Portofino in Italy.

Portofino in Italy.

PORTOFINO is the ultimate Dolce Vita destination. Tall pastel houses surround a harbour which is lined with chic bars and restaurants, all presided over by a pine-shaded castle. It truly is the stuff of dreams.

Among the famous Italians who have their holiday homes here are Armani, Dolce & Gabanna who, let’s face it, know a bit about design, and this place feels like it’s been designed by a great artist.

Portofino is almost shameless in its beauty. Nestled on the coast of Liguria, Italy’s smallest region which stretches from the French border to La Spezia, this is simply one of the most chic places in the world. And THE hotel is The Splendido, owned by the 5 star Belmond Group (who also own the legendary Cipriani in Venice and the Orient Express train).

Genoa (Genova) is the nearest airport, 25 miles west, but if my experience of trying to land there (three attempts on Ryanair from Stansted – apparently not that uncommon – all the flights that day had been cancelled due to wind), all I can say is, if you’re a remotely nervous flyer – and I’m not, but even I was getting the jitters as we veered over the sea, wing down, several times – just forget it and fly to Milan. (Mind you, if you really want my advice, just never fly Ryanair full-stop).

Visiting Portofino won’t take long as it’s incredibly small – makes Elie look like a major town and Largs feel like London – you may wonder what else the perfectly formed chocolate-box Portofino has to offer. The answer is walks.

The rugged promontory on which the Dolce Vita harbour has several waymarked trails so enjoy those. Castello Brown is an absolute ‘must’ and well worth the effort of all those steps up. This is now an historic house museum. In a former life it was a Genoese coastal fort called the Castello di San Giorgio. After peace broke out in the early 19th century, the Castello was abandoned but today it is open and from its hilltop setting, overlooking the harbour and main square, you will find the views mind-boggling.

The classic excursion though is the two-hour trek to San Fruttuoso – a thirteenth-century Benedictine abbey anchored in the sand of a beautiful cove; the contrast between the monastery’s tranquillity of the interior.

Uber-chic fashion and big brand jewellery boutiques populate the quay in Portofino. For me though, the reason to go to Portofino is to enjoy a stay in what is possibly my favourite hotel in the world – the aptly-named Splendido. I make no apology for the rest of this article being about what is now my favourite hotel in the world.

The building is an old monastery, but don’t let you imagine for one minute that that makes it austere. Pretty much every celeb in the world has beaten a path to this place. Why? Because the views are eye-wateringly beautiful, as are gorgeous gardens, with tumbling bougainvillea and views of the Gulf of Tigullio.

Everything from the quality of the bedlinen and fluffy towels to the telescopic fold-away TV at the bottom of your bed fully justifies the splurge price-tag (starting 990 euros a night).

It’s actually quite hard to describe the style of the interior as it is neither old nor new, it’s simply suggestive of an earlier, more sophisticated age. It oozes class: starched white napkins, fabulously attentive silver-service staff, and an insane Liberace-style pianist (Vladimir) in the piano bar, complete with a whole wardrobe of suitably vulgar sequined jackets. The hotel is packed with antiques and has a calming neutral palette of decoration, all of which adds to the tranquil feelings one gets while there.

This is, simply, where you come to relax and be indulged.

Cher and Vin Diesel were recently at the hotel; Steven Spielberg and Gwyneth Paltrow have made it a favourite destination, and everyone from Jennifer Lopez to good old James Bond himself (Sean Connery) have all crashed their heads on one of the super-soft fluffy pillows there (pillow menu obviously available).

Back in the day the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Churchill, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Brigitte Bardot also chose it, hence making it into the playground for the rich and famous that it is today. The General Manager – Ermes de Megni (a delightful and very experienced hotelier) took great pleasure showing me ‘The Gold Book’ where all the famous faces signed their gratitude for a great stay.

It’s a big book.

In common with a lot of the staff, de Megni has been at the hotel for a long time and these are the staff that remember the names and whims of their guests, which explains their 40% repeat business. I will certainly be back before the grim reaper gets me.

This hotel is a resort in its own right, where you can quite happily stay put for days with everything you need: a beautiful heated salt-water infinity pool, a spa, two restaurants and a truly beautiful gardens (a feature of all Belmond hotels).

La Terrazza (the restaurant with stunning balcony views over the harbour with multi-millionaire’s yachts) is overseen by Corrado Corti, Executive Chef. He is originally from Lombardy but has travelled all over the world before finding his home at the Splendido back in 1999. His food is simply amazing and many people who can’t/don’t want to spend the money on (or, simply cannot get a room as booking ahead is essential) travel many miles to taste the best of Italian cuisine. I had Ligurian ravioli with walnut sauce and pasta with pesto. My partner had tuna in a quinoa and pistachio crust and herby loin of lamb. We didn’t speak much during the dinner as were just too involved in the food.

The hotel can also arrange bespoke excursions, so expect trips into the mountains to visit wine, olive oil and cheese-producers and visits to the Cinque Terre or lovely Portovenere. Equally you can bag the hotel’s 36ft boat for a sunset champagne cruise. More honeymoon/anniversary ideas include the option of a private dinner at the Portofino lighthouse with magnificent views over the Golfo di Tigullio. Oh, and if you fancy driving there (and God knows, it’d beat the Ryanair flight to Genoa) and you have a mutt, please note that pets will not only be accepted but also given special monogrammed bathrobes; there are dogs menus and massages too.

Children are also welcome with a kid’s club for 4-12 year olds.

Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s a one-off spending even a couple of nights at The Splendido and nobody can possibly visit Portofino and not think they’ve just arrived in a little bit of heaven.

See https://www.belmond.com/hotels/europe/italy/portofino/belmond-hotel-splendido/