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Art & Culture

Veneto

The history of the Hotel Excelsior in Venice, the historic heart and epicentre of the Venice Film Festival

23 August 2022

3 minutes

Every evening, when the sun sets over the Venice Lido, bathing its Moorish architecture in a golden light, as if by magic the Hotel Excelsior takes on the pastel outline of an enchanted Disney castle. This is only to be expected of a monument set in the lagoon landscape that over almost eighty years has earned its reputation as the Italian temple of cinema, an industry not coincidentally defined as a “dream factory”.

Interestingly, even back in 1908 a reporter of the Gazzetta di Venezia newspaper described it as a “fairy-tale castle”. This was the day after its inauguration: a celebration attended by 30,000 Venetians and over 3,000 guests from all around the world, who flocked to celebrate this masterpiece of Belle Époque architecture, along the Lungomare Marconi, the promenade that cuts down the middle of the narrow strip of land of the Lido.
Dreamed up by entrepreneur Nicolò Spada and designed by architect Giovanni Sardi, the Hotel Excelsior in Venice quickly became a favourite holiday destination for international jet setters.

1. In long-standing partnership with the Venice Film Festival

Partnership with the Venice Film Festival

But the Excelsior, now internationally known as the Hotel Excelsior Venice Lido, forged its deep connection with the Seventh Art later on in 1932, when, on its balcony, President Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata inaugurated the first edition of the Venice International Film Festival. In the presence of actors including Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, James Cagney, Joan Crawford and Boris Karloff, all of whom stayed in the hotel’s rooms, and the biggest names in cinema at the time, Forbidden, the famous film directed by Frank Capra, was premiered: this was the beginning of love story that still hasn't ended, not even when the epicentre of the Venice Film Festival moved to the nearby Palazzo del Cinema, inaugurated in 1937.

2. Star guests, from Churchill to Al Pacino

Al Pacino

Since then, VIPs have graced its lavish halls, rooms furnished with traditional wicker furniture and rust-red upholstery, which have remained virtually unchanged: Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, John Steinbeck, Ingrid Bergman, the Aga Khan, Italians Vittorio De Sica, Silvana Mangano, Isabella Rossellini, Claudia Cardinale and Monica Bellucci, and Hollywood stars including Kirk Douglas, Al Pacino, Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton, Johnny Depp and George Clooney. An impressive clientele that has naturally always attracted the most refined and wealthy tourists in all seasons.

3. From hotel to film set

Hotel Excelsior: from hotel to film set

The mutual bond with the world of cinema is so strong that the Hotel Excelsior has also become an unforgettable film set over the years. To name but a few, the atmosphere of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, with its unforgettable soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, still reverberates in the scenic Sala degli Stucchi, while the famous restaurant scene, in which Robert de Niro invites Elizabeth McGovern to a very intimate dinner, was also filmed here.

More recently, on the Excelsior’s beach, against the backdrop of its legendary cabanas, Paolo Sorrentino set one of the most iconic scenes in The New Pope, the second chapter of the Sky series starring Jude Law, in which the British actor, playing a fictitious American Pope, walks down the hotel's wooden walkway dressed only in a thin white slip, surrounded by young women in bikinis.  

4. A restyling to celebrate 110 years

Restyling to celebrate 110 years

A star-studded history of over a century is a huge achievement. To celebrate its 110th anniversary, and to refresh itself, in 2018 the Hotel Excelsior underwent a restyling that included the renovation of the façade, social areas and 197 rooms, and the creation of a “presidential” suite in the central dome, which towers over the entire complex and offers 360-degree views of the entire Lagoon.  

5. All eyes on the Excelsior every year at the end of August

Hotel Excelsior

A revamp is a must for a building that every year hosts the most talked-about stars in its lobby, shrouded in the most sophisticated, dazzling perfumes, and directors destined to make cinema history; interviews and press conferences are hosted in its luxurious suites, while its beach gazebos entertain ocean-side parties and its refined lounges accommodate exclusive gala dinners. When, every year, towards the end of August, the world's eyes and cameras turn on the Lido, for the next edition of the Venice Film Festival, the Excelsior is without doubt the place to be.

Find out more: hotelexcelsiorvenezia.com