Trail of the Unexpected: La dolce vita lives and lunches at the Hotel Splendido

The best travel tip I ever had came from my late father. If you don't have the money to stay in a smart hotel, he said, then stay somewhere cheap but try to muster enough for lunch in the posh place. Then you can legitimately arrive early, linger all afternoon, and feel as though you're part of the beau monde. After all, who needs a cavernous bedroom with swags on the tails and tails on the swags? All you need is a bed. But every holiday should have a long, lazy lunch in fabulous surroundings, then an hour or two by a sparkling pool, ideally with waiters providing small chilled aerosols of mist to stop you overheating. If you can afford to stay the night, so much the better. If you can't, you've still had a five-star experience.

All of which brings me – not to mention my wife, three children, and my daughter Eleanor's best friend, TJ – to the celebrated Hotel Splendido in Portofino, on the Italian Riviera. After spending a week in a rented and fairly basic Ligurian villa, we had a day and a night left before our flight back to Birmingham from Nice. So we booked ourselves into a two-star hotel in a shabby backstreet in nearby Santa Margherita Ligure, and then descended for lunch at the Splendido, which I had wanted to visit long before Wayne and Coleen Rooney had part of their wedding celebrations there (a detail that excited my sons, if not my wife).

I could sense my father looking through his celestial binoculars and nodding with approval, especially when we spilt out of our dusty hire car looking like the Clampetts of Beverly Hills, and placed it in the reliable hands of a uniformed doorman. My dad was wont to do the same with his Austin Cambridge.

Now, Wayne and Coleen might not be known for their innate class and discernment, but they got it right by putting their guests up at the Splendido. Everything about the place whispers glamour, from the black-and-white photographs of its most famous guests festooning the walls (Maria Callas, Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles, Alain Delon, and a shrivelled, sour-looking Duke and Duchess of Windsor), to the spectacular outlook over the holiday homes of Italy's titans of fashion and industry – Dolce and Gabbana, the Agnellis, the Pirelli tyre people – to the shimmering Mediterranean beyond.

Until the 16th century, the building was a monastery, and you can always rely on ascetics for a good view – although the monks would doubtless be appalled at the way the place has been claimed by la dolce vita. In 1901, Ruggero Valentini, the man who realised Portofino's potential as a tourist haven, turned it into a hotel.

The Hollywood stars started coming in the 1950s and they're coming still. Had we arrived the previous Thursday, an indiscreet member of staff told us, we might well have bumped into Michael Douglas. The Tuesday before that, Kim Basinger. And two weeks earlier, Jennifer Lopez had been for dinner with Signor Dolce and Signor Gabbana.

In these star-spangled surroundings, we all felt that pre-prandial drinks were obligatory, although not before our youngest child, 10-year-old Jacob, who has a well-developed sense of occasion, had retired to the loo and reappeared not only with his hair carefully combed, but also wearing a crisp, white shirt. "You a-look a-like a waiter," said the waiter. It wasn't really the impression Jacob was aiming for – he had Brad Pitt more in mind – but he laughed anyway. The service throughout was cheerful and attentive, but without the genuflection that can sometimes put you on edge in the world's great hotels.

Lunch, in the outdoor Terrazza restaurant, was simply superb. It started with a bewildering array of breads made in the hotel kitchens. "I basically want to marry that bread basket," chirped Jacob, his shirt already looking less crisp and indeed less white, now bearing a few spots of extra-virgin olive oil (needless to say, made especially for the Splendido).

We were then brought a platter of four different kinds of mozzarella, a revelation to those of us who thought there was only Italian and Danish. As a main course the children had fantastic spaghettini con vongole, while my wife and I shared sea bass so fresh that its friends couldn't even have noticed it had gone.

After the further hour or so it took to demolish a perfect tiramisu, we staked our somewhat tenuous claim to some poolside sunbeds and, alongside a pair of Russian oligarchs and their trophy wives, passed one of the most contented holiday afternoons I can remember, even heading back to our shabby backstreet with a collective spring in our step.

Hotel Splendido, Salita Baratta, Portofino, Genoa, Liguria, Italy (00 39 0185 267 801; hotelsplendido.com ). Lunch at Terrazza costs from around €85 per person, excluding drinks. For reservations, call 0845 077 2222 (UK only) or email reservations@splendido.net.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones