24-Hour Room Service: Ca' Pisani Venice, Italy

Going back to Venice for the first time in 20 years, I had forgotten what an extraordinary city it is, especially out of season. With snow on the ground keeping most other tourists away, we drifted along the smaller canals, stumbling into sleepy squares, their churches full of Renaissance masterpieces and their bacari full of good cheer.

A couple of quick repeat visits also reminded me that, despite having 12,500 hotel rooms in the city centre alone, there are not many great places to stay. There are the luxurious palaces such as the Cipriani, Danieli and Gritti, of course, but for those unwilling to spend small fortunes on such over-the-top delights, there is little that reflects the splendour and uniqueness of the city.

Slowly, however, this is starting to change, with the emergence of affordable, stylish hotels. And in their vanguard is the wonderful Ca' Pisani. Named after Vettor Pisani, the great Venetian admiral, the hotel is in a 16th-century palazzo once owned by the seafarer's family. Inside, as you walk up the black marble steps, you realise it is anything but traditional. The owners describe the style as "updated 1930s" - an eclectic mixture of animal print fabrics, Italian Futurist artwork and intricate art deco woodwork. Even the wooden fish key fobs are designer gems. And somehow, against the odds, it all works wonderfully, especially when combined with the informality of the hotel and its laid-back but helpful staff.

LOCATION, LOCATION

Ca' Pisani Hotel, Dorsoduro 979/A, 30123 Venezia, Italy (00 39 041 240 1411; www.capisanihotel.it).

Hard to see how it could be improved. Situated in a quiet street near the Ponte dell'Accademia, with a vaporetto (water bus) stop nearby and the tourist hotspots of San Marco a short walk over the bridge. The city's two best art galleries - the Accademia and the Guggenheim - are just round the corner, and it is in the heart of Dorsoduro, an excellent district for those who like to get lost in a Venetian maze of side streets and canals, discovering quirky shops and neighbourhood osterie.

Time from international airport: So long as you are not flying Ryanair, which does not use Marco Polo International Airport, it will take about an hour on the vaporetto and costs €5 (£3.50) per person. Alternatively, if you want to splash out and arrive in style, take a water taxi, which cuts the journey by 20 minutes but costs a hefty €85 (£60).

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

There are 29 guest rooms, some of which are on the small side. The beds are almost art deco masterpieces themselves and - more importantly - supremely comfortable. They have four cushions lined up on the pillows - white, dark brown, white, beige - to match the beige bedspreads, and the inlaid woodwork is offset by metallic silver cupboards and orange leather armchairs. The lights are recessed, except for Anglepoises over the bed, and there are snazzy little Alessi thermometers stuck outside the windows. There is also a steam room on the third floor and steps out to a wood-slated roof terrace.

Freebies: Lush products in the bathroom and chocolates on the pillow at bedtime.

Keeping in touch: Phones, satellite television that slides out of a silver cupboard (which also hides the mini-bar), radio, computer and internet connections.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Doubles start at €219 (£156) in the low season, including a buffet breakfast in La Rivista, which during the day is a bistro specialising in Italian wine and cheese.

I'm not paying that: Locanda Novecento Calle del Dose, Campo San Maurizio (00 39 041 241 3765; www.novecento.biz) is an eclectic boutique hotel with nine antique-filled, Oriental-styled rooms. Rooms from €140 (£100) including breakfast.

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