason why I am supporting them. Really! Not all the hotels in Venice are this friendly and charming -- they really are not.
During Carnevale, I stopped in to see Gianni de Luigi's theatrical group perform (it was something wonderful to see -- candlelight and magic), and I had time to go up to the rooftop bar, the Skyline Bar. I asked for a spritz, but the barman, Marino Lucchetti, was whipping up one of his own creations, which he calls "The Laguna," which is kiwi, lemon juice, Midori and prosecco and costs 12 euro. I had one, and it was delicious.
So, Venice has transformed once again -- now there is a hotel inside what was once a flour mill, inside what was once a convent. The Molino Stucky Hilton looks beautiful all lit up at night, and it is nice to see some life at that end of the island. It gets the Venetian Cat Stamp of Approval!
Ciao from Venice
P.S. If you click the headline there at the top, you will arrive at the Molino Stucky's website, and you can wander around there by yourself.