By Wendy Wood-Prince
Last month’s column was about a marvelous trip, courtesy of Lake Forest Travel and Waterstone marketing, visiting the Dolomites in Northern Italy. The trip did not end there! We continued on through Florence and spent some time on the Northern Italian Coast, specifically in Forte Dei Marmi and San Remo.
Hotels L’Orologia and Santa Maria Novella sit on the Piazza Santa Maria Novella in Florence.
We headed down the beautiful mountains to catch the train to Florence. After the peace and space of the Dolomites, the grit and bustle of the train and entry into Florence was a bit of an adjustment. We stayed just one night in Florence and the group split up, staying between two hotels next door to each other located right on the Piazza of Santa Maria Novella. Some of us stayed at Hotel L’Orologia and others at Hotel Santa Maria Novella. These wonderfully located hotels are small and cozy, each having their own unique character. We wandered around and enjoyed a simple dinner of pizza on the piazza, followed by the requisite touristy limoncello.
The sumptuous Melodia Suite at Il Salviatino on the outskirts of Florence.
Early the next morning we said our goodbyes to our hosts and hostesses and headed to the outskirts of Florence proper to the gorgeous hotel, Il Salviatino. Just a ten minute drive from Florence this 15th century villa has been converted into what looks like a total rock star palazzo. As the tires of our cars crunched on the gravel courtyard it was easy to imagine Mick and Keith wandering through the luscious halls full of ancient frescoes, exquisite works of art and spectacular lounging areas. Mental note to self here, remember to pack your Pucci caftan for any future stays on this property!! The Melodia Suite is probably the best example of Italian indulgence one can imagine, but all rooms are remarkable and have gorgeous views of Florence or the surrounding 12 parklike acres Il Salviatino sits on. Alas, no Pucci caftans necessary as we did not stay at the hotel but enjoyed a delicious lunch on the terrace before heading to the tony seaside town of Forte die Marmi.
The very exclusive Hotel Byron in Forte dei Marmi.
Forte dei Marmi or “Fort of the Marbles” rests on the Ligurian Sea in Tuscany, named after the Forte Lorense, commissioned by Peter Leopold the Grand Duke of Tuscany to protect from pirates the marble that was being quarried and shipped. Known for its beaches, Forte die Marmi has been a seaside escape since the time of the Medicis. Wealthy families from all over Italy became regulars and built villas in town. The Agnelli family and Giorgio Armani built summer villas and Andrea Bocelli lives there today. Andrea Bocelli has even been seen riding his horse through town as I was told that the horse knows his way around and when to stop for crossing streets!
Our group checked into the super chic and luxe Hotel Byron with terraced suites overlooking the sparkling sea. We rode the hotel bicycles to town on the beachside boardwalk. I imagined Sophia Loren riding along the beach into town to wander the chic shops and the Sunday markets which attract visitors from all around the area looking for Italian made goods. The sun shining through brief showers added to the cinematic quality of the bike ride back to the hotel (albeit a soggy cinema).
That evening we dined at La Magnolia, the Michelin star restaurant situated poolside at Hotel Byron. Chef Cristoforo Trapani creates delicacies from local and seasonal produce and the star of the dish is often fresh seafood presented simply spectacularly.
Inside the church of San Pietro in Porto Venere.
Our most exciting adventure in Forte die Marmi came the next morning as we hopped on a boat and headed to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre, which translates to “five lands”, is a string of medieval fishing villages that are perched on the cliffs of a very rugged part of the Italian Riviera. This Unesco World Heritage site has no roads, just an antique rail line and hiking trails that connect the five villages. This area has become so popular for hiking and sightseeing that it is sometimes overrun with tourists, so I highly recommend getting there by boat. The contrast of the kaleidoscope of painted houses against the rugged mountainside is spectacular. Local lore has it that the fishermen painted their houses these distinct colors so when they were out at sea they could look back and spot their own casa. This is a must see but can be crazy crowded.
A room with a view at Royal Hotel San Remo.
The next morning we left Forte die Marmi and ventured further down the Italian coast to the Village of San Remo. San Remo is an ancient town and winter retreat of many Russians including Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, consort of Emperor Alexander II. It continues as a favorite of Russian tourists as well as many Europeans. The Royal Hotel San Remo was our home for the next few days. A five minute walk from town the hotel is just the perfect distance away from the fray with its old school glamor. The salt water pool was designed in 1948 by Milanese designer, Gio Ponti and had so much character. The temperature was perfect as I glided through the water and swam under stone foot bridges and along its smooth curves, it was a delightful respite after traveling. That evening we enjoyed a delicious gourmet dinner under the stars at the hotel’s restaurant Il Giardino and then headed off to slumber with sea breezes gently wafting through our rooms.
The medieval town of San Remo.
After a wonderful, educational and packed nine days, we all headed back to our respective abodes stateside, having made some new friends and experienced many new places.
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