This gorgeous stretch of the Italian Riviera is where my travel companion MG and I spent the remainder of our time in Italia. What you see above and below is the stunning town of Portofino, a paradise which we semi-lost souls especially appreciated after the unfruitful wandering that preceeded our falling into it.
After our stay in the Apennine mountains, we weren't exactly sure of our next destination - only knew that we wanted to be near the ocean. Ina and Howard, our lovely Ligurian hosts, were a bit dubious of our plan to simply hop on a train heading coastward, and were reluctant to let us go through with it. As we stepped from the train platform into the unknown Howard remarked, "Well, I hope you end up somewhere."
As it turned out, their skepticism was not unmerited. Not only was it the first weekend of tourist season, but large crowds were expected in nearby Sienna for the Palio, a historic horse racing event that generally fills surrounding hotels to capacity. Places were booked to the point that scoffs met our inquiries about last-minute reservations.
I, however, was sure divine intervention was working in our favor when I realized the British food magazine, delicious, which I'd thrown into my carry-on at the last minute, serendipitously contained a feature on the Ligurian coast's epicurean highlights. I could hardly contain my excitement - we could re-enact a mouthwatering magazine spread - it was a foodie's dream come true! So with delicious as our guide, we found ourselves in Sestri Levante at the Grand Hotel Villa Balbi.
We arrived at the regal entrance brimming with anticipation . . .
The front door seemed to confirm that karma was on indeed on our side . . .
Even into the lobby there still held much promise . . .
Really, how could anything go wrong with a griffin guarding the first floor's fireplace?
But if the source of our recommendation wasn't enough of a spoiler (the British and 'discerning taste' aren't exactly synonymous), the name "Balbi" probably should have been. "Hotel Balbi," I suppose, it certainly was, but "Grand Villa" it certainly was not: The elevator's gold accordion doors felt life threatening when they convulsed shut, most of the staff would have been at home in the Twilight Zone, and the room itself looked like it aimed to be opulent in the late sixties - and fell short. Our trusty British food magazine got left atop an unsteady, brass, glass-topped table when we departed that next morning. (FYI - I once had a similar experience trying to recreate a U.S. coast-to-coast local restaurant feature in Bon Appetit - this is officially the last time a food magazine will have any sway over my travel itineraries).
Below is where we spent the late morning and afternoon planning our next move. We'd missed the respectable hour for ordering cappuccino, but the waiter you see was kind enough to conjure up some coffee and breakfast for us despite his obvious displeasure in indulging our request (made known with an exaggerated roll of the eyes).
Some succulent melon.
And a life-saving misto with a left-over smidge of Italian pastry.
Both delicious, bless his heart.
So, after multiple phone calls, and a short train ride along the coast . . .
Voila! A balcony without any brass tables.
Our Portofino . . . as seen from Hotel Splendido. (An equally cheesy name if you ask me, but at least it's not making any overblown promises).
A croissant with a view.
Pick a yacht.
Or a sail boat.
MG contemplating the bay.
Pretty much looks like Neverland . . .