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Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy | Bown's Best‘LIVING THE DREAM.’ I offer this as the motto for the Belmond Hotel Splendido in Portofino, for it is one of the best run, most relaxing hotels in the world. And the wizard who makes the dream come true is one of the world’s great hotel managers, Mr Ermes de Megni (photographed with your correspondent). When he is not away collecting awards and titles for his establishment – ‘Best Hotel in the World’, and so on – Mr de Megni is always about, ensuring that the highest standards are maintained. If there is ever a slight hiccup in the service – and such a thing is astonishingly rare in this manicured corner of Paradise – he will know all about it, and it will be rectified. His principle is the one which should guide every luxury hotel: when you are striving for perfection, only the best will do.

As well as the magnificence of the property and the excellence of the staff, there is another important reason to pay a visit to the Splendido. The walls of the hotel bar are decorated with black and white photographs of those film stars and other notable folk who had stayed at the hotel. And those pictures include one of myself (illustrated). The study in question was taken specially for its current location by one of England’s most distinguished photographers, Jack Hill. You will observe that my portrait hangs below those of two famous cinematic thespians, Monica Vitti and Alain Delon. I am sure my picture will bring a smile to your lips. But then, most people at the Splendido smile most of the time, for they are living the dream.Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy | Bown's Best

With the sun shining its radiant best, it was clear to me once more why the Splendido’s location has been so popular for so many centuries. It looks over one of the prettiest little bays in the world. Monks built their monastery here. They abandoned it in the 16th century, not because they had tired of its charms, but because they were attacked too often by Saracen pirates. Eventually, Baron Baratta built his summer home on the same spot. Then the hotel opened in 1901. Before long it was crowded by persons of means and discernment. Winston Churchill, Rex Harrison, the Duke of Windsor, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor – these and many, many more of the world’s finest have sought out a room at the Splendido.

My own billet was on the second floor of the main building. Room 223 was a Junior Suite (and therefore up to 3,400€ a night, half-board for two, according to season). This was a most lovely room: white, pristine, refined and comfortable. I loved its parquet floor, its engravings in gilt frames, its five-branch chandelier, its five table lamps, its writing table and its blue sofa. Each contributed to the feeling that this was a place of good taste and well-judged luxury. The television and dvd player rose vertically from their cabinet at the touch of a button. The balcony through the French window afforded the most appealing of views, down to the boats in Portofino’s harbour.  And the pleasant feeling that this was my apartment, rather than just another hotel room, was reinforced by the fact that my private safe was behind a picture on the wall, as if I had decided that it was to be precisely there. Settled in, I put on one of the cds with which I travel, and Cole Porter’s words seemed exactly right: “What a swell party, a swell party, a swelligant, elegant party this is!”

Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy | Bown's BestI need hardly record that the bed had been made supremely soft and comfortable for my ailing back. And the hot soakings which also relieved my creaking were had in one of the famous Belmond bathrooms, where I could pamper myself with the perfumed toiletries of Messrs Bulgari and Penhaligon, lie in the large tub and shower in the walk-in facility. Here, too, was sufficient hanging space even for my extensive travelling wardrobe. This was a bathroom for those who love their ablutions. (I am one of their number.)

And the Splendido is also a place for those of us who love breakfast. Occasionally, it grieves me to notice that fellow hotel guests not only rush through this most important meal, but also dress for it in a way which suggests that they are addicted to the worst excesses of The Casual. There was less of this at the Splendido than one might find elsewhere  – and no wonder, for the terrace of the restaurant is a superb spot for one’s morning comestibles. And the comestibles themselves – all of them – are of the very highest quality. The friendly members of staff brought to me jugs of freshly squeezed orange juice, pots of coffee, bowls of ice, my concluding cappuccino and super omelettes with black truffle (this is the Splendido, after all). From the buffet, I obtained bowls of melon, raspberries, pineapple, strawberries and blueberries, pieces of various ravishing tarts, slices of crusty bread and scoops of gorgeous marmalade and various sorts of honey. You will gather that I always started my days properly at the Splendido. And ‘properly’ is an appropriate word for the Splendido. Your pot of tea will come with leaves and a strainer. None of the nasty bags here. Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy | Bown's Best

The seats on the restaurant terrace are difficult for my back. But such details are remembered at the Splendido. A more supportive chair from the dining room was awaiting my arrival each morning. Service at the Splendido is like that: both kind and efficient.

After these wonderful beginnings, my days at The Splendido were spent either in pottering about its garden terraces or, after taking the hotel shuttle ‘bus for the five minute journey down the hill, in looking at the quaint sights of Portofino and in watching the boats which come and go from the passing cruise ships, which like to send their passengers to enjoy an hour or so of the Portofino magic. Over the years I have made the acquaintance of the town’s famous twin brothers, Paolo and Matteo Giovannini. These fine fellows now have a restaurant by the water – Ristorante da I Gemelli (of the twins) – of which I have heard good reports.

But, of course, I was back at the Splendido for dinner – once again on the restaurant terrace, but this time captivated by the darkening sky and the twinkling lights down by the harbour far below. Now my dishes were of the grander sort. Chef Corrado Corti takes the very finest ingredients and produces really good, traditional food which is entirely appropriate to these luxurious surroundings. The proceedings are presided over by the talented Restaurant Manageress, Maina Macri (pictured, with your correspondent).

Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy | Bown's BestAllow me to share with you some of the highlights of my dinners here. Roasted lobster was beautiful to look at and beautiful to eat. Fassone beef carpaccio was of the highest quality. Two pasta dishes captivated me: linguine with tuna, pine nuts and raisins was carefully balanced, and fresh yolk tagliolini with black truffle and Parmesan was soft and rich and satisfying. Loin of lamb with herbs was truly splendid, although it was bettered (just) by tender, pink beef entrecote, charcoal-grilled, sliced by the table and served with Béarnaise sauce. My puddings included a delectable “cappuccino” served in a cup. And cheese is of particular interest at the Splendido. It merits its own menu, which describes each of the two dozen offerings in detail. (For those not on half-board, the cost of a four-course meal would be around 150€-180€.)  

Such memorable meals, in this magical setting, with the good food and the correct, attentive service (napkins were re-folded) from Federico and waiters like Luca, combined to produce the calming pleasure of harmony. And to add to that harmony, there was the piano playing of Vladimoro Gatto. He has been tinkling the ivories here for over twenty years. You will be pleased to know that he has retained his love of bright and sparkling dinner jackets.

The charming 1st maitre d’ and Sommelier, Antonio, takes care of a fine cellar. It can provide a local white for 45€ or the 2005 Pétrus for 10,700€. The list is divided into two volumes. In the general list are 327 offerings – Italian, French and a few from the New World. These bottles caught my eye: 2014 Cervaro della Sala (175€), 2014 Planeta chardonnay (100€), 2009 Luce (220€), 1998 Le Pin (6,200€), 2006 La Tâche (4,500€) and 2005 Latour (2,250€). The other list of “great wines and unique vintages” is all Italian and all red. 42 wines are listed, with runs of older vintages. The marks out of 100 given by The Wine Spectator are recorded for each wine. I noted the following temptations: 1997 Ornellaia (430€), 1985 Sassicaia (3,700€), 1997 Solaia (510€), 1995 Masseto (1,500€) and 1990 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Biondo Santi (1,800€).

I hope that my motto will be adopted at this palace in Portofino. For ‘Living the dream’ is what the Belmond Hotel Splendido is all about. It is one of the best hotels in the world. And, in Mr Ermes de Megni, it has one of the best hotel managers.

Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy | Bown's Best

Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy | Bown's BestBelmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy | Bown's Best




Salita Baratt 16, Portofino 16034, Italy.
Telephone +39 0185 267 801
Fax +39 0185 267 806
Open: April to mid-November
Double rooms from 935€-1,150€ a night, bed and breakfast, or 1,140€-1,305€, half-board, according to season
Check the hotel web site for special offers

Francis Bown 2003
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