If Portofino is the jewel of north-west Italy’s beautifully embellished coastline, then Belmond Hotel Splendido is its crown. One of the must-stops on the world luxury circuit, it has been the magnet for Europe’s beau monde for decades – it’s where Richard Burton first proposed to Elizabeth Taylor; Madonna celebrated her 50th; and where Steven Spielberg watches his moored yacht while lunching at the hotel’s La Terrazza Restaurant.
The original Hotel Splendido is a 69-room-and-suite, peaches-and-cream villa perched on a hillside. It has a stunning terrace with a heated salt-water pool, bar and restaurant, gym, sauna, tennis court, kids’ club and extensive bougainvillaea, wild herb, olive and lemon tree-clad grounds (protected by the Parco Natural di Monte di Portofino) – all of which overlook (or tumble down to) the glamorous little harbour of Portofino.
This hotel, a 16th-century former monastery, is connected to the self-contained, 16-room-and-suite Belmond Splendido Mare hotel, located on the main harbour square, by a regular shuttle bus service.
Local flavours are celebrated by chef Corrado Corti. I relished a Ligurian ravioli with vegetable and herb filling served with a delicate walnut sauce for lunch; the best vegetable soup of my trip followed by simple spaghetti alla Elizabeth Taylor (with tomatoes from San Marzano, Sorrento and Pachino) for dinner while the fiancé indulged in fillet of beef in Barolo wine sauce and Parmesan vegetables. We shared a classic tiramisu with coffee ice-cream for dessert. Wines, chosen by our waiter, were paired perfectly.
The staff, with their old-world charm and sense of showmanship, were wonderful. Head barman Antonio, who has been with the hotel for nearly 30 years, and pianist Vladimir, who has been with the hotel for 40 years, are the hotel’s stars. Antonio sings while Vladimir plays the piano every evening – it’s the highlight for many regulars.
Breakfast, served on our balcony, epitomised Portofino: it was romantic, beautiful and exclusive.
World-renowned French designer Jacques Garcia has combined the best of traditional and contemporary. A light Mediterranean pastel palette paired with unique touches, such as vases and soap dishes by a Ligurian ceramicist, complement the views of the bay.
Our enormous junior suite deluxe was both sumptuous and charming, and we were welcomed with a generous platter of treats and a bottle of Prosecco. The bed was heavenly, the spacious marble bathroom (with separate loo, walk-in shower, huge bath-tub and double basin) was generously stocked with Penhaligon’s, Bvlgari and Molton Brown goodies, and the turn-down service was exceptional.
Who Goes There?
Aside from Hollywood glitterati, we spied mostly monied elderly Americans with the odd Maltese dog (looking very relaxed, probably due to having enjoyed a personalised massage) in tow.
Out & About:
When you tire of the yachts, chic stores, restaurants and bars of the village, then walk to the church of San Giorgio, home to what are reputed to be the relics of San Giorgio, brought from the Holy Land in the 12th century by homeward-bound crusaders.
Explore the woodlands by either taking a walk of about 2.5 miles past the old castle to the lighthouse or a nine-mile walk to San Fruttuoso, an 11th-century monastery idyllically set amid olives and pines at the head of a small fishing cove. Alternatively, take the trip (or one leg) by boat to enjoy the area’s coastal scenery.
The Worst Thing:
I’m rather glad the prices weren’t on the (brilliantly sexist) menus reserved for women. This piece of paradise comes at a price.
The Best Thing:
‘I found my love in Portofino,’ sang Fred Buscaglione in the ‘50s and I found myself asking the fiancé earnestly if we could hold our wedding at Hotel Splendido.
You can’t help but feel that little has changed since the days of Taylor and Burton – their signatures are in the hotel’s Golden Book and a suite inspired by Liz, the private Dolce Vita suite, opened recently.