Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Il Pellicano : Summer at the Tuscan seaside

There is nothing,but nothing,that can compare with a good Italian hotel. The French can on occasion do luxury better,the Swiss can be more efficient and the Brits are pretty good at faded grandeur and formality but the best Italian hotels can combine all of these traits and add on warmth and style. Only in Italy can you arrive at a hotel for the first time and be greeted as if you are a long lost friend.
At the end of the summer we packed up the car and left landlocked Umbria for the Tuscan coast. Our destination was the Il Pellicano hotel at Porto Ercole on the Argentaria peninsula south of Pisa. We had tried for four months to get a reservation for the weekend but they were always booked solid, so when they phoned to say they had a vacancy we leapt at it. We had some concerns - Trip Advisor reviews fall into two clearly defined categories. Those who rave about the hotel and say it's the best in the world and those who say it is an over rated rip-off. The reality,as always, lies somewhere between the two.
It is not the best hotel in the world ( although that must be a subjective call ). Nor is it the best in Italy, that accolade could more reasonably go to establishments in Sorrento or on the northern lakes. It is however particularly well run, situated on a rare stretch of unspoilt coastline, and with a quite exceptional multi-lingual staff that combine charm and efficiency but avoid familiarity. The rooms are simply furnished ,which works well in a seaside resort , and the common areas were full of comfortable sofas and chairs. Best of all there were huge powerful showers.
It is expensive - think upper end London or Paris. This can in large part be explained by the fact that it is only open for the summer ( in other words you have to cover your running and financing costs over 12 rather than 52 weeks ) and by the need to hire excellent staff in a highly competitive market. The hotel has won a Michelin star, and the restaurant is excellent. The number of well heeled French guests when we dined there pays tribute to the quality of the food. If there was a gripe it is the trend in hotel restaurants like this to become 'international' at the expense of their own Italian and Tuscan culinary traditions. We could in all honesty have been eating at any 5 star restaurant in Europe.Perhaps that is what the large number of Russians who were there want.
For a seaside break Il Pellicano, although expensive, is an excellent choice. To eat outside overlooking the sea is close to magical and the bar and terraces are well situated to enjoy the breezes from the ocean. Although it doesn't have a sandy beach it does have a fresh water pool and a sun bathing area on the rocks by the edge of the water.
Perfection would be one of the private villas set on the hills above the main building with an uninterrupted view of the Tyrrhenian and meals served under the palms in the beautifully maintained gardens - in high season that is Russian oligarch territory.

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