Quote of the Day: ‘Why Don’t I Have Prices on my Menu?’
Salita Baratta 16, 16034 Portofino, Italy
(All Photos Courtesy of NHYM Copyright 2014.)
Overall: 4.75 stars
The restaurant: 4.5 (5 stars for the Truffle Tagliatelle, 4 for the rest).
The Room: 4.75 stars (5 stars for the Balcony of Room 101, 4.5 stars for the room)
The view: 5 Stars
The Service: 4.5 Stars
The people-watching: 4.75 stars
The ‘most expensive hotel in Europe’
When I told my Italian friend that I was going to Portofino and staying at the Splendido for a few nights, he smiled broadly and replied; ‘Ah, the most expensive hotel in Europe!’ I cringed. This was the most expensive hotel room I was ever paying for out of my own pocket (doesn’t count when work/business/clients take you somewhere, like the time I was taken to the Byblos in St. Tropez with similar prices for a Suite). It makes the Maldives look like a good deal in comparison. One night here was equivalent to one month’s pay check at my first job after grad school. There was no way it was going to be worth it. I could probably build a whole village in Africa for this kind of money. But, it was decided, we were going to go to the Splendido for a once-in-a-lifetime experience to celebrate our wedding anniversary and make up for the honeymoon we never really had.
The Splendido was originally a Benedictine monastery where ascetic monks gave up all worldly desires in the name of God, until it was bought by a rich Italian family who carved its future in becoming the home of the Dolce Vita, the sweet pleasures of life. It then became a world famous hotel that welcomed the biggest stars in Hollywood; Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, Liza Minelli, and other international stars like Alain Delon, Maggie Smith and Michael Caine, all who have black and white photographs hung in the corridors of the hotel. The hotel is surrounded by a gorgeous garden of rows and rows of agapanthus, rows of hydrangeas, lemon trees, 100 year old olive trees, palm trees, cacti, bougainvillaea, daisies, jasmine and all the other flowers you could think of. It is a small garden of Eden in Italy.
Inside, the hotel is decorated in a kitschy way that only Italians can pull off, with painted frescoes on the walls, my grandmother’s curtains hanging from the windows, and gold framed paintings of flowers on the walls. The hotel could use a lift, but in some ways, you are living a part of history past. The paintings and black and white photographs on the walls are all crookedly hung, but no one has fixed almost intentionally. The view is to-die-for. Watching the view for a few hours is as good as meditating for the day. It quietens the soul and instantly lifts you up. The view is of the bay in front of Portofino, inhabited by Superyachts changing daily, Invictus, Lady Joy, Elisa and Virginian (all of which can be rented for 250-500,000 Euros per week), fuelling my FOMO despite being in one of the nicest hotel I have dreamt about.
After check-in, we went straight to the hotel restaurant, La Terrazza, on a beautiful terrace with a picture perfect view of Portofino. We crossed paths with a short 65 year old man, smiling from ear to ear, accompanied by a young girl, 35 years younger and 35 cm taller. I did a double take. They looked familiar. Had I seen the same couple at the One & Only in the Maldives just a few years ago? Probably not, but it certainly set the scene of the hotel’s clientele.
Our lunch at the Terrazza was one of the best lunches we’d had in a while. It was also probably because it was 3pm and we were starving – everything tastes better when you are starving. We ordered the truffle tagliatelle, which was worthy of 5 stars. Mr. C then had the sesame crusted seared tuna, which was perfectly seared and seasoned. Next to us, we could hear an older American couple whom had probably been saving their whole life for this trip talking to another American couple. The woman asked: ‘Why don’t I have prices on my menu?’ Amateurs. (For those who don’t know, women’s menus don’t have prices in the South of France or in Italy, it is the land of machismo after all.) Two tables down, I saw Arun Nayer (50 y.o.), Elizabeth Hurley’s ex husband, with his new younger girlfriend, the model Kim Johnson (29 y.o.). This was starting to be a recurring theme.
The dinner we had on a Saturday night was good, but by all means not spectacular. The service was slow but the view and the people watching was stupendous. An older, seasoned American couple next to us discussed their love of Business Class Flying; ‘I could never imagine flying to Europe any other way.’
Watching the clientele of the hotel was a theatrical show of its own, showcasing the world’s current financial and social structural hierarchy. Next to us at the pool were four Russians who wouldn’t stop talking, not the bling and brash ones seen at Les Caves in St. Tropez or Courchevel, just wealthy, upper middle class Russians. The Americans were the really loud ones, whose conversations seemed to be projected over loudspeakers and followed us everywhere. There were London Hedge Funders also in the mix, one of them that sold his fund for a cool £100 (million that is), with his original wife that needed some style tips. There were a slew of younger, more beautiful women (often Eastern European/Russians) with Gerard Depardieu look-alike boyfriends/husbands. The women were clearly with them NFHL (not for his looks) and more FHM (for his money). Although, I have to say that these couples looked happy, these women were being given lavish lifestyles and never lacked anything, whereas these older men could feel young and studly with their beautiful younger girlfriends/wives. It was an economical transaction that benefited everyone. A Japanese couple sitting at lunch read their IPad/Iphone/Samsung the entire lunch without a word exchanged. Finally, there were a few Italian and French head of industries, welcoming each other: ‘Bienvenue a Portofino!’ The only ones missing were the Chinese.
We happened to be staying there the same weekend of a wedding. As we saw the guests fill up the terraces, I tried to guess what kind of wedding it was. I guessed ‘second wedding, older man with younger Eastern European/Russian wife’. There were Americans, English, and Russian guests in addition to the occasional Indian and Asian guest. I guessed they were from London, since there is no other city in the world that would mix these nationalities so easily, specifically Chelsea or Knightsbridge. They must be in finance with their Blackberrys ringing and potbellies bouncing. I saw three sexy Eastern European girls with fake boobs, frolicking around each other during cocktail hour, probably the only friends of the bride. (We happened to have the best terrace of the whole hotel, Room 101, which was front row seats to this spectacle). Later that night, all my guesses were confirmed, as I saw the 50 year old groom accompanying his 6 year old flower girl daughter from his first marriage back to her room, while his beautiful, billowy, blond, bride spoke Russian to her friends and I confirmed the London location as I saw Arun Nayer and his girlfriend leaving the wedding.
Room With A View
Can I just suggest Room 101 if at all possible? It is a corner Suite with the ‘best terrace in the hotel’, best to watch the sunrise, the sunset, the ‘flora and fauna’ of the hotel (and the flowers and gardens as well). There is a safe behind one the flower paintings hung on the wall, very Italian Job.
One of the nicest hotel bathroom views
The Verdict: So, is it worth it?
This hotel is a place where prices and currencies are best forgotten. The prices should stay off both the men and women’s menus to prevent spoiling the experience. The experience is priceless, indeed, and my expectations where thankfully met (the worse is when you spend a fortune on a hotel-letdown). This is a place to fall in love, to meditate, to forget yourself and who you are, and to be happy in. It has the best view of Portofino, even better than from the Virginian or Invictus yachts, proven by the yachties who come to the hotel for the food, the view and the atmosphere. The stunning scenery and hotel are enough to wash away any worries, even if momentarily for a few days. Places like this are what dreams are made of.
* There is a Kids Club! Really, an actual, real kids club below the pool. Pizza and Gelato making today!
* The pianist is world famous, dressed in a blue or green sequinned jacket, singing Sinatra and Italian songs and gets those old feet moving and stomping, from 18 to 88 year old.
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