Friday 21 November 2008

The Venetian, Macau

Monstrous in every sense of the word, The Venetian is a colossal building decked out in an ostentatious and seemingly endless succession of patterned carpets, faux Rococo paintings, vast ceiling frescoes and gold chandeliers. There are two huge, lavishly-decorated lobbies on the ground floor, but the focal point is a vast casino, which is a sea of roulette tables and slot machines. One floor up, is an extensive shopping and eating district made up of canals lined with smart retail outlets and a wide variety of eateries, ranging from street food stalls to flashy restaurants. Opera-singing gondoliers ply their trade on the canals, while street entertainers in eighteenth century garb entertain the passing shoppers. Above them is a fake blue sky complete with clouds giving the impression of perpetual, but slightly gloomy, daylight. While you can easily find anything from a Gucci handbag to a Sony camcorder, it is much more difficult to purchase more ordinary items, such as shampoo or headphones, at a reasonable price.

Tricky to get outside
It is also quite tricky to get outside, but it is worth the effort - the Venetian's exterior is as extraordinary as its interior. Built to resemble the real architecture of Venice, the hotel's walls are adorned with scores of arches, sculptures and intricate brickwork. There is also a red-brick bell tower, old-fashioned lamp-posts and several ornate bridges spanning another network of canals. Everywhere you wander around this weird cityscape you will be accompanied by piped classical music and camera-toting tourists. Beyond the Venetian's boundaries, the half-finished skyscrapers and cranes provide a dose of reality. Back inside, the Venetian's theatre and arena hosts everything from Celine Dion to the Cirque du Soleil to tennis exhibition matches featuring McEnroe and Borg.

The 3,000 suites
While many Europeans may find all this disconcerting, there is a refuge at hand. The Venetian has the kind of high-class spa, gymnasium and other health club facilities you would expect of such an ambitious hotel complex. Moreover, the 3,000 suites, in a vast tower block overlooking the rest of the resort, are very large, very comfortable and they come with plenty of daylight and good views across the Cotai strip. Each suite (from about HK$2,000 a night before taxes) has a spacious, luxury bed, well-made furniture and fittings, high-speed Internet access (costs about HK$160 for 24 hours), a couple of large flat-screen televisions, a printer/fax machine and just about anything else you could conceivably need. Fortunately, the predominantly gold decor is relatively restrained and tasteful compared to the public areas of the hotel. Unfortunately, many rooms seem to come with ashtrays and it might be tough to find a non-smoking suite. Although the Venetian certainly isn't to everyone's tastes, it is a spectacle, and thanks to the recent downturn in Macau's fortunes, its rooms are good value. 7/10