There is no doubt in my mind that the Belmond Hotel Splendido in Portofino is one of the best run, most relaxing hotels in the world. I attribute this happy state of affairs to the fact that it possesses one of the world’s great hotel managers, Mr Ermes de Megni (photographed, with your correspondent). This fine gentleman - when he is not away collecting awards and titles for his establishment (‘Best Hotel in the World’, and so on) – has the gift of ubiquity. He is here, there and everywhere at his property, 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. I present to you a picture of the picture, with your correspondent admiring his portrait. It was taken especially for its current location by one of England’s most distinguished photographers, Jack Hill. You will observe that my photograph 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.
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 wealth 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 229 was a Junior Suite (and therefore up to 4,438€ a night, for two persons on half-board, according to season). This was my ideal of what an hotel room should be: spacious, elegant, comfortable and supremely practical: everything I wanted and needed was present and was where I wanted it to be. I loved its parquet floor, its engravings in gilt frames, its five-branch chandelier, its six table lamps, its writing table and its sofa and armchairs. 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 windows 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. It was all just so. And I do like things to be ‘just so’. My one suggestion would be to replace the framed print in the hallway with a mirror – to facilitate that last minute check of appearance before one sallies forth into the world. That done, room 229 would be perfect.
I 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 made by Bottega Veneta, lie in the large tub and shower in the walk-in facility. And what a relief it was to be able to set the temperature control for the water, turn on the taps and know that the bath I was running would be exactly as I wanted it. There was a separate loo, of course, and there was also sufficient hanging space even for my extensive travelling wardrobe. This was a bathroom for those who love their ablutions.
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. Here I was looked after with consummate skill and kindness by Maitre d’ Federico (on the right of my photograph, with waiters Salvatore and Nicolà). He ensured that grilled sea bass and mushrooms came to me each morning, and he even organised a tasting of olive oils at my table. (I liked the Ornellaia best.)
The jolly waiters brought to me jugs of freshly squeezed orange juice, pots of Earl Grey tea (with leaves and a strainer), buckets of ice and my concluding cappuccini. 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.
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.
But it was back to 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. I have mentioned that the Splendido has a brilliant General Manager. It also has a brilliant Head Chef. Corrado Corti takes the very finest ingredients and produces superb, traditional food which is entirely appropriate to these luxurious surroundings. The proceedings in the evening are presided over with discreet charm by the Restaurant Manageress, Maina Macri (pictured, with your correspondent).
Allow me to share with you some of the highlights of my dinners here. Lobster was presented as a “pizzata” (imagine a pizza without the bread), with bright red tomato juice, capers, oregano and stracchino cheese – beautiful to behold and beautiful to eat. Soft, double yolk tagliolini came with parmesan cream and was smothered with shavings of truffle. Utterly delicious. I had more helpings of grilled sea bass, this time with peas, having found it so captivating at breakfast. And among my puddings was a plate of three little babas, so pretty, with coconut sorbet and pineapple.
Such memorable dishes, in this magical setting, with the correct, attentive service (napkins were re-folded) of waiters like the charming Alessio – smart in their blue waistcoats or jackets – combined to produce the calming pleasure of peaceful 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 retains his love of bright and sparkling dinner jackets.
As you would expect, the Splendido has a fine cellar. It can provide a red from Friuli Venezia Giulia for 60€ or the 2005 vintage of Pétrus for 9,800€. The list is divided into two volumes. In the general list the offerings are from Italy and France, with a few of the “best of the rest” (like 2013 Opus One from California – 1,100€). These bottles caught my eye: 2017 Planeta chardonnay (100€), 2011 Luce (280€), 2006 Gaja barbaresco (530), 2010 La Tâche (4,700€) and 2006 Tignanello (260€). The other list of “great wines and unique vintages” is all Italian and all red. The marks out of 100 given by The Wine Spectator are recorded for each wine. I noted the following temptations: 1997 Summus (120€), 1985 Sassicaia (3,900€), 2007 Solaia (2,400€, double magnum), 1997 Masseto (4,500€, magnum) and 2010 Ornellaia (490€).
I can never leave this remarkable establishment without a hint of sadness. But jollity soon returns at the thought of my next visit. Many people regard the Belmond Hotel Splendido in Portofino as the best hotel in the world. I am not the man to disagree.
Salita Baratt 16, Portofino 16034, Italy.
Telephone +39 0185 267 801
Fax +39 0185 267 806
Open: April to mid-November
Double rooms from 941€-1,327€ a night, bed and breakfast, according to season
Check the hotel web site for special offers