Discover The ‘Secret’ Italian Riviera When You Stay At This Gorgeous Getaway
Italy’s Riviera reaches from its French equivalent near the border at Ventimiglia for more than two hundred miles, an arc of trophy coastline along the Ligurian Sea that’s among the most celebrated in the world. It’s not hard to find sites of exceptional beauty along these shores, but to see one of the area’s most striking settings you’ll want to travel to the Riviera’s southernmost tip, to the hamlet of Montemarcello near another border, this one with Tuscany (about a 15-minute drive away).
Here you’ll find the Golfo dei Poeti Relais & Spa, perched on a cliff overlooking the Gulf of La Spezia, dubbed the Bay of Poets thanks to the writers who flocked here in the 19th century and swooned over its mesmerizing views. Even though I know the eastern Riviera fairly well, I had never been to Montemarcello and decided to visit when I learned about the property through Autentico, a network of high-end family-owned hotels in Italy with unique locations or histories.
The Relais is the brainchild of Dante Venturini, an entrepreneur who owned stone and marble companies before launching the hotel seven years ago. Venturini quickly established the Relais as a player in luxury tourism, a remarkable feat for a man new to the hotel business, but one who, having spent close to 4000 nights on the road for business travel over the years, very much knew what he wanted for his own property. Like other hoteliers, Venturini took the opportunity during the Covid slowdown to make improvements, adding new rooms and, this year, overhauling the pool and its landscaping to create one of the most beautiful vantage points in Italy to enjoy while taking a swim.
You have to give credit to Venturini just for tackling such a project. The Relais site, which had been a hotel in the 1950s and later a timeshare, lay dormant for 15 years. What makes the Relais so special now—its idyllic seclusion—had to be a considerable challenge when undertaking extensive construction work. “It was, and it was big,” says Venturini. (To travel to the Relais you need to drive up a small mountain road, then park outside the grounds of the hotel. A shuttle picks you up to take you down a narrow lane to the property.)
Despite the hurdles, Venturini says he was intrigued with Montemarcello, long a bolthole for writers and artists (and today designated one of the most beautiful villages in Italy—I Borghi più Belli d’Italia). It seems to be the kind of place that that prompts passionate gestures, like creating a luxury hotel in a secluded spot 900 feet above sea level, or, as in the case of an Irish-born baroness, Marion Muzi Falconi, who during a visit to the area in the mid-20th century became so entranced with the hamlet she settled in and remained for the rest of her life.
Despite its extraordinary panoramas, Montemarcello remains an under-the-radar- find for many. “This is not a destination like Portofino or Forte dei Marmi,” says Venturini. Yet he saw in this Riviera setting the chance to offer a different kind of luxury holiday, a get-away-from-it-all haven in a region sought after by both elite and mass tourists and cruise ship passengers from all over the world. “I wanted to sell a gorgeous experience in a unique place,” he says.
And he most certainly does. Those views from the hotel, overlooking the gulf toward Portovenere and its neighboring islands, provide an incomparable cinematic backdrop from sunrise to sunset, Most of the Relais’s 25 stylishly modern rooms (including 5 suites)—are positioned to take in the views, with garden space on the ground level and terraces on the upper floor, some with outdoor Jacuzzis. You’re able to choose your own bed sheets (satin or linen) and the minibar comes stocked with juices, water and prosecco, all on the house. You can breakfast and have dinner indoors or out—again the views at the restaurant, L’Incanto, serving modern Ligurian cooking from a talented young chef, Boraldo Sejdiraj, make it one of the most memorable dining spots on the Riviera. (A light lunch is served in the tented veranda by the pool.)
Venturini is keen on providing a gorgeous holiday, but also a tranquil one. The size of the property and its hilltop perch make it seem as you’re staying in a private club. When asked if he sees L’Incanto’s future as a destination restaurant, he says, ”Perhaps. I don’t want to jeopardize the experience or the serenity of the people who are here.” A “golden hour,” or rather hours, from 7 to 9 PM, draws outsiders as well as hotel guests for aperitifs and those other-worldly sunsets.
The Relais has ample spa facilities, including a panoramic sauna, Jacuzzis, sensory showers and aromatherapy steam baths. If you want to (and can) do some aerobic trekking—assuming you’re able to pull yourself away from the seductive pool—head to the Punta Corvo beach. (But note: it’s some 700 steps down—and back up.) For guests looking to book experiences with a special twist, the hotel can arrange for sailing and helicopter tours of the region.
It’s not surprising that Venturini, who created his oasis for those wanting both rarified and serene travel experiences, collaborates with designer Brunello Cucinelli, the master of discreet luxury, for some initiatives at the hotel. Certain guests receive an invitation to experience Cucinelli’s brand of luxe (with a welcome gift of the designer’s Castello di Solomeo olive oil and Venturini’s Cinque Terre white wine), which can include a visit to Solomeo, the medieval village the designer restored, where the renowned company has its headquarters.