Italian Driving Holiday
Tuscany to Portofino featuring the Hotel Splendido
Arriving at Pisa airport after our surprisingly short two hour flight from Manchester, me and my ‘narky’ husband (only narky through lack of sleep from our very early morning flight) picked up our hire car that we booked through Holiday Autos.com, which turned out to be a very Italian Lancia Musa. It looked like a cross between a Citroen C3 and a Ford C Max and drove like a Robin Reliant (husband now resembling Victor Meldrew was not impressed!) It certainly would not be the choice of car to buy, but after about 15 minutes we felt like Italians driving around in Italy.
When you leave the airport follow signs for Firenze, (remember to ask for a map when picking the car up). The route to take is 67bis. Our first holiday destination was Greve in Chianti. Once on the 67 you then take the turn off for Siena and after a short drive you pick up signs for Greve in Chianti. The journey to our hotel ‘Villa Bordoni’ took us approximately 1hour 20 minutes. Once you leave the motorway and main roads you are struck by the sheer beauty of the rolling hills of Chianti and its endless Vineyards.
Hotel Villa Bordoni is in the heart of Chianti country set above the town of Greve. The country track to the hotel is lined with olive trees with sweeping vineyards on either side, as you look to the left you will see the medieval village of Montefioralle which we later found out is only a thirty minute walk through the vineyards from the hotel ( Fantastico! ). We arrived in Greve early September and fortunately caught the annual Chianti wine fair which is held in the beautiful historical square of Grevi. It has endless Chianti Classico’s which you can sample to your hearts content. David and his wife Kathryn are the owners and wonderful hosts of Villa Bordoni. They are extremely passionate about the area and can give you information on interesting places to visit. The restaurant at the Hotel is a wonderful place to dine for residents and the locals swarm there to. We spent our last day walking through the vineyards to the nearby village of Montefioralle. The grapes were due to be harvested and the sprinkling of recent rain made them glisten in the sunlight, you could almost taste the wine with every step taken.
After two wonderful nights at Villa Bordoni we packed feeling sad to leave and began our journey to one of the most beautiful places in the world named Portofino. This small Italian fishing village is located in the province of Genoa on the Italian Rivieria. We took the A11 and then the A12 signposted Viareggio and then followed signs for A12 Genova. When we arrived in Italy it was a Sunday and the roads were fairly quiet, but today was a different story. The Italians are crazy drivers! Italian drivers range from 18 t0 80 years old and all they want to do is hang on to your bumper at 100kph until you move out of the way. After about an hour we got used to feeling like we were in a demolition derby and were relieved to see the sign for Portofino.
Approaching the port of Portofino is a breathtaking experience and not just for the stunning views. The road is windy and narrow and in some parts you wonder if you will lose your wing mirror and you can’t help but hold your breath when a bus is approaching you! We parked the car and walked down towards the harbour to find the Spendido Mare where we had chosen to stay.
Splendido is really what it is! The Splendido Mare is the sister hotel of The Hotel Splendido which is set up on the highest point of the hill that encircles the bay of Portofino.
The position of the Splendido Mare is overlooking the piazzetta and waterfront in the heart of the village. It brings you amongst the hustle and bustle of the village and you can feel the Italian vibes instantly. We had this fantastic view from our room and when we opened the doors to our balcony in the morning you could hear the gradual wake up of Italian life from the lapping of water against the many boats in the harbour to the chinking of bottles being delivered to restaurants and the chatter of Italian from the many restaurant and shop owners starting their day. The Splendido Mare has a fabulous restaurant ‘The Chuflay Bar Restaurant’ which borders the Piazetta. We had a wonderful evening here where we could also relax and observe the strolling crowds with the fun pianist singing in the background. The Piazetta is known for all its famous visitors dating back to the 1950’s. We were fortunate enough to sit back and watch the paparazzi follow Jennifer Lopez as she had lunch here before she ventured into the designer shops to pick up some expensive shopping!
The history of The Hotel Splendido is extraordinary, it is 110 years old and was originally a monastery for monks, it was later abandoned by the monks because of frequent attacks by Saracen pirates. It became a wreck and was renovated by Baron Baratta in the 19th century and became Villa Baratta. Mr Ruggero Valentini was responsible for transforming the villa into the Grand Hotel Splendid in 1901 and it became host to many noble families. There is a visitors book at the Hotel which we had the honour of seeing and the first person to sign it was the Duke of Windsor and his wife Wallis in 1952. There are many other famous visitors who have signed this wonderful book which is now a valuable piece of history including Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner.
The great thing about staying at the Splendido Mare in the heart of the village is that you seem to get the best of both worlds, you have access to the many restaurants on your doorstep along with all the stunning designer shops, and you just feel part of this very special place. When you want to enjoy the Main Hotel Splendido and its peace and tranquillity together with the most glorious infinity pool you have ever seen, just hop on one of the hotels shuttle buses that run every 15 minutes and there you are with the most incredible view to die for. Splendido!
What can we say about the staff at both hotels? We have never met such a fabulous unique collection of characters and all have admirable skills and great warmth whilst going about their jobs. The manager Ermes de Megni is a credit to the hotel, his likeability factor is eleven out of ten which seems infectious to all the staff. The restaurant at the main hotel is another place that should be visited when you stay, the service and food is exceptional and once you have finished eating you can join in the fun at the cocktail bar where the pianist entertains with Elton John classics and ‘up-market’ karaoke.
For such a small tranquil place there is so much to do, wonderful boat trips and glorious walks to historical places such as the village of San Fruttuoso. Here you will find the stunning Doria’s Abbey in a secluded cove with tiny little restaurants hanging from the rocks. We attempted this walk which is up, up and up but worth every step. Once you arrive you can enjoy a cold glass of Prosecco and a light lunch and enjoy a trip back on a boat. (the walk is approximately hour and half).
After four glorious days and nights in Portofino we reluctantly had to head home from this seven day holiday. What else can we say but if there is ever a place you have to go in your lifetime it has to be ‘The Splendido Experience’ in Portofino.