The lagoon itself is having a resurgence, finally recovering from decades of pollution. At 212 square miles, it’s not only the largest wetland in Italy, it’s the largest in the Mediterranean Basin. It’s a critical flyway for birds and home to a variety of marine life, including bottlenose dolphins. It also serves as Veneto’s larder, with seafood staples like native shrimp, octopus, anchovies, razor clams and mołeche, native green soft-shell crabs.
The most transformative new development has been on Isola delle Rose, about 1½ miles from Venice’s iconic Piazza San Marco. The former sanitarium reopened as the 266-room JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa in March of last year, with discreet canal side luxury villas with private plunge pools and docks; two-story maisonettes with zigzag-tiled floors; and a brick warehouse converted to loft suites. The property also features a century-old arboretum with cypress and olive trees, the one-Michelin-starred restaurant Dopolavoro, and a 19th-century neo-Romanesque chapel festooned with Barovier & Toso glass chandeliers crafted on the neighboring island of Murano.
More Miami than Mediterranean, the spacious, modern lobby is dotted with white wing chairs, teal velvet sofas and long cotton drapes fluttering dramatically in the wind. There’s a handsome marble bar, a grand piano and old-fashioned glass jars stufed with licorice and hard candy. From the hotel’s promenade, you can see the lights of Piazza San Marco, which is reachable in 15 minutes via the complimentary shuttle.The lights of Piazza San Marco – Venice
But the guests who come and go from the resort use the island as an urban sanctuary during their visits to Venice. Another sanctuary: the property’s 18,000-square-foot spa, with thermal pools and treatment rooms situated right on the water.
On a nearby lagoon island, the 15-acre Isola di San Clemente, sits another refurbished property, Kempinski’s San Clemente Palace. The history of the island dates back to A.D. 1131, and it has played the role of monastery, hospice and even a quarantine site for plague victims. Today, its posh 190-room hotel counts a spa and tennis courts among its amenities, as well as the private, fully renovated, 12th-century San Clemente Church.Isola di San Clemente – Venice
But these splashy luxury palaces are only a part of the lagoon’s transformation. Several smaller and more organic developments are helping to restore some of these islands to their roots. Perhaps the most significant is happening on Mazzorbo, a small, quiet island connected by a pedestrian bridge to the lagoon’s largest island, Burano.