Hotels along the Italian Riviera
The most chic area of the Italian Riviera is the short south facing coastline between Rapallo and Portofino. The latter is of course synonymous with fine living and one fine hotel in particular, the Splendido. At this time of year the hotel is not open and all the rooms are mothballed but still the location has the power to thrill on a sunny cold January morning. The views from this ex-monastery are about as good as they get in mainland Italy and the lovely gardens make the most of the position, the light and shade and the scents that the undergrowth can produce. The hotel, and not just the location, needs to be very good to be worth the prices it charges. The Orient Express company does run some of Europe’s finest properties however and I have no doubt this will be one of them. You will need to get the rich room here though.
Further along the coast there are very good hotels that are much easier to choose for the person of limited means. The names of these hotels seem to be made up randomly from a list of well worn words, Miramare, Royal, Imperial, Grand, Palace, etc. But they do have the advantage of giving a strong clue as to their character. They are known collectively as Grande Dame hotels, places with character and evidence of longevity, places where the walls and floors and ceilings cannot be replaced by modern architects and which breathe the atmosphere of the villas that they were created from.
In Santa Margherita Ligure, perhaps the most complete resort town around here, there are a couple of watering-holes of the old-fashioned kind. The Imperial Palace, also closed at this time of year, is an imposing building which has another enviable location. Nothing to report on the rooms though as they are well and truly closed. Closer to Portofino is the Grand Hotel Miramare again with a fine position overlooking the sea. This remains open through the year as it has that great blessing of the large hotel, a conference centre. The rooms have been recently and beautifully refurbished here, they are light and elegant, nicely appointed of course, but more than that they are airy and are places that you want to stay. Rooms with a sea view are the best of course but the garden view rooms to the rear have a nice park view and are very quiet. I have not eaten here but the restaurant and private rooms available are all very pleasant. Certainly a strong contender for anyone’s custom at more reasonable rates than some.
The Grande Dame of nearby Rapallo is the Excelsior Palace, a place that is easy to miss as you leave the town towards Santa Margherita Ligure, but once you make the detour up the hotel driveway the position occupied by the Excelsior has nothing to envy among its neighbours. The little promontory on which it stands juts out into the sea allowing the rather ugly hundred year old façade to look across the sea to Portofino in one direction and over the Tigullio Bay and Rapallo in the other. None of the rooms therefore has a bad view (although some are more splendid than others). Unfortunately the rooms themselves are a little worn with the years but still appealing and scrupulously clean. A fantastic location, lovely staff and an easy walk to a lot of restaurants.
Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure have train stations and this can be a great advantage for people who wish to stay in the area as getting around, particularly to the cinque terre, is difficult by road. Portofino, along with Rapallo and Santa Margherita does have a port with a limited boat service to help with getting around. From all of these places access is pretty good to the mountain of Portofino where there are some fine – if rather steep, hiking trails can be found. Good sketch maps are available in the tourist offices and the trails are well marked. But be sure to determine the difficulty level of the walks before you go as some involve steep climbs and descents.
Dinner at Zi Teresa in Rapallo: very good. This little ristorante pizzeria is just opposite the station on the corso Italia. Excellent marinated anchovies, fantastic ravioli. Cheap cheerful and good.