Often when a famous luxury hotel gets ready for a renovation, the trick is to update the property without making it seem like anything has changed.
That’s the case at the Splendido, a Belmond Hotel, which has more than 120 years of history behind it and is among the most famous luxury hotels in the world. With its unchanging presence above the northern Italian seaside town of Portofino, it inspires awe from the casual visitor and love from its fiercely loyal clientele.
This year the hotel undertook part of a multiphase renovation, including of its swimming pool, restaurant and its Baronessa Suite. The plan was, as the hotel put it, to “seamlessly blend tradition with design”; Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, which oversaw the direction, took inspiration from tradition, local materials, native plants and “Ligurian coastal villa living.”
Let’s start with the refurbished pool, which is an absolute triumph. New tile work mirrors the blue-green colors of the sea, and when the water is still it perfectly reflects the sky and the pool deck’s jaunty, striped umbrellas. Since it’s an infinity-edge pool, guests can swim right up to the side for one of the best views in Italy.
Up on the next terrace is the newly done Splendido Grill restaurant, with hand-painted, green-and-white tile inspired by Albissola ceramics; a stone floor; comfortable seating; and a retractable sunshade. Not surprisingly, the menu shines when it comes to seafood, although the grill offerings are impressive. Everything is served on china with designs inspired by local nature.
Far from being ultramodern or sleek, the Splendido revels in its cozy feel. In the small lobby, black-and-white stone floors and potted plants give way to the floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open up to the view. The cocktail bar around the corner is a study in intimacy. There are flowers everywhere: Dripping from every balcony, on little flower pots on the terrazzo tables, in giant urns in the lobby.
I didn’t see the refurbished suite (it was this summer in Europe, so naturally it was occupied), but the suite I looked at is in keeping with the Splendido vibe: soft, romantic, a little sweet, a little old-fashioned. Think flowers, chandeliers, wainscotting, a soaking tub clad in white marble and wood. Little details count: A tea set on the table includes Ginori 1735 porcelain teacups in an Oriente Italiano pattern.
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Like the Splendido’s clientele, I had fallen under its spell years ago (by the way, as Davide Bertolino, the hotel’s public relations manager tells me, it’s the SPLEN-dee-doh, never the Splen-DEE-doh). On my first visit 20 years ago, I walked the paths behind Portofino’s town, climbing higher and higher until I accidentally came to the Splendido’s side road. On the second trip, I had lunch on the terrace. I left Portofino later that afternoon on the Silver Shadow, but somehow my heart stayed behind.
And I hadn’t been back until this summer, when a business trip took me to Genoa. I got off the plane, went to my hotel, changed my clothes and hired a taxi to propel me to Portofino posthaste.
The driver left me in Portofino’s Piazza della Liberta, and I strolled down to the harbor where the late afternoon sun was bouncing off the deep-blue waters and reflecting the warm tones of the buildings and the brilliant white of the yachts. As of yore, I found the path behind the Loro Piana and hiked up to the Splendido.
I arrived somewhat sweaty — maybe I was more fit 20 years ago? And the first thing I did was to head to La Terrazza Bar and order a Negroni.
Admiring the view with a Negroni and doing nothing is an excellent way to spend your time at the Splendido, but there’s also a tennis court, the Jardin des Reves spa area and a shuttle service down to Splendido Mare, the sister property in town, where guests can shop or have lunch and a gelato at one of the harborside restaurants. Guests can rent the resort’s Chris-Craft motorboat, and it also keeps a private sun deck at the Bagni Fiore beach in nearby Paraggi. There are countless other activities in the region.
But for me, I was happy to enjoy La Terrazza, breathing deeply and letting my cares slide away as the boats zipped in and out of the harbor and the sun slowly set behind Castello Brown.
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