My daughter is yet again nagging and lacking in understanding... "I am on the phone, this is really important" I say as I speak to my friends at the Grand Hotel Miramare in Italy, with the hope (depending on how much nagging goes on) that I will manage to complete my reservations for my annual and may I add well earned retreat- The Grand Hotel Miramare in Santa Margherita, Italy.
I have always felt that either my mom must have had an affair with il postino (the postman) , who has been Italian or somewhere along the family line, someone must have been Italian. How else would you explain my love and passion for anything Italian? Cavalli, Missoni, Portofino, Pesto, gelato, Cappuccino, to name few!
When I go on vacation, perhaps more often than others, I love to be pampered. I love to feel like I am the only guest at the hotel, and have everyone run after me, with a towel by the pool, the sunscreen, the espresso, actually better even Aperol (italy's most refreshing aperitif).
Several years ago while booking my annual vacation to the South of France, I decided to venture further- Italy. I almost felt like I was committing adultery, and those who know me understand what I mean... I love anything french. So how could I possibly even entertain the thought of vacationing in Italy?
But when I found under "leading hotels of the world's" website The Grand Hotel Miramare in Santa Margherita, even the hotel Byblos in St. Tropez was hardly exciting.
The vacation of a life time (I didn't know that at the time) was only a few keyboard clicks away!
"Grand hotel Miramare bonjorno", just the accent, the language took me back years when I was studying Italian at Dante alighieri, so I thought to myself "hey if this is not going to be as promising as it may appear on the website, I can practice my italian".
Hotel reservations done, flights booked, all that is left for me is to pack my "valigia" (suitcase in Italian) and Alora!
I fly to Genoa, one of the biggest ports in Europe, to be greeted by our driver, of course arrange by, now my friend Bruno- the hotel's biggest asset, the concierge. We are on our way, a 30 minute drive through the beautiful Italian scenery towards the coast. I can't wait!
Qui andiamo (here we go) we arrive at the Italian riviera, also known as the jewel of the Riviera, not incidentally of course, it is breathtaking! from this point all that is on my mind is "I wonder if there is a jewish community here? I wonder if there is a jewish school? and what would a small 4 bedroom sea front of course would cost?" I have discovered my soul mate- his name is Italy!!
We arrive at the hotel to be greeted by the friendly staff. "ciao signora Lazarus? come esta" says the friendly concierge, yes Bruno. The nagging is starting all over again "mummy I'm hungry, mummy I'm thirsty" Are you guys kiddin'? did you see the pool? did you see the gorgeous purple/ fuchia buganvilla at the entrance? how can you even think of food now? I just want to explore this gorgeous property, I am in Jewish girl central.
At that point since my luggage magically gone to my room, Bruno entertains the girls while I am trying to take it all in. "Signora Lazarus, we have arranged the sitter she will be here shortly" Bruno assures me. That is one of the things I love the most, hotel staff that gets it, that understands their guests needs.
I arrive at the room, in time to shower change before heading to dinner downstairs, at one of the Riviera's best restaurants, at the hotel of course. On my way downstairs I spot the back yard of the hotel, now let me just stop here and tell you, that if you offered me to pitch a tent and live there, I would in a heart beat! (maybe not). This property is surrounded by some of the Mediterranean's most beautiful and lush greenery. I am enjoying the lavender, beautiful bouganvillas and all the colorful flowers.
On the way to the restaurant, Jean Lucca (another lovely concierge) asks me if I would like to have an aperitif on the verandah? "what a question I think to myself, is the pope catholic?" while enjoying the view of the mediterranean bay who boasts some of the most beautiful homes and sunset on this gorgeous verandah, a friendly gentleman (they all are in Italy darling) comes over to introduce himself.
"Ciao, I am Andrea Fustinoni, (owner of the hotel) is everything to your satisfaction madam"? "oh gosh it is, molto bene" (very well) I reply. After a long, and extremely interesting conversation with Mr Fustinoni, I discover we share many passions, but two profoundly. One is Israel and Jewish affairs, the other is the arts.
I am always extremely faschinated by non Jewish people who are so interested, informed and passionate in equal measure by Israel. I later find (not from Mr. Fustinoni, being the modest self he is) that his father saved many Jews during the war. At that point i'm in love! Italian boy, loves Israel and interested in the arts? bingo! I am about to convert this boy..... not really, he is involved.
Mr. Fustinoni (Andrea to me) escorts me to dinner and assures me that if there's anything I need, the hotel will take care of. Tours, shopping trips (high on the agenda), restaurants reservations etc.
After the most simply delicious dinner I am ready for bed, its been a long day and I have a very busy day ahead of me tomorrow. After breakfast I am running to Portofino, an easy 5km away jog, from there I return by texi boat to the hotel, change and go shopping.
Santa Margherita is a small quaint fishing village that is summer home to some of Italy's elite. It has a laid back feel, fab restaurants and great shopping.
I am in a rush since Mr Fustinoni has asked me to join him for lunch by the pool. I am changing into my St. Tropezian kaftan and I am good to go. When I arrive by the pool where the lovely sitter hands me my girls, I notice this amazing buffet. oops there must have been a mistake, there's a wedding about to start here. Let me get my kids out of here. But just than Mr. Fustinoni calls me. He shows me around the buffet and arranges for a waiter to take care of us. Wait a minute I think to myself, I should have jogged after lunch not after breakfast? look at this? its like a greek wedding! I am sitting for lunch with my new BFF and my girls, what can be better? at that moment my girls discover the best Pasta Pesto Liguria in the world, and all my meals planning for the vacation are sorted out. From now on its only Past Pesto. fine by me of course.
Now, that we have slowed down to the riviera's beat, I am forgetting about shopping and chilling out by the most beautiful pool over looking the Mediterranean bay.
After a week of the same routine, which we of course loved, (how not?) we are living to go back home. I am heartbroken! devastation sinks in as my luggage is loaded into our drivers car, and we are saying our goodbyes with tears to the wonderful staff who took care of us. I hug Bruno, I kiss Andrea Fustinoni and I assure them we will be back the following summer. How can we not? these people took care of us as if we were not only VIP guests but as if we were family. A lot to be said about family owned hotels.
On the way to the airport (still in tears) I see Sylverster Stalone and his wife (or one of them) walking on the promenande and I am filled with envy. The town is buzzy, the energy is so amazing I can hardly wait for next summer to be back.
That was (and remains) one of my best vacations ever! We have been friends and regular visitors to this wonderful family owned hotel. Make sure you get your reservations in before the end of April as they sell out every year. Not surprising.
And if you are there in September, which is typically when we go, Aperol aperitif is on me!