The Big Six: Venetian palace hotels

Notable guests, romantic retreats and ultra-chic hideaways

Gritti Palace San Marco

Roll out the red carpet: this grande dame returns on Friday, following a 15-month facelift. Built for the Doge of Venice in 1525, it acted as the Gritti family's official residence for years, before becoming a hotel in the 19th century. It's been a Starwood property since 1994, and its latest transformation features rococo sofas, Murano chandeliers and rich Rubelli textiles restored, with designer Donghia furniture and antique Girandole mirrors added to the lavish mix. Notable guests lend their names to the 21 suites – Hemingway and Guggenheim among them – while the Club del Doge restaurant flaunts tables beside the Grand Canal.

Gritti Palace, Santa Maria del Giglio, San Marco (00 39 041 296 1222; Doubles start at €485, with breakfast.

Ai Reali Castello

This romantic retreat opened in December on a quiet canal close to St Mark's Square. Once home to the Realis, a family of Venetian traders who made their fortune in sugar, it retains much of its 18th-century grandeur today. An imposing marble staircase sweeps guests up to a trove of richly adorned rooms, with parquet floors, canopied beds and elaborate cornicing overhead. Downstairs, the spa exudes contemporary chic with a plunge pool, sauna and Jacuzzi.

Ai Reali, Campo della Fava, Castello (00 39 041 241 0253; Doubles start at €190, with breakfast.

Ca' Sagredo Cannaregio

The Sagredo family had a taste for the finer things in life. Having bought this vast palazzo in the 17th century, they went about filling it with some 800 Renaissance paintings and artworks. Today, a healthy handful remain. Relax in the Sala del Doge under a fresco by Niccolo Bambini; walk the ground floor to admire canvases by Andrea Urbani; ascend the marble staircase to marvel at a feat designed by Andrea Tirali, with cherubs by Francesco Bertos and frescos by Pietro Longhi.

Ca' Sagredo, Santa Sofia, Cannaregio (00 39 041 241 3111; Doubles start at €220, room only.

Ca' Pisani Dorsoduro

Step within this ancient merchant's house for a dash of fresh design flair. This diminutive 29-room property forgoes the Italian inclination for opulence in favour of clean geometric lines and modern patterns (no chintzy wallpaper and dizzying bedspreads here, thank you). The space is dotted with artwork by Futurist painter Fortunato Depero and warmed by Art Deco walnut furniture, with a roof terrace and wine bar that confirm its stylish appeal.

Ca' Pisani, Rio Terra Foscarini, Dorsoduro (00 39 041 240 1411; Doubles start at €135, including breakfast.

PalazzinaG San Marco

When Philippe Starck calls, the fashion set comes running. This ultra-chic retreat, with interiors by the star French designer, is the go-to spot for those with their finger on the sartorial pulse. It features 26 all-white rooms and suites, with playful features including a giant chess set in a courtyard, miniature sheep and cows in the Krug Lounge champagne bar, and tentacle-like glass sculptures by Aristide Najean. A private boat and landing pier are on hand for cruising the canals.

PalazzinaG, Ramo Grassi, San Marco (00 39 041 528 4644; Doubles start at €320, room only.

Hotel Gabrielli Castello

This 14th-century pile has a prime spot on the shore of the Castello district, looking out across the Venetian lagoon. The look inside is bright and airy, with full-length windows or balconies in many of its 100 or so rooms, affording views of the glistening waters below. Hand-made Murano glass chandeliers by artist Archimede Seguso and classic Venetian dishes in the Gabrielli restaurant lend an authentic air, while a secluded courtyard and garden provide calm from the streets outside.

Hotel Gabrielli, Riva degli Schiavoni, Castello (00 39 041 523 1580; Doubles start at €120, including breakfast.