Words and images by Rosalind Milani Gallieni

Hotel Heureka has opened in the heart of secret Venice, playing with the layers of heritage and design, weaving tradition and art into one boutique property. Having spent several years searching for their perfect property, the owners discovered the ideal building (a 16th Century palazzo, no less) to transform into the bewitching Hotel Heureka. Since opening in October 2017, the hotel has been quietly whispering wealth, passion and luxury to connoisseurs who appreciate the finer things in life. This hidden gem in the crown of Venice’s beautiful hotels lies in the heart and history of Cannaregio, overlooking the tranquillity of the Madonna dell’Orto canal and spectacular secular gardens.Some of the “Heureka Moments” that the hotel has developed over the course of the last few months with Nexa Eventi of Venice are incorporated into a beautiful itinerary that guests can request to do, along the quieter streets (calli) of Cannaregio. Enter Secret Venice!Next door to the hotel is the Valese Foundry, founded by Luigi Valese in 1913, and today it is the last working foundry on the island of Venice, working its magic using traditional methods of casting to create prancing horses for gondolas, intricate door knockers, keys, decorative door handles, statues, staircase balustrades and all things copper, bronze and iron. The furnaces are on, roaring at over 3000 degrees Fahrenheit on a Friday afternoon, where items of pure beauty are cast out of the sand-mould forms, painstakingly prepared during the week.In line with this exceptional artistry, and also close by, is Orsoni, founded in 1988. Today, it is still in full swing creating mosaics for Bisazza and the world of high-end interior design. Their glass colour-library is a reference for all the colourways under the sun. Mosaics are created out of molten glass which is hand-cut into the most minute small square tiles, many of them backed in the finest gold-leaf. Each small tile (3cm x 3cm) is slightly different from the other, which gives an uneven and reflective effect – the same effect you get looking up into golden ceilings made of the most intricate mosaic patterns. Orsoni make the mosaics which line the entire ceiling on St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Vatican church, the Kremlin and more. Watching the process from start to finish, as each square is transformed, is to watch an art of passion, patience and perseverance.

This same labour of love is also happening further along the canal in Cannaregio, at Battiloro. Here, feather-light leaves of gold are beaten by hand with great energy by Mario Berta, who opened Battiloro in 1969 in the former house of the painter Tiziano, as he wished to carry on a tradition of a craft which dated back to 1926. Today, he and his wife and two pretty daughters work their Midas touch in a low-lit studio to avoid the glare of the gold. They create the finest gold-leaf, which you can’t even feel when they drop a dollop of it into the palm of your hand. This gold-leaf then finds its way to Orsoni for their tiles; to Venissa for their gold-leaf wine bottle labels; to noble homes to cover balustrades, ceilings, mirrors and frames; to the beauty industry since antiquity gold is an anti-ageing formula; and last but not least, gold-leaves also end up in the food industry for decorative purposes. 

A different kind of art in Venice is the really great rowing expedition, which Nexa arranged for us to do with Row Venice. This is where you can quite literally learn the art of a gondolier’s rowing skills, standing on the back of the gondola with your one oar stroking the water whilst sliding along the canals in total silence. Truly, this is something not to miss, as it shows you Venice from the water, and the rowing teacher who shows you the way points out small details and “canal signs” from the water – a perspective that is quite unusual, and which even the locals don’t see – unless they are gondoliers!
To book a tour of Secret Venice, contact Gilda Zaffagnini of Nexa Eventi at www.nexave.org, or e-mail .