Fine Italian Living in the Italian Riviera

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Portofino, Santa Margherita, and Rapallo
September 5 – 6, 2014

The Italian Riviera is apparently where wealthy Italians vacation. There you’ll find yachts that only get bigger as you make your way towards Portofino, crystal clear blue water, fine dining, and well dressed handsome Italians.

Portofino. High-end shopping, the most expensive restaurants I’ve seen on this trip, yachts larger than the average person’s home, Portofino is definitely a town for the rich and famous. While visiting, I was fortunate enough to witness a wedding and glamorous Italians dressed to impress. There is something about well-dressed Italian men… they can pull off bright colored tailored suits, pastel pants, and still look handsomely masculine. Try that in America and you’ll get someone who may look like a ‘douche’ lol.

While there are many high-end designer shops in Portofino, I stumbled upon a shop called Donna Lia and immediately fell in love with all the handcrafted leather and snakeskin bags. The design and craftsmanship was of top quality and I had not seen any other bags like it while on this trip.

The designer’s name is Giancarlo Nevola and he is supposedly a well-known designer in Italy. All of his bags are unique and handmade in Milan – the collection can be viewed at http://www.reptileshouse.it. During this trip, I had been searching for the perfect leather backpack and other than the Brics (which is like the Italian Coach) bag I saw in Bellaggio for €390, I couldn’t find one that my heart desired. Thinking I would not be able to find a leather backpack in Italy to take home as my prized possession, I ended up buying one in Riomaggiore from a typical touristy shop located along the town’s main street. The quality of the leather is great (confirmed by the sales woman at Donna Lia as well), but the bag is simple, elegant and the style is traditional for backpacks – drawstring top with two front pockets.

These Giancarlo Nevola bags were very unique and a part of a limited collection. The price tag? €490 (€405 after a store discount and EU tax refund) and €790 for the stunning crocodile version. In the states, I think the leather backpack would easily cost over $1000 and crocodile over $2000. After letting my excitement settle for 3 hours while I explored the town of the rich, climbing the hill to the lighthouse, I left Portofino with a fancy Donna Lia boutique shopping bag on my shoulder and inside…. what I am going to call a life investment since this bag should last a lifetime.

Just around the corner from Portofino is Paraggi, a beautiful cove with blue water that is out of this world! It’s enclosed by cliffs, the swimming area is secluded, and it is absolutely gorgeous! I unfortunately did not have time to stop since I ended up meeting a few girls from Santa Barbara but definitely would have liked to. I ended my day in Portofino sipping an Aperol Spritz at a bar that had been built into an old sea castle near Santa Margherita.

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Santa Margherita. The promenade is manicured to perfection with flowers hanging over the street lights and bright pastel colored buildings serving as the perfect backdrop to all Italian Riviera photos. Along the promenade, you’ll find restaurants, expensive boutiques, and a lot of antique stores. While a portion of Santa Margherita is a marina, there plenty of beaches lining the inside of the cove. There is a plethora of private beaches where a cover of €10 grants you entrance as well as a lounge chair and umbrella. Little slivers of public beaches exist where you can lay out on the rocks but you’ll find most Italians and other Europeans sunbathing on the comfort of a lounge chair.

While in Santa Margherita, I did stumble upon a bakery called Pinamonti along Via dell’Arco (a small side street). Everyone had talked about the amazing focaccia in the region and while I had plenty of tasty focaccia on this trip, this was truly by far the best! It was noticeably different in that it was light and fluffy, not dry, and you could taste the olive oil that had been baked into it.

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Rapallo. Still holding a sense of class and stature, Rapallo is the least fancy of the three towns. The wide and flower lined promenade is lovely to walk along and there is an old castle at the end. Along Via Giuseppe Mazzini, there are plenty of shops, bars, bakeries, and many pasta shops. Now these pasta fresca (fresh pasta) shops are unique in that all they do is make fresh pasta! From tortellini to tagliatelle to custom ravioli – everything looked so delicious. The catch – unless you have a kitchen or someone to cook it for you, you won’t be able to try/buy it :(. I was so bummed because the fresh homemade pasta looked so delicious! However, I’m sure these shops supply many of the surrounding restaurants with homemade pasta so I’m sure some may have ended up on my plate.

I only spent two days in Portofino, Santa Margherita, and Rapallo and that was just enough to see the towns. I could have used another day to layout on the beach but I had  just come from almost a week on Lake Como and a few days in Cinque Terre.

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After two nights, I headed to Genova/Genoa for one day before my flight back to New York. If I could do it over again, I would completely skip Genova as the city was dirty and run down. The only nice thing I experienced was my 5-star hotel and it’s rooftop since everything was closed. Genova is really a fly-in city…. fly into Genova and immediately take the train south to one of Italy’s top riviera destinations.

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