Private Tour Of a Secret Venetian Palazzo and Garden

April 21, 2014 by

palazzo_malipiero_-from-canal-haupt-binderPhoto: Haupt and Binder.

From the street, one would never guess that a magnificent narrative of Venetian history, art, and culture was hidden behind centuries-old plaster walls and a set of wooden doors marked 3201.


Pass through the entrance, and you step back centuries into the Palazzo Capello Malipiero Barnabò, the Countess Anna Barnabò’s sumptuous antique-filled palace with verdant gardens that spill onto Venice’s Grand Canal. Not normally open to the public, I got a taste of that life on a private tour of this secret Venetian palace led by local guide Cristina Gregorin of Slow Venice.


Originally built between the 10th and 11th centuries as the Cà Grande of Saint Samuel by the Soranzo family, the palazzo has withstood several subsequent additions and modifications by the Capello family, followed later by the Malipieros. Purchased in the late 19th century by its current owners, the Barnabòs, the palace underwent a major renovation in 1951, restoring it to its eighteenth-century grandeur.


Palazzo Capello Malipiero Barnabò became home to the coountess when she married into the venerable and influential Venice family more than 30 years ago. Anna Barnabò occupies the palace’s third floor, an expansive space with an enormous drawing room that boasts a massive Murano glass chandelier hanging from its frescoed ceiling.


Dripping crystals refracted the afternoon sunlight light pouring through the canal-facing Venetian Byzantine arched windows to cast shadows around the room.



From the drawing room, we entered the adjacent library where the countess reads and enjoys her favorite shows on television, an item that seemed out of place surrounded by such ornate decor, including another luminescent Murano chandelier. The palazzo’s dining room was not impressively large (am I jaded already?), yet it contained a number of important antique pieces, including a ceramic Buddha below, whose head rocked back and forth when you tapped his hand.


I got my first glimpse of the Palazzo gardens below through the windows in a long hallway connecting the drawing room to the dining room.


Centuries-old antiques and fabulous artifacts aside, the real magic began as I descended those ancient stairs and passed through the courtyard into the garden.


I accessed the gardens through an elegant massive set of doors with a leaded glass transom emblazoned with a decorative scrolled Barnabò “B” monogram.


Created at the end of the eighteenth century, Palazzo Malipiero’s gardens occupy a large parcel on the Campo San Samuele. The property sits beside French business icon and art collector François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi, a contemporary art exhibition space that I visited last summer during the Biennale. A central walkway between two symmetrical hedge-bordered ornamental gardens forms a straight site line from the back of the palazzo’s garden to the canal.


Conversation With the Contessa About Life, Love, and Gardening
I had the honor of speaking privately with the elegant countess about the gardens and learned that she had designed them. The gardens, she told me, are one of her prized personal endeavors.


When she first became the lady of the house, the countess knew very little about gardening. This did not stop the adventurous former correspondent for the European press. Her keen interest in history, art, and color led her to learn all she needed to design the gardens, now featured in numerous books such The Gardens of Venice and Veneto, photographed by Alex Ramsay.


Under her direction, a gardener now maintains the lush grounds where the contessa hosts parties and elegant dinners, sometimes for her neighbor Pinault’s art openings.


As we walked the gardens together, she described her colorful and well-traveled life before and after marrying the late Count Barnabò; first, as a child living with her family in Paris, then later as a journalist living in Rome. On a stroll alongside the flower beds, the contessa pointed out with obvious pride which flowers would soon be in bloom: pink camellias and little white roses on one side, blue irises, and soft pink baby roses that would eventually line the garden’s canal frontage. Walls of hydrangeas were just beginning to sprout little buds, while jasmine would scent the air soon after my departure. And although I’d seen massive amounts of gorgeous wisteria everywhere in Venice, somehow seeing its rich hue here against the backdrop of the intense terra cotta walls…well, sigh.



A Wedding Among the Blooms
In addition to numerous perfectly placed sculptures, a large water well sculpted with the family coat-of-arms, she explained, was moved from the courtyard to the garden for the wedding uniting the Cappello and the Malipiero families.


The countess motioned toward the water where Elisabetta, the bride, and Caterino, the groom, took their vows overlooking the Grand Canal centuries ago. I could almost hear the music and see the guests in their festive attire celebrating the newlyweds in what must have been one hell of a garden wedding.



Next up: My reports from Milan Design Week, Salone del Mobile, FuoriSalone–including a day at Ventura Lambrate–-and much more!

Nota Bene: My sponsored trip to Venice was part of the Modenus BlogTour made possible by the following sponsors: Modenus, BLANCO, Clever Storage by Kessenbömer, Dekton by Cosentino, National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), and Gessi. All opinions expressed herein are uniquely mine and not indicative of any sponsor opinions or positions.

Unless otherwise noted, all images by Robin Plaskoff Horton for Urban Gardens.


  1. hazel said:

    Great pictures, Robin. Wish I had been there

    — April 22, 2014 @ 09:16

  2. Robin Horton said:

    Hazel, it was an amazing trip that brought me home with so much to share! Stay tuned!

    — April 22, 2014 @ 11:33

  3. Laurin Ravenscourt said:

    How lovely to have a private garden like this! I would love to have tea in the garden with the Contessa and here about her garden : ) Thank you for the beautiful tour!!!

    — April 22, 2014 @ 14:34

  4. Robin Horton said:

    Glad you enjoyed the post Laurin! I too would have loved to spend more time with the Contessa in the garden. My cuppa tea. 🙂

    — April 22, 2014 @ 16:29

  5. Erika said:

    Wow how beautiful & surreal , especially with all the history there, I would have been in a dream state! Wonderful tour thank you, ~E

    — June 29, 2014 @ 15:38

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    Muy bellas fotos gracias URBAN GARDENS

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