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Tea Fit for Royalty at the St. Regis Venice

Our contributor enjoys the afternoon tea service at the St. Regis Venice and details the sophisticated experience.

Tea sandwiches at the St. Regis Venice.

Tea sandwiches at the St. Regis Venice.

In a country as breathtakingly beautiful as Italy, Venice stands tall. Compromised of 118 islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, it looks lifted from the pages of a fairy tale. It’s traversed by boat or foot, without a car in sight. If you’ve yet to visit, this magical city should top your bucket list.

If Venice is a dream, the St. Regis is a dream within a dream. Situated along the Grand Canal, it’s one of the city’s most atmospheric hotels. Guests from Sigmund Freud to Brad Pitt have placed their famous heads on the hotel’s perfectly plump pillows. It’s a favorite among jet-setters, who arrive by private boat and disembark on the hotel’s exclusive dock.

A canal in Venice.
A canal in Venice.

The St. Regis Looks Like an Art Gallery

Step inside and it’s like entering an art gallery. There’s a collection of one-of-a-kind works of glass art through a partnership with Berengo Studio, which facilitates a collaboration between world-class artists and master glass blowers on the island of Murano, who transform works of art into exquisite glass pieces.

The protagonist piece of the glass collection is the majestic “White Chandelier” by Ai Weiwei, found in the hotel’s Grand Salon. High ceilings, gently curving furniture upholstered in rich jewel tones, and marble accents boost the opulence factor. Details, such as door handles shaped like gondola oars, add sense of place.

It’s very grand yet surprisingly welcoming. It feels like you’re visiting the villa of your Italian uncle if your uncle was Gianni Agnelli.

“White Chandelier” by Ai Weiwei in the St. Regis Venice.

Guest Rooms are Gorgeous

Guest rooms and suites blend contemporary amenities with old-world style and prestigious works of art. The staff caters to your every whim. If you can afford the nightly rate (usually starting at well over $1,000 US per night), you’re in for a pampering treat.

Italy is Known for Coffee but Tea is a Thing Too

If you’re visiting Venice on a budget, the refined afternoon tea is a way to get a taste of the St. Regis experience for a cost of 60 euro per person (about $65).

I know, Italy is revered for its sophisticated coffee culture, so you might be thinking that afternoon tea sounds anything but Italian. Keep in mind that upper-crust Italians are notorious anglophiles. During my years of living in Italy, I’ve enjoyed afternoon tea in private homes, hotels, and tea rooms around the country.

Plus, Italians eat dinner late, making a 4 p.m. nibble a sensible way to stave off hunger pangs before your evening meal.


The author and her husband seated for afternoon tea in the Grand Salon of the St. Regis Venice.

A New York City friend had raved about having tea at the St. Regis, so I decided to give it a try during my last visit. There’s no link to reserve afternoon tea on the hotel’s website; I called the hotel’s concierge desk and booked the 4 pm Saturday seating for me and my husband.

We arrived on a blustery January day and were escorted into the Grand Salon.

We took a seat on a plush, amber-colored sofa with strategically placed decorative pillows adding comfort. Above our heads was a striking portrait made entirely of music cassettes.

A Tea Sommelier Who Treats Tea Like a Fine Wine

Maria was at the helm of the tea service. Born and raised in Umbria, she’s a professional sommelier from a wine producing family who brings the same curation to tea that she does to fine wine. She introduced us to her charming young Venetian assistant, Luca, who placed a menu in front of us.

The hotel serves Dammann Frères tea, a French brand known for its quality tea leaves since 1925 (and now owned by the Italian coffee company illycaffè). There were dozens of options, from traditional black teas to delicate Sencha green tea to a lime blossom herbal infusion. Maria prides herself on helping guests choose a blend that will please their palate, taking time to explain the distinct flavor notes. My husband and I both selected lapsang souchong, a black tea toasted over a pine needles to produce a smoky flavor.

We watched Maria prepare our beverage and readied ourselves for the indulgent three-course set menu.

Sommelier Maria presiding over tea service at the St. Regis Venice.
Sommelier Maria presiding over tea service at the St. Regis Venice.

A Three-Course Feast Served on Fine Porcelain

The first course consisted of three dainty, crustless sandwiches: chicken, smoked salmon, and cheese with pesto. Next came scones served with rich clotted cream and a selection of house-made jams and preserves. A luscious chocolate and raspberry tart, airy rum baba, and toffee-topped pound cake appeared for the third course.

Each course is plated on Ginori 1735 porcelain, adding eye-candy presentation to every delectable bite.

Willy Wonka Would be Jealous

If three courses don’t satiate, a cart brims with bonbons, colorful candies, assorted confections, and a small chocolate fountain. Guests are invited to take as much as they desire. It was a sweet fantasy that would turn Willy Wonka green with envy.

A cart of confections served during afternoon tea at the St. Regis Venice.
A cart of confections served during afternoon tea at the St. Regis Venice.

We lingered over our meal, soaking in the sophisticated ambiance and watching the hotel’s daily 5 p.m. Champagne sabering ritual, where the bottle is dramatically sliced open with a sharp saber before being poured into glasses for guests to sip.

Luxury Doesn’t Have to Cost a Fortune

If you’re looking for accessible luxury, you can’t beat afternoon tea at the St. Regis. The service and presentation were super swanky. There was so much food, we didn’t even dream of eating dinner. It was a memorable experience that I hope to replicate the next time I visit.

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