The water taxi takes just 12 minutes to cross the Venetian lagoon from San Marco Square to the island of Lido — but there is a world of difference between the two.
The journey, famously made by Dirk Bogarde to the music of Gustav Mahler in Luchino Visconti's 1971 movie Death in Venice, is to a slender sandbar, eight miles long and facing the Adriatic Sea. Today, Lido has roads, an airport, even an 18-hole golf course and a laid-back Italian lifestyle that Venice, with its 15 million visitors a year, cannot match.
Until the 1950s Lido was the place to be seen, an Adriatic St Tropez filled with celebrities who stayed in grand Liberty-style hotels beside it's long beachfront. Grainy black-and-white photographs tell a tale of lazy days by the sea and champagne-charged nights in grand ballrooms.
The Liberty villas are still there and once a year the island comes alive for the Venice Film Festival but otherwise it's a family friendly but workaday understudy to the glories of Venice.
Now there are plans to restore the glamour of Lido. Italian property fund EstCapital has invested nearly £260 million constructing an 800-berth marina, redeveloping the residential areas of Malamocco and Ospedale al Mare and buying two magnificent hotels on the splendid beachfront.
One of these buildings, the beautiful Hotel des Bains, is where author Thomas Mann wrote — and set — his 1912 novel, Death in Venice, the tale of obsession and beauty, on Lido. It was also the location for Visconti's film.
Taylor, Burton, De Niro and enduring elegance
The vast villa, with its 600ft façade facing the Adriatic, was built as a 200-room hotel, opening in January 1900 and swiftly becoming a byword for the glamour of Lido. Stars including Elizabeth Taylor and Robert de Niro have passed through its elegant reception rooms.
EstCapital is turning the six-floor hotel into 58 apartments, each featuring soaring ceilings and views across the Adriatic or behind to Venice itself. On the first floor a 15-suite hotel will provide 24-hour concierge services to all the building's residents. There will be an indoor pool and spa, a cinema, a restaurant and a lounge in its capacious reception rooms. Outside, four villas in the five-hectare gardens are for sale and the existing pool and tennis courts will be restored. A tunnel below the road links the hotel directly to shady timber cabañas huts on the long sandy beach.
Prices range from £861,250 to £4.3 million through Knight Frank. Ten apartments have been sold to Italian, German, Austrian and French buyers, many of whom were previous guests of Hotel des Bains. Interest is keen from across Europe, says EstCapital's director Gianfranco Mossetto, an economics professor at Venice University.
"Lido used to be a place for international society to spend the season," says Professor Mossetto. "We want to exploit the potential that is still there.
Lido represents the 20th century historically and culturally, and restoring the building faithfully is crucial." With average nightly hotel rates for luxury hotels around £430 it's no surprise that more and more tourists are looking to rent apartments, and Hotel des Bains will run an optional rental pool for owners. Annual maintenance rates will average £8,600.
Elsewhere on Lido expect to pay about £320,000 for a small apartment and up to double that for one with a sea view, says Franco Bombassei of Venice Real Estate. He is selling a two-bedroom apartment 10 minutes from the vaporeto (water taxi) station for £559,800. Sotheby's Realty has a three-bedroom garden apartment in a classical building for £818,100 and a four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of an Art Deco building close to the beach for £1.08 million.
* Hotel des Bains, Knight Frank: knightfrank.com; 020 7861 1057
* Venice Real Estate: through Knight Frank (as before)
* Venice Sotheby's Realty: venicesothebysrealty.com; 00 39 041 522 0093
Venice fails to sink in recession
While overall property prices in Venice have fallen by 30 per cent, top-end property has fared much better, down only 10 per cent from its 2008 peaks, says Franco Bombassei of Venice Real Estate. With a year-round season and tourists increasingly looking for a good-value option to the crippling price of many hotels, Venetian property shows strong rental potential.
In Venice, prices peak at €2,500 (£2,150) a square foot around San Marco and on the Grand Canal. For better value look at Dorsoduro, stretching from Accademia Bridge towards the railway station.
Trendy Zattere on the canal has many fans while opposite, on the island of Giudecca, there are fewer tourists but close views of the huge cruise ships that visit Venice. Elton John and Giorgio Armani both own waterfront homes there. "On Giudecca prices are highest at the eastern end near the Cipriani Hotel facing San Marco and along the canal," says Bombassei.