In 1934, Giuseppe Cipriani took over a small and modest resale of wine and olive oil, and turned it into a “inn”, with few but delightful guest rooms and a pleasant room for the restaurant, surrounded by a garden of flowers and vegetables, overlooking the unparalleled views of the churches of Torcello.
From the beginning Giuseppe was joined in the inn run by his wife’s sister, Gabriella ( ), who characterized the atmosphere of the place with its particular sweetness for over 30 years.
The Inn was consecrated as a literary myth for having hosted Ernest Hemingway in the fall of 1948.
Joined in Venice by his wife Mary, Papa Hemingway was already a legend at the time. He knew Torcello, having been won over by the island’s unique charm. In fact, he decided to spend the whole month of November at Locanda Cipriani, dividing his time between duck hunting, writing his novel “Across the River and Into the Trees” and at his table alongside the Locanda’s fogher. The impressions and memories of that November in Torcello are forever imprinted on the pages of his novel.
Hemingway returned to Locanda Cipriani with his wife Mary in the spring of 1954 ( ) during their stay in Venice and following their unfortunate experience in Africa. It was a day filled with caviar and vodka, in the gentle springtime sun.
There can be no doubt that Hemingway’s fame – already widespread by 1948 – impacted on Locanda’s reputation too, but other distinguished names were already visiting their beloved Locanda long before Hemingway.
In September 1938, ten years before Hemingway’s first visit, Princess Maria Josè of Savoia ( ) visited the Locanda with other members of the Italian royal family. It wasn’t until May 1989 that the last Queen of Italy returned to the Locanda during a stay in Venice.
After that September in 1938 many other royal families visited Locanda Cipriani. In May 1961 Locanda was host to Queen Elizabeth II ( ) and the Duke of Edinburgh during a visit to Venice on board the Britannia. Even today, the Locanda is the only restaurant that Queen Elizabeth II has visited privately. Only a few years earlier than Queen Elisabeth II, in the mid-1950s, Edward Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson were at the Locanda for the opening of the Venetian season.
In May 1985, 24 years after Queen Elizabeth II’s visit, the Prince and Princess of Wales visited the Locanda for a private lunch.
A few months before them, in October 1984, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother of England ( ) stayed at the Locanda during a visit to Torcello.
In the 1950s the unforgotten fixture on the Venetian social scene and a regular visitor to Torcello was Queen Alexandra, wife of the former King of Yugoslavia Peter II and daughter of Princess Aspasia of Greece. Almost 50 years after, in June 1998 Princess Alexandra of Greece became the ‘queen of Torcello’ when she held her wedding party at the Locanda. The event was attended by many distinguished guests, including Queen Sofia of Spain, the former royals of Greece Constantine II and Anne-Maria of Denmark, and the former empress of Iran Farah Diba.
At the opening of one important Venetian exhibition in March 1997, three sovereigns were seated at the same table: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, with Prince Klaus Von Amsberg and Albert II and Paola of Belgium.
In September 1946, two years before Hemingway’s visit, the unrivalled pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli was seated at one of the Locanda’s tables. Three years later, in September 1949, the Locanda was host to a leading figure of the 20th century: Arturo Toscanini ( ) and his daughter Wally. On 4 September 1949, back in Venice after a 20-year absence, the renowned conductor held a concert to mark the opening of the Venice Biennale. The concert was an epic event featuring a performance of the Pastorale and the Moldava.
The following day, 5 September 1949, hardly anyone noticed John Dos Passos, a once dear friend of Hemingway, at the Locanda.
Another event that remains forever inscribed in the history of the Biennale is Igor Stravinsky’s concert in September 1951, at which he presented the first Rake’s Progress. On 15 September, the famous conductor sat down for a meal at one of the Locanda’s tables with his wife Vera and other guests. He returned to Torcello a few years later in August 1958.
In August 1952 the Locanda was host to Maria Callas ( ): who wanted to be known simply as a ‘singer’ but was already known the world over as the Divine.
William Somerset Maugham described himself as “happy and sated” when he left the Locanda in May 1951.
Dimitri Mitropoulos ( ) described himself as “a grateful victim” at the end of his stay at the Locanda in August 1954. He returned a couple of years later, in September 1956, to what he called “a blessed place of peace and meditation“.
The English writer Nancy Mitford ( ) described her stay of nearly two months at the Locanda in the summer of 1956 as “such a happy period on your beautiful island“.
A month before Hemingway, Marc Chagall left behind one of his ‘improvisations’ after a stay at the Locanda. It was September 1948 and Chagall won the Biennale prize.
Chagall returned to Torcello a few years later, in September 1960, and this time he dedicated a picture he drew with lipstick. In June 1981 was Cesar who ‘improvised’ his unique farewell with a pen and a stamp of the Locanda.
It was always in June, only in the year 1954, that the year’s winner of the Biennale: Max Ernst ( ). left behind a drawing. The same day Ernst sat at a table with his wife Dorothea Tannings, the surrealist Victor Brauner and his ex-wife Peggy Guggenheim, the “muse of the surrealists“. Peggy Guggenheim had already been to Locanda Cipriani several other times before. In November 1949, when she became the owner of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice, she left the Locanda having written “Harry’s Bar in Venice or in Torcello is always divine”.
Raymond Peynet ( ) dedicated a surreal and poetic picture of Cupid dressed as a chef to the Locanda in May 1982. Carlo Carrà, Giò Ponti, Frank Lloyd Wright, Man Ray, Raoul Dufy, Gino Severini, Henry Moore, Le Corbusier, Bob Rauschenberg and more… Throughout the last seventy years entire generations of leading figures on the international art scene and the Venice Biennale were guests at Locanda Cipriani and this was clearly emphazised by Pierre Restany in his dedication in September 2000: “Torcello is the continuity of the memory, of the Biennale historic dinners. The place of memory is awake and excellent. Hurrah”.
Four months before Hemingway’s visit, at the opening of the historical 1948 Biennale, on June 7, Italian President Luigi Einaudi ( ) his wife Ida and the US ambassador to Italy, James Dunn, visited the Locanda. Although President Einaudi returned to the Locanda on numerous occasions throughout the 1950s, it wasn’t until April 1983 that another Italian President visited Torcello: Sandro Pertini ( ).
Just a few years earlier, in June 1980, the Locanda was chosen by French President Francese Valéry Giscard d’Estaing ( ) for his stay in Venice during the great summit of superpowers. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ( ) was one of the Locanda’s “occasional” guests during those heady days. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s it was not at all unusual to see the then French President François Mitterrand ( ) at the Locanda during his frequent stays in his beloved Venice, during which he would indulge in moments of absolute tranquility in Torcello. Perhaps not following in the footsteps of Mitterrand, but certainly those like him who were attracted to the peaceful nature of the place, Jacques Chirac also visited the Locanda before he became president of France. One January day in 1997 the Locanda – which is usually shut for the entire month of January – hosted the then Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Spanish Prime Minister Josè Maria Aznar who were on a private visit to Torcello.
The Locanda has been honoured by many other distinguished statesmen throughout its 70-year histor and yet Winston Churchill ( ): still holds a very special place in the list of people who have visited the Locanda. Throughout the 1950s he often visited Torcello with his wife, Lady Clementine, often with a painter’s easel under his arm. It was just a foreshortening of the island canal that in 1954 Churchill painted. Then he sent a copy of it to the Locanda in the form of a greeting card in memory of his visits.
Nine years before Hemingway’s visit, in August 1939, Tyrone Power ( ): sat at one of the Locanda’s tables, having just finished shooting Jesse James with Henry Fonda. He was already a movie star adored by millions and especially popular with the ladies. Throughout its 70-year history Locanda Cipriani went on to host a veritable parade of movie stars in the 1950s. In June 1955 Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman sat at the same table. Later came Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Liz Taylor, Richard Widmark and many more.
In May 1956 the beautiful and already famous Kim Novak chose the Locanda during a short visit to the lagoon after the success of her latest film “The Man with the Golden Arm” in which she starred alongside Frank Sinatra. She left the Locanda having written “All I can say is that I hope to return one day”. She was followed by Anthony Quinn, Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, Jerry Lewis ( ) and many others.
It was during a day in June 1958 that Bette Davis, seated at one of the Locanda’s tables, made the following comment about Hemingway’s stay in Torcello ten years previously: “Mr Hemingway was right to stay in this divine place”. Next came Omar Sharif, Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward, Sidney Poitier, Liza Minelli ( ), Jack Lemmon, and more.
In September 1983 Walter Matthau spontaneously broke out into song with a group of Venetian gondoliers. Later came Tom Cruise ( ) with his first wife Mimi Rogers, Dennis Hopper, Gerard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling and many more. In September 1991 Jack Nicholson and Donald Sutherland sat at the same table, both leaving behind a picture as a souvenir. One drew a self-portrait, the other drew a picture of the man who, a few years earlier, had taught him to be Casanova, Federico Fellini.
Then there were Al Pacino, Billy Crystal, Julia Roberts, Nicholas Cage, Nicole Kidman… and the list goes on. There have also been musical stars: stars of yesteryear, such as Cole Porter, Bing Crosby and Paul Anka as well as today’s rock and pop stars such as Mick Jagger ( ), David Gilmour, Rod Stewart to name but a few. In October 1998 Elton John ( ) and Hugh Grant sat at the same table, accompanied by Liz Hurley. That day the sun was shining, and so were the stars. One of the many show business giants to visit was Billy Wilder ( ) who – on 4 July 1952 in the company of Charles Vidor, writer of the legendary film “Gilda”, and William Holden – celebrated Independence Day by drawing the stars and stripes against a backdrop of an undressed Statue of Liberty. He was followed by Roberto Rossellini, David Lean, Jean Cocteau, Giorgio Strehler, Don Siegel, Vittorio De Sica, Renè Clement an many, many others.
In June 1959 Charlie Chaplin and his wife left behind a drawing of the Little Tramp after their visit to the Locanda.
A little over ten years later, in June 1970, Chaplin returned to the Locanda with his wife and left a picture of the Little Tramp’s walking stick, bowler hat and shoes as a souvenir, with the words “Here I am again“.
In his footsteps came Bernardo Bertolucci, Francesco Rosi, Roman Polansky, Jane Campion, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg and many, many others.