palatial hotel on edge of mountain

The Splendido with its legendary pool and restaurants, above Portofino. Image courtesy of Belmond/Mattia Aquila

In the third part of our luxury travel views column from the Autumn 2021 issue, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai experiences la dolce vita in Portofino

My one encounter with the Splendido Mare, the village-based sister hotel of the celebrated hillside Splendido in Portofino, was a little over 10 years ago. Since then, the port area of the village has been pedestrianised, and the Mare has been upgraded with its own character (to reflect a kind of village-chic identity, escaping from the shadow of its showy sibling). What a difference! Artful touches, gentle lighting and townhouse style abound, and getting to our “village view” room along a labyrinth of corridors was a delight, with a feeling of staying in a real house. “Village view” could mean a wall, but actually it was out along the Via Mare, the cute main street, which, now pedestrianised, was a blush of colourful visitors eating ice-creams and pizza at the outdoor restaurants. Perfect insulation meant it was quiet, also.

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We arrived late one evening, met at the other end of the Via Roma (all of 100 metres away – Portofino is tiny) by the hotel porter who took our luggage while another parked our car. On the stroll into the hotel we noticed the restaurant at the front of the building, on the main piazza on the harbourfront, was buzzing; twenty minutes later we were installed at a table on its front row, with a perfect vista of the evening passeggiata as the light dimmed over the hillsides on either side of the harbour.

bedroom terrace

The terrace of one the bedrooms at Splendido Mare

The Mare has a family-run vibe, despite being part of an international hotel group; the fritto misto of fish and shellfish with fruit and vegetables was a spectacle in the serving, and worked extremely well with a bottle of Lagrein red from northeast Italy, although a more conventional choice from the wonderful wine list would have been a Frascati or even a chardonnay-based Franciacorta. Next time.

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The beauty of the Mare is you can step right out onto the harbourfront (now with zero traffic and no noisy Vespas – a true transformation) and, in our case, onto the hotel’s boat for a whizz around the coastline: to the lighthouse point at the tip of the peninsula and back along the coast to the resort town of Santa Margherita Ligure, playing a game of spot the mansion (Dolce & Gabbana; Versace; Berlusconi; Agnelli) and spot the yacht (pass – seems like stalking).

italian harbour

The harbourfront at Portofino, home to the Splendido Mare. Photograph by Darius Sanai

And then it’s a short shuttle ride or walk up through the gardens to the original Splendido. This grande dame is perched high above the village, and there’s no better introduction than a long pizza lunch (those pizzas! That tomato sauce!) accompanied by a longer bottle of Ca’ del Bosco rosé Franciacorta (Italy’s splendid alternative to pink champagne); the pizzeria is metres from the pool, where you can revive yourself afterwards.

The Splendido’s curved pool is a historic place to gaze out over the bay and dream; we had an even better alternative in the form of our balcony, which had the same view and no other people. Aperitif, quick change, down to the bar above the pool for a little jazz piano and the same view, seen from within the gardens; and then dinner. Definitely the place for the ravioli with Ligurian herbs, lobster and bisque.

Book your stay: belmond.com

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue.