I’ve always felt that if you don’t leave room for chance, spontaneity and even “mistakes” in your travels, you’ll miss out on some of the best memories.
Case in point: I thought I knew Liguria—the Italian Riviera—well. Portofino, Cinque Terre, Portovenere—all the achingly beautiful spots. And I keep returning. One time, a couldn’t find a single Airbnb apartment in Cinque Terre, and had to keep looking west. Eventually, I took a chance on Sori, a town I’d never heard of, and ended up in a room high on the hill above the train station, where an Italian youth named Filippo managed the guests for the mansion he shared with his mom. He helped me schlep my bags up, and I was rewarded with an adorable suite with double doors that overlooked a thriving lemon tree.
I fell in love with Sori, with its dark sand beach, its octopus salad, and its focaccia. So, about 18 months ago, on my first trip out of the country during the pandemic, I hopped the train from the Cinque Terre town of Riomaggiore, where I was staying this time, to return to Sori for the day.
But my phone lost its signal, there were no signs to be seen from the train windows, and no announcement, of course, so I missed the stop. I got off as soon as I could, outside Genova, at the Genova Nervi station. Never heard of it.
But, looking inland, I saw towering palms and stately villas, so I figured that there must be something to this place. I couldn’t see the water without entering some kind of circular tunnel, which spit me out onto a seaside promenade with gorgeous water views. Thrilled by what my missed stop had led me to, I walked along above the Ligurian Sea. Something told me to keep going, and after about 10 minutes, I happened on a place not just unusual, but for me, a swimmer, astounding.
It was a small café and beach club—except the “beach” was a seawater pool that had been carved dramatically from the rocky coast. A strapping tattooed lifeguard kept watch over the glistening jade-colored water. Once in a while, the roiling sea would throw a frothy wave into the pool. The Italians like their civilizing effect on nature, so there were umbrellas and lounge chairs for hire, and in the restaurant above, fresh-squeezed orange juice and cornettos, the Italian version of a croissant (which is also called brioche in Northern Italy). Once I got in the pool, I never wanted to leave.
Want to stay in Liguria in high style, explore the hidden towns, and get happily lost the way I did? Then you’ll want to book a suite at Hotel Splendido, a Belmond hotel that has hosted the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z. The iconic hotel, a former Benedictine monastery that goes back centuries, peeks out from the lush and flowering hillside above the main piazza and marina in Portofino. And yes, it has its own famous pool, tucked in between the Canary Island palms.
Want to know the name of lido club where the rock pool is located? I’ll need 10 people to ask me in the Comments section.