I never used to understand why the well-heeled and well-known feel the urge to move, sometimes permanently, into a five-star hotel. (Think Coco Chanel at the Ritz in Paris, Greta Garbo at LA's Fairmont Miramar and Rupert Murdoch at The Mercer in New York for starters). Lovely for a day or so but the novelty soon wears off. But that was life before the Cipriani.

Reclining languorously across the island of Giudecca, the Cipriani is not so much the grande dame of Venetian hotels (it dates back to only 1958; that honour is split between the 16th-century Gritti Palace and the 14th-century Danieli), as the Mrs Robinson. Stylish and sexy - if not in the first flush of youth. In the 1950s Commendator Giuseppe Cipriani, the man responsible for Harry's Bar, decided that what Venice needed was an elegant bolthole, away from the clamour of the main tourist sites.

The hotel still oozes retro glamour. As do the guests, teetering in high heels and designer bikinis around the Olympic-size swimming-pool, or swimming in bright green turbans and Jackie O sunglasses.

It's surrounded by neatly trimmed gardens, with loungers shaded by cream-and-chocolate-trim umbrellas, restaurants on the lagoon with views of San Marco and a private harbour for your yacht. The atmosphere is so relaxing that some guests, apparently, never leave the hotel.

In fact, with the Cipriani it's not so much the out and out luxury that is the draw, as a combination of idyllic location and the fact that everyone, from Gigi the head concierge to Virgilio the crinkly faced doorman, who's been welcoming guests at the jetty since 1958, makes you feel so at home.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Hotel Cipriani & Palazzo Vendramin, Giudecca, 10, 30133 Venice, Italy (00 39 041 520 7744, www.hotelcipriani.com).

Transport: there's a 24-hour complimentary motorboat service between Piazza San Marco and the hotel.

Time to international airport: Marco Polo airport is 30 minutes away by water taxi. Treviso (if you're saving the pennies for the bill and flying Ryanai), is 40 minutes by bus from Piazzale Roma, then half an hour by the number 42 vaporetto to Zitelle.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

Yes, and safely, tucked between crisp linen sheets, watched over by a huge oil painting of the Madonna and Child. On one side of the bedroom, the view through huge shuttered windows was on to the pool and over rooftops to the Campanile across the lagoon, on the other, the drop from the window was straight down to the murky green water. The walls were covered with silk in a dusty rose and beige, the furniture a mix of antiques and Oriental-style bamboo.

There are 88 rooms and suites in the hotel, all with views of the lagoon, and the Palladian Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in the front or the walled Casanova gardens and vineyards at the back. The Palazzo Vendramin is a 15th-century palace adjacent to the Cipriani with a handful of suites.

Freebies: signature toiletries.

Keeping in touch: direct-dial phones, widescreen TV with CNN and BBC Worldwide.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms cost from €813 (£577) in high season (1 May-30 Sept).

I'm not paying that: Locanda Art Deco (00 39 041 277 0558, www.locandaartdeco.com) in the San Marco district has doubles from €100 (£70).

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