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News & Advice

The Hedonist: Behind the mask in Venice

What to see and where to be seen

After checking in to the gilded Hotel Concordia (00 39 041 520 6866; hotelconcordia.com), I head up to my room to drop my bags. As I walk through the door, I feel as if I've time-warped back to the 18th century. A glance out the window, which overlooks St Mark's Square, reveals a busy throng, dressed in costumes and masks.

After getting my bearings – the hotel is a lavish concoction of 18th-century decor, authentic furnishings and beautiful Venetian glass – I decide to hit the town.

I dash through labyrinthine streets before rocking up at Harry's Bar (00 39 041 528 5 777; harrysbarvenezia.com). Founded in the 1930s, this snug little corner maintains its original decor. Its list of famous patrons includes Ernest Hemingway, who made it one of his haunts in 1949. After sampling a bellini (prosecco and peach juice), I return to exploring the streets.

Just off St Mark's Square, I drop into Loro Piana (00 39 041 277 0695; loropiana.com) and peruse the clothes with an eye on a gorgeous suede coat with cashmere sleeves. I also stop in Murano Vitrum (00 39 041 522 5067; murano vitrum.com) and marvel at beautifully crafted glass vases, before eventually succumbing to a Venetian glass fountain pen.

Shopping, I find, is thirsty work. Happily, I stumble upon Caffe Centrale (00 39 041 887 6642; www.caffecentralevenezia.com), a stylish bar overlooking a pretty side canals. I bag a table by the window and sit, passion-fruit daiquiri in hand, to watch life unfold. Then, after a mouthwatering light bite of prosciutto crostini, I decide to explore more of the backstreets. I take a meandering route towards the Rialto Bridge – a chance to absorb the city's culture and beauty.

I discover a quaint little wine bar: Enoteca Al Volto (00 39 041 522 8945; alvoltoenoteca.it), which has more than 1,000 bottles to choose from. I make a modest attempt at some of the vintages on offer, then wander out to the Rialto where gondolas (and their loved-up occupants) float down the Grand Canal.

Joyfully, I discover that it's the start of happy hour at Bacaro Jazz (00 39 041 528 5249; bacarojazz.com), so I manage to splash my way through, ahem, several cocktails, including a very strong Long Island iced tea.

I make friends with a group of American tourists; we opt to stay for dinner at Bacaro Jazz. (My filet mignon with cognac and mushrooms is divine.) Then, somehow, I agree to accompany my new friends to the Carnival festivities. After a quick stop to purchase a semi-tacky mask, we head to St Mark's for the Carnival Grand Ball. We party through the night, mingling with locals and tourists in the carnival spirit. The masks, I feel, add a further dose of heady glamour.

Then again, after a late start to the morning, my head requires refreshment of a different variety and the outdoor seats at Caffe Florian (00 39 041 520 5641; caffeflorian.com) are the perfect place to restore my equilibrium. Biscotti and a rich espresso bring me back to life and soon I'm good to go.

Later, I spend a few hours mulling over the endless carnival shops which, even in the light of the morning after, are as entrancing as the night before. I splurge more cash on another glittering mask (last night's one having got lost somewhere en route to the hotel). Suddenly, I'm once again transported back to 18th-century Venice, joining the carnival for more magic.

This year's Venice Carnival runs from 26 January to 12 February (carnevale.venezia.it)

A Hedonist's Guide to ... (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com