Cinque Terre + Portofino Hotels
Tel: 39 01 8780 2517
Just one train stop from Monterosso, the mellow resort of Levanto is a good base for the Cinque Terre. For post-trekking rest and relaxation, head for this rural retreat perched on the hillside above town. An 18th-century family estate set amid terraced olive and fruit groves, Villanova now offers hospitality along with its farm products, including wine, olive oil, and honey. There are three suites in the handsome main villa, and five more in a farmhouse further up the hill, plus a couple of self-catering apartments on the grounds. The design scheme is jazzed-up Italian country style, with walls of yellow ocher or baby blue, pretty stenciled wardrobes, and lots of artsy prints and drawings. Breakfast, served in the garden, is based on homemade or locally sourced organic produce. There's no pool, but plenty of space for sunbathing. Those without a car will probably want to take a taxi from Levanto stationthough if you're traveling light, it's a pleasant (but steep) 20-minute walk.
Closed early January through mid-February.
30 Via Milite Ignoto
Santa Margherita Ligure
Tel: 39 01 8528 7013
This 84-room white Belle Époque pile stands at the Portofino end of Santa Margherita Ligure's seaside promenade. If you can't afford the rates at the Splendido, the Miramare makes a better alternative than any of the cheaper (but still overpriced) hotels in Portofino itself, which is three miles away and connected by a regular bus service. (It also stays open year-round, unlike its Portofino rivals.) Rooms are welcoming, if a little démodé, with their polished parquet floors, flowery wallpaper, Murano chandeliers, and antique writing desks; most have bathtubs as well as showers. The hotel's trump card is its palm- and pine-shaded back garden, beyond which lies a large pool with a spectacular view down the coast toward the Cinque Terre. There's a small spa, and a generous breakfast buffet is served in the ground-floor restaurant. Be aware that heavy construction going on next to the hotel is likely to continue into 2009. Sea- and park-facing bedrooms are largely unaffected, but the pool terrace is right above the building site.
16 Salita Baratta
Tel: 39 01 8526 7801
Owned and run by the Orient Express group, the Splendido is an Italian hospitality legend: It vies with the Villa d'Este on Lake Como and the Sirenuse in Positano for the title of Italy's most desirable high-end leisure hotel. Perched on a south-facing terrace above the Bay of Portofino, the 64-room grande dame boasts a celebrity guest list that stretches from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Bill Gates. Although you might not agree with the hotel's claim to be "quietly democratic" when you're paying nearly $4,000 a night for an Exclusive Suite, it's true that there's nothing ostentatious about the place: It feels lived-in, like the home of a globe-trotting uncle with good taste. Rooms are frequently refurbished, but the default style is French country, with soothing cream walls, flowery curtains and furnishings, and antique prints in gilt frames. Bathrooms are generally large and well appointed, complete with toiletries from Bulgari, Molton Brown, and Penhaligon's. The gardens, with their shady pergolas and hidden benches, are delightful, and the restaurantwhich serves a surprisingly unfussy Italian menu with a focus on fresh fish and homemade pastahas an unbeatable view of the harbor. The small but efficiently run Wellness Centre was added in 2003. Since 1998, the Splendido has had a waterside offshoot, the 16-room Splendido Mare. The bedrooms tend to be a little smaller than those in the mother ship; about half have a ringside view of the Piazzetta, Portofino's waterfront square. Breakfast is served in the Chuflay Bar Restaurant downstairs, which is also a great spot for people watching around aperitivo time. For those looking for more privacy at mealtime, there's also a panoramic rooftop terrace.
Closed early November through early March.
29 Via San Giovanni Battista
Tel: 39 33 4287 5718
At the top of Vernazza's steep warren of lanes, this four-room guesthouse is doing something a little different from the usual faux-rustic act. It's all whitedazzlingly so in summerwith clean modernist lines, the only splash of color coming from the warm teak parquet floor. The overall effect is refreshing rather than cold, and the lack of distractions inside only enhances the spectacular sea views (which are especially impressive from rooms 26, 31 and the small cliff-top terrace). Breakfast is served in a bar down on the main harborside piazza. The hotel is a bit tricky to find: The best advice is to ring ahead and arrange to be met at the station.
4 Via Genova
Monterosso al Mare
Space is at a premium in this small but perfectly formed four-room guesthouse in a quiet lane just off Monterosso's tourist-trap main street. The three double bedrooms, named after women who appear in the poems of local Nobel laureate Eugenio Montale, are compact but comfortable, with checkerboard floor tiles and sunny color schemes (light-filled Clizia, with its two floor-to-ceiling windows, is our favorite). The Giglio Rosso Suite offers a tad more luxury and legroom; it features an antique bed with a baldachin canopy under a high vaulted ceiling. All rooms have satellite TV and air conditioning; the shower-only bathrooms are a little cramped. In good weather, breakfast is served on a small plant-lined terrace backed by a terraced lemon grove. But what really gives La Poesia an edge over most of the other Monterosso contenders is the incredibly warm welcome from owner Nicoletta, who makes it a point of pride to coddle and spoil her guests.
39 Località Chiesanuova
Chiesanuova , Levanto
Tel: 39 33 8136 9602
Few of the visitors who trek dutifully between the Cinque Terre villages bother to head much inlandbut there's another world above the coast, an agricultural hinterland of chestnut groves and terraced vineyards so steep that farmers reach them on little monorail tractors. This charming guest house, perched above the hamlet of Chiesanuova (around 15 minutes' drive from Levanto), is a good introduction to this less touristy side of the region. Four spacious suites, sleeping up to four people, are done up in a contemporary country style in pastel and earth colors, and each room has a computer with free Internet access. The generously sized bathrooms mix modern Italian fittings with more grandmotherly details. Breakfast ($15 extra) is served on the terrace under an apricot tree, and much of what you eat here, like the delicious chocolate cake, is homemade, using local organic ingredients. Owner Fabio is a wine buff, and if you have dinner here (book at least a day in advance), you can sample some of the gems from his cellar. The pretty stone house has ancient origins: The name of the inn derives from a visit the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III is supposed to have made here in the year 996 A.D. Fabio and his Canadian wife, Angela, are authorities on the many footpaths and mountain-bike trails in the area.
Closed November until Easter.
20 Vico Volto
Tel: 39 01 8792 0327
The Cinque Terre is such a seller's market that there's little incentive for hoteliers to offer much more than four walls, a bed, and a working showerwhich is why La Torretta is such a welcome find. At the top end of Manarola, not far from the church, the locanda has 15 rooms, from singles to two-room suites, on different levels of a warrenlike Pompeii red townhouse. The decor is eclectic in a neo-Baroque sort of way, with striped fabrics and plaster busts of classical gods and heroes: not your usual Cinque Terre granny flat, in other words, but a more subdued and self-taught version of the Versace aesthetic. Some rooms have terraces, and suites feature Jacuzzis; satellite TV and air conditioning are standard. Breakfastserved on a large terrace with views over the rooftopsincludes freshly squeezed fruit juice and a selection of bite-size pastries. There's also a small splash pool on a solarium terrace on a lower level.
4 Via Marconi
Tel: 39 01 8780 8258
Staying in this family-run guesthouse in the centre of Levanto is like taking a trip back in time. It's on the second floor, there's no elevator, and the service is laid-back to the point of being casualbut the interiors are breathtaking. Above the creaking parquet floors are original 19th-century frescoes of winsome nymphs and chubby cherubs. Ornately carved wooden bedsteads vie for attention with Deco-style chandeliers and huge mirrored wardrobes that must have been in the family for generations. There's also a small formal garden where predinner drinks are served. This is the place to come to reconnect with your urbane, Oscar Wilde side after a week of sweaty trekking in the nearby Cinque Terre, and at surprisingly reasonable rates. The water in the shower takes a while to heat up, and although rooms feature free Internet access and satellite TV, there's no air conditioning. But you come to Stella Maris for Belle Époque atmosphere, not five-star comforts. Half-board is applied between April and September, with a tasty dinner menu of Ligurian specialties prepared by the owner, Signora Renza; in March and October, bed-and-breakfast terms apply.
Open March through October.