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Dorsoduro: Centro Culturale Don Orione

Rio Terra Marco Foscarini, Zattere, Phone: 041.522.4077

Reviewed by: LisaD1 from USA, review #1395

When: April 2006

Great religious guest house. Spotless room and bathroom!

We really enjoyed this B&B.

The atmosphere isn't a B&B feeling but more like a dormitory. Part of the year students live here along with the hotel guests. We saw about 2 or 3 students during our three nights there and they were very quiet and well behaved.

The place was absolutely spotless, from the dining room, the hallways, to our room and bathroom. You could have literally eaten off the floors. The linens were clean and crisp.

The location is Dorsoduro is great. You are off the main tourist track and in a quiet local neighborhood. You are about a 3 minute walk from the Accademia vaporetto stop and about 1 minute from the Zattere vaporetto stop.

To reach the hotel from the train station take vaporetto #51 to the Zattere stop. Make a right off the boat then take the first left (the S. Maria Rosario - Gesuati church is on the corner). Don Orione is attached to the back of the church; it is very unobtrusive so be sure to look for the sign on the door. We had a hard time finding the place at first because the directions are incorrect on the website.

There is no one at the front desk all night, and we had to leave at 5am to catch our flight so we paid our bill the night before we left. (FYI: the Alilaguna line to the airport is about a 1 minute walk from the hotel.) The only thing is the desk clerk did not tell us they lock up the front door at night, so at 5am there was no one there and a locked front door! Luckily my husband's cool head prevailed and he found the emergency exit but it would have been nice to be aware of this and saved myself the early morning panic!

I really enjoyed this hotel and recommend it and the area.

Reviewed by: gardenlady from USA, review #1307

When: November 2005

A warm and pleasant religous house in Venice offering excellent accommodation.

I stayed here for six nights during the latter part of November, 2005. I chose it because it had been reviewed favorably on several websites I consulted and because the price and the location seemed perfect for me.

I e-mailed several months in advance for a reservation, but I think advance notice of that length is not nearly as important during the off-season as during the high season. According to the desk clerk, the Center had been moderately busy the week prior to my arrival. However, it had only five to ten people per night during my visit. It seems to draw an international crowd; I heard English, French, German, and Italian spoken in the breakfast room.

The Center is housed in a large, very old, four-storey building on Rio Terra Marco Foscarini, halfway between the Zattere and the Grand Canal. It has been fully refurbished, with full elevator service, since 1996 for use as housing both for students attending local educational institutions and for tourists seeking shorter term accommodations.

About 50 students live in another part of the building and have their own kitchen facilities. I was aware of their presence only occasionally. Usually one or two would pass through the lobby during breakfast laden with book bags, architectural drawings, and musical instruments. The number of tourists varies seasonally.

The architects did a good job of integrating modern amenities with such an old structure, emphasizing light colors, contemporary furniture, and interesting juxtapositions of metal, stone, tile, and wood.

The front door is a very stylish sheet of plate glass that slides silently to the side allowing you to enter a foyer clad in polished slabs of pale stone. Fortunately, I had committed the street number to memory. The entrance is so unobtrusive that one could easily miss it (when in doubt, look for the Hotel Belle Arti, which is next door). A single flight of stairs leads to the reception desk and lobby, where the dominant theme of terrazzo floors, honey-colored walls, and natural wood and stone trim is established. Very old stone columns, arched doorways, brick infill, etc., have been left exposed throughout the building to suggest its age.

Black and white photographs in the lobby illustrate one of the Centerís former uses as a vocational training center for young boys from troubled homes in Venice. Carpentry, typesetting, and machining were among the trades taught throughout most of the twentieth century. I found the photographs somewhat haunting. Nowhere was there to be found a single person with a smile. Scattered throughout the building are various tools and products from this period. There is a particularly interesting set of typesetting apparatus near the elevator, for example.

The reception desk is staffed by some very nice people, all of whom speak Italian, English, and at least one other language. Once again my feeble language skills were put to shame. I was given a room on the second floor and handed a key and a plastic card that when inserted in the data port in my room activated the lights and the heat. I kept the key during my stay but left the utility card at the desk when I went out and about for the day.

My room was not particularly large, but it had a large window overlooking the central courtyard, which contained a typical Venetian wellhead and would have held tables and chairs if the weather had been more clement. It also had a single bed (with a great mattress and immaculate bed linen), a book shelf behind the head of the bed, an armoire, a desk, a chair, a mirror, a set of wall hooks, and a bench. All of these were carefully coordinated with one another to present a chic, modern appearance several steps above the level found in high-end dorms or conference centers. The hardware was particularly well made.

To one side was a sliding door that opened to a private bathroom. This was a vision of ceramic tile and gleaming white porcelain fixtures with polished chrome fittings. A large heated towel rack was on the wall to the side of the sink, and a small, but lovely, shower with optional handheld shower head occupied the opposite corner. The sink had a shelf and mirror over it. The water pressure was rock solid, and there was plenty of piping hot water at all hours of the day and night. The entire room was so clean that it sparkled. Quite frankly, it was nicer than my bathroom at home. I was sad to leave it.

A few toiletries were provided: small packages of soap and a packet of shampoo. There was a blow dryer on the wall. The towels were typical for Italy. They were made of very fine white linen, beautifully laundered, of the sort Americans might use for drying fine glassware or for placement in the powder room. There were no washcloths. I have encountered this arrangement all over Italy and have never found it satisfactory, so I packed my own terrycloth beach towel and about 14 washcloths. The towel I took home at the end of the trip. The washcloths, which were old and ready to be relegated to the rag pile, I disposed of as I traveled around Italy. Itís an excellent system. I would use it again.

A telephone was beside the bed. There was a direct link to the reception desk and another to an outside line. Instructions were included for making international calls. There was a bedside wall-mounted lamp for reading in bed, and another ceiling light for general ambient light. The room was always warm and cozy, so important at that time of year in Venice (we had snow one day and chilling drizzle on several other days). I was especially appreciative of the warmth as I had spent the previous week in Florence being chilled to the bone in an 18th century palazzo. Life is so much more pleasant when you are warm enough.

The room was cleaned each morning. The bed was made, and halfway through my stay the sheets were changed. There are a blanket and a bedspread on the bed as standard issue, and there is another blanket in the bottom of the armoire. I was always comfortably warm with this arrangement and used the spare blanket only as an exercise mat to do some sit-ups and stretchin. Fresh linens were placed in the bathroom; the sink was cleaned; the toilet paper replenished, etc., every day. I suspect that the floors were swept and/or damp mopped as well.

In addition to the reception desk, the ground level contains the breakfast room, a TV room (which also has a computer with internet access); a small room with a couple of vending machines delivering cold and hot drinks, and a meeting room or two, which I never investigated.

The breakfast area draws a lot of natural light from the interior courtyard and is fitted out with tables and chairs similar in design to the furniture found in the bedrooms. The effect is chic, minimalist, and highly functional.

The standard Italian coffee machine dispenses several kinds of coffee, hot chocolate, and hot water for tea (which really isnít hot enough). There were teabags and packets of lemon juice nearby. Three kinds of cold cereal and two kinds of fruit juice were provided, along with milk. There was no fruit, but this is the sort of thing easily picked up around town and taken down to breakfast in the morning as desired.

On a separate table was a beautiful array of baked goods, packets of butter, and at least six kinds of jam and honey. My favorite was the cornetto, which is found all over Italy, with slight regional variations. The Venice cornetto seems to be lower in fat content than the Florentine version. Itís very light and crispy and has a faint coating of powdered sugar. I usually ate two of these for breakfast at the Center and then had a cup of hot chocolate somewhere in my travels around 11 oíclock in the morning. This sufficed quite nicely until lunch.

Also available were: slices of panettone; slices of marbled chocolate breakfast bread (which I tried but did not care for); packets of light butter cookies, which reminded me of both Animal Crackers and the Danish butter cookies available at holiday time in the States; and packets of something akin to rice crackers or rye crisp. Many Americans will find this last item to be dry, tasteless, and thoroughly unsatisfying. I count myself among them. As nearly as I can determine, its sole function is to serve as a crunchy vehicle for butter and jam. I have seen it elsewhere in Italy, and I always steer clear of it. Itís not worth eating in my opinion, but you should try it for yourself at least once.

I donít drink coffee or tea, but I found the accoutrements useful when I developed a cough and a slight cold towards the end of my stay. By combining hot water, two packets of lemon juice, and two packets of honey I was able to concoct a soothing drink for my throat every morning. I also took several packets of butter with me each morning and used them either at lunch or dinner around town for buttering bread.

Breakfast is the only meal offered at the Center. It is a self-serve buffet, open from 7:30 to 9:30, seven days a week. I thought it was above average in comparison to other places I have stayed in Italy.

Italian TV is widely considered to be the lowest form of television available anywhere in the world. I concur with this opinion, and thus I didnít make use of the TV room. I did use the internet connection once to check my e-mail. The charge was 2.50 euros for 15 minutes. There are also several internet cafes in the Dorsoduro sestiere, most notably in Campo Santa Margherita.

I used the vending machines for cold carbonated drinks. The price was very reasonable, but the selection was limited.

The location of the Center is one of its biggest attractions. There are two nearby vaporetto stops. One is Accademia, which is served by the #1 line, the slow boat making all stops up and down the Grand Canal, and also by the #81 line, the express boat making only selected stops up and down the Grand Canal, of which Accademia is one. The other stop is Zattere on the Giudecca Canal, served by a number of different lines. The Center is a walk of one or two minutes from either one, even with a suitcase in tow.

Not as well known is the Centerís proximity to the Zattere stop of the Alilaguna boat service to Veniceís Marco Polo Airport. I had read about the service in a few guidebooks and had thought that it might be a wonderful way to enter or exit the city. However, I assumed that I would end up taking the airport shuttle bus from Piazzale Roma. Quite by accident I discovered the Alilaguna boats tied up at their Zattere loading dock one day and realized that I could hop on one of these and be at the airport with nothing more required than a one-minute walk from the Center.

At the time of my trip the boats stopped at Zattere at 35 minutes past the hour, every hour. I took the 7:35 a.m. boat from Zattere, which made a number of stops along the way, and landed at the boat dock of the airport at 9 a.m. From there I caught a shuttle bus to the airport terminal itself and got in line at the Air France desk at 9:20 a.m. One should plan on a total of two hours travel time from the Zattere departure point to the airport terminal.

Conversely, the Alilaguna shuttle can be picked up at the airport every hour on the hour and taken into Venice. Its last stop is at the Zattere dock. From there it is a one-minute walk to the front door of the Center. I certainly would use this service if I were to fly into Venice.

I am told that the vaporetto to Piazzale Roma and a bus ride to the airport from there would be shorter, but there is nothing to compare with a boat ride across the lagoon in the fog and mist at that hour of the morning. It was a treat, and I would do it again.

In the immediate neighborhood are: an excellent bar of the Italian variety (meaning coffee, snacks, and some liquor); several trattorias (see my review of Trattoria San Trovaso elsewhere); several tabacchis for gum, candy, and sundries; several shops selling excellent sandwiches and snacks; Nicoís gelateria, which makes the best hot chocolate to be found in the Dorsoduro, certainly of a much higher quality than is issued in the bars; and all the services of Campo Santa Margherita, which is a 12-minute walk away. A short walk over the Accademia bridge opens up the rest of Venice to you.

My bill for six nights came to 424 euros. I paid with two travelerís checks, each one in the amount of 200 euros, and some euro dollars. I was charged 4 euros for using the travelerís checks because the bank charges the Center that much for accepting travelerís checks. Even travelerís checks in euro denominations are very difficult to use in Italy. Nobody seems to like them, and the bank charge is the reason why.

Any criticisms? Only a few. The broad expanses of terrazzo flooring and the long straight hallways make the Center a pleasure to use and a breeze to clean but also very noisy. Italians love to pound up and down the hallways in shoes with hard soles. Americans, the loudest nationality on the planet, love to converse at full voice outside anyoneís door at any hour. The architects failed to provide adequate soundproofing between rooms and tied the plumbing together in such a way that the most intimate bathroom activities of oneís upstairs neighbors can be heard clearly. The open-air central courtyard is still an unknown quantity. Because very few people were staying at the Center when I was there, the noise level was never a problem. At high season, it might be.

Would I stay here again? Yes. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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