A wedding took us to the Italian Riviera. Our hotel, the Santa Margherita Palace, describes itself as “a design hotel, combining the new luxury trend with Riviera traditional style, in the city center of Santa Margherita Ligure, just a few steps from the beach and harbor, 5 km from Portofino.” This is a tacit admission that Portofino is where everyone wants to be, but can’t because it is so small. And that is why Portofino is the attraction and not Santa Margherita Ligure – exclusivity. In our short stay for the wedding we found Portofino charming and elegant. But after the first hour the question is what are we going to do now? We’ve seen it all. We can wander the same shops and spend more money. Eat something and the food was excellent, but not entirely unique. The rehearsal dinner was at Il Pitosforo, which overlooks the tiny harbor. It was about a fifteen minute boat ride along the coast from Piazza Martini della Liberta dock, and the Portofino dock is directly in front of the restaurant. Il Pitosforo is up on the second level and is a great place for an event as the location says it all. But we found the lack of air movement (fans would have been helpful) distracting in early September. Too hot to be comfortable. Too crowded to move around, and too loud, once the music cranked up after the meal to have a conversation even with the person sitting next or across from you. Of course the size of our party and the fact it was an event, may have been part of the problem, but not entirely.
Santa Margherita Ligure is the beach community here. While the beach is not the primary attraction for us in terms of spending time out on it, we enjoy walking along and enjoying the sea breezes and views. Santa Margherita Ligure is where we spent most of our free time on this trip. The beach is stony, and not sandy as we have become used to in the US. Still, swimming in the Ligurian Sea is still a rare pleasure for anyone. The water is so clear you can easily see the bottom even in the deeper areas along the shore. The wind swept vistas almost take your breath away. And at night, the lights from Rapallo, just up the beach area that winds around, shimmer and dot the night like stars in a clear sky. Prior to the rehearsal dinner, we decided to get a light bite to eat and selected Pizzeria Santa Lucia, Piazza Martini della Liberta, 42 (tel 0185 287163) which is right on the main street heading from the hotel towards Portofino. At most a ten minute walk from the hotel. The menu was balanced between pizza, fish and pastas. We tried a seafood salad, which was mostly calamari with some shrimp, mussels and clams. It was excellent and while all seafood, not so much that I would be unable to eat later. We also sampled a capers salad, which used cherry tomatoes with the mozzarella and had sprigs of Basil and olive oil which made it a ‘just right’ accompaniment to the seafood.
The next morning, we got up early (for the Riviera), and walked the distance from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino. It is along the costal road, which is a problem in that it is very narrow and windy, has a side walk in some areas and not in others, and you are sharing the road in some places with busses, taxis, cars and motorcycles, sometimes all at the same time. In addition there are other pedestrians also trying to make the same trip you are. It took us about an hour and fifteen minutes, although we stopped often to take great pictures. The distance was actually about four miles from hotel to the harbor at Portofino. After an hour of wandering, stopping for a refreshment and bathroom break, we decided to return to Santa Margherita Ligure by cab. This probably was less than an optimal decision as the short ride cost us 45 euros, or a little more than 10 euros a mile. There is a bus that makes the same trip and I’m sure was a lot less expensive.
Upon our return, we wandered around Santa Margherita Ligure, visiting shops with incredible ingredients for perfect foods, clothing stores, art galleries and services. We ended up at Vineria f.illi Macchiavello, which is mostly a sidewalk café with seven tables for two. We decided to stop here as the mother of the bride, who is a good friend, had told us that in this particular region they use potatoes rather than parmesan cheese in their pesto. Walking by this restaurant, several people were eating their pesto on hand made short noodles. We had another six hours before the ceremony, so we thought we would recover from a light meal, which we chose to split along with two different glasses of sparking white wines we did not recognize and also shared. While neither of us finished the meal, each eating about half of the split portion, it was not for lack of a great dish, but just in recognition of the amount of food we expected would be coming after the ceremony, if the night before was any indication.
We decided to wander about a bit before getting ready for the wedding itself. Overlooking the harbor on a hilltop is the Cathedral of San Giacomo di Corte and Villa Durazzo, which appears to be an event center. We climbed up the long stairs to reach the top of the overlook. As we wandered through the immaculate gardens with tall palms and low hedges, painted stone walkways and cool breezes, we watched an event staff setting up chairs and tables. This was not the location of our event, but we had glimpsed another couple in gown and tux taking pictures earlier down near another cathedral, so we weren’t attending the only wedding in town this weekend.
The wedding we attended was at La Cervara Abbey, high above the entrance to Portofino harbor. This old estate has been fully restored to the glory days of the 19th century. A wisteria has been trained to shade a courtyard like a tree, evidently hundreds of years old. The garden topiary and trees establish an aura of unimaginable wealth and power. The building is now both an event center and residence to the owner, who keeps a summer apartment on one of the upper floors. The wedding itself was conducted on a promontory that overlooks the boats and yachts entering Portofino, a just incredible view. The after reception reception was held at a club, Il Covo, which overlooks the water down towards Santa Margherita Ligure. By the time we arrived the sun had long set and all that could be seen was the coastal lights and the rocky shoreline. All in all, this is a magical location for a destination wedding. Expensive to the point if you have to ask how much, this is not the place to go.