Resort's spirit of solitude under threat from Roman's chequebook

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The stretch of Italian coastline that captivated Shelley appears to have caught the eye of the Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich and started a family row in the process.

The stretch of Italian coastline that captivated Shelley appears to have caught the eye of the Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich and started a family row in the process.

Mr Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, is reported to be negotiating to buy Eco del Mare - Echo of the Sea - a diminutive, exclusive beach resort on the Golfo dei Poeti in Liguria, on Italy's north-west coast, for €10m (£6.7m). The beach, a sliver of sand between two steep, wooded cliffs, is a short drive from Lerici, the town off which the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in July 1822 when his sailing boat was caught in a squall.

The Ligurian coast has been humming with rumours about the prospective sale for days, with frequent sightings of wealthy looking Russians coming and going. Russian arrivistes have been buying up luxury villas and hotels in top Italian resorts for several years. But this would be the first time that one of them got his hands on an entire resort.

However, Francesca Mozer, daughter of the resort's founder and its present manager, is strongly opposed to its sale. "I don't accept these proposals," she told The Independent . "My parents ran the resort for more than 50 years and they would like to retire. They feel guilty about leaving the burden on my shoulders because it would be a hard job. I tell them, if the point is to retire, please retire. I will keep the job going on. I don't want to sell the beach to someone I don't know."

The charm of the beach is its tiny scale, with only a few dozen umbrellas and loungers permitted. Today, at the height of the season, would-be bathers must book up to five days in advance. Couples pay €57.50 for a day, which buys them the use of a changing cabin, an umbrella and two sun loungers.

Ms Mozer, whose boyfriend is the singer-songwriter Zucchero, one of Italy's biggest pop stars, said: "I love this place ... People should understand its natural richness. This is a very little harbour, it's not made to be turned into a great port. Already traffic is tight on the road. No continued expansion is possible. We want to keep it the way it is. If they do this, it will be a big drama."

Eco del Mare was bought by her father, Francesco, a Swiss from Geneva, in the early 1950s. "When he first came here there was nothing," she related. "The only way to get down to the beach was by rope. When my father bought the land, all the locals said he was mad." Today, access from the clifftop is by lift, but the Mozers have taken pains to preserve the beach's secluded charm.

Yet Ms Mozer may be unable to prevent its sale. "I hope it won't happen," she said, "but I will respect my parents' decision. They made Eco del Mare what it is, and it is up to them."

The threat to the resort's future comes on the heels of controversial new developments in other Italian beauty spots, including the millionaires' harbour of Portofino, and Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, where Silvio Berlusconi has constructed a "James Bond tunnel" to allow secure access to his villa by VIP guests such as Tony Blair, who arrives next week.

"This is exactly the reality of the phrase 'Italy for sale'," lamented Rino Vacaro, a writer and former president of Italianostra, one of Italy's most vigorous environmental groups. "What's happening to our natural heritage is tragic. The laws and regulations are so unclear that people can do whatever they want and get away with it."

A spokesman for Mr Abramovich denied the billionaire's interest in the purchase. "This week I was asked if it was true that he was planning to buy a chain of Swedish gas stations," he said. But Eco del Mare, which has hosted VIPs from Jackie Onassis to Silvio Berlusconi, would be a more impressive trophy for the Russian than a petrol pump in Stockholm.

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