After five days of walking in Rome–it is after all, the most efficient transportation
in a city that was never meant for cars–a change of pace seemed called for. A bit
of calm and a dollop of discovery would be perfect. We found both at Il Pellicano
in the well-known Italian resort village of Porto Ercole on the Argentario
When you drive across the small bridge that links the peninsula to the mainland
the terrain is flat. Tall trees, precisely planted, line the wide road. Not a particularly
interesting landscape–an occasional gas station and a few road signs indicating the
best route to Porto Ercole. Just before the town another sign shaped as an arrow
points to Il Pellicano. Abruptly, the terrain changes. Soon you are climbing. Soon
after, the route evolves into a prototypical Italian hairpin road hugging the mountainside.
Only the passenger can appreciate the spectacular view of the sea and the sailboats
below. Then, just as unexpectedly, another sign points downward and within a few
minutes you enter the grounds of Il Pellicano, one of Europe's superb perched hotels.
Poised between the mountain as its backdrop and the Tyrrhenian Sea as its
foreground this small, 32 room, terra-cotta villa and cottages offer exactly the
right blend of simplicity and luxury–in its furnishings and its surroundings. A guest
feels as though he is entering a home, not a hotel. A rather large home to be sure,
with a welcoming foyer and sitting rooms, indoors and outdoors. Field flowers artfully
arranged on end tables and coffee tables, a larger bouquet on the desk set the tone.
As charming as they are, so too is a pretty young woman named Cinzia Fanciulli, the
concierge. Charm is only one of her assets. Competence is another.
As you pass through the corridors on the way to your room you notice games–backgammon
boards, chess and checkers resting on the shelf. There is a billiards room and the
table top games of skill my sons played as teenagers. Books line the library walls
and comfortable sofas and chairs are arranged in front of a fireplace. You notice
a clothing shop discreetly tucked off the foyer–almost a large closet—nothing more,
and make a mental note to stop in. When you do, you find that it is carefully stocked
with designer bathing suits and resort wear for both men and women.
An eclectic mix of antique country furniture and fresh woven fabrics makes for
a smartly sophisticated seaside decor. A small writing table, a curtain covered closet
and a handsome, Etruscan-inspired painted headboard bring an approving nod. Yes,
this is a room we will enjoy living in. The patio outside the room is spacious. The
chaise lounges, wide and soft. The table, inviting for a private breakfast by the
sea. Only the birds will visit after the waiter has left your tray. For a little
while you entertain thoughts of cocooning.
But the view from your terrace is enticing–a large and inviting swimming pool
several levels down and lower still, a small private beach. A good book, lunch, a
nap, a stroll, sailing or simply staring at the sky, the changing colors of the sea
and the monolithic rocks that remind you of Capri. And when you are sated with sea
air, a walk through the terraced gardens is a pleasant distraction. Further afield,
the fashionable fishing village of Porto Ercole is only a short ride away. Markets
line the seaside quay and because this is Italy, shellfish of every variety and a
creditable assortment of fish, fresh enough to have twinkling eyes, are arranged
in the most artistic patterns imaginable. On the drive back, take a detour to the
medieval castle that dominates the landscape.
Dinner at Il Pellicano is a formal affair. The dining room is small, comfortable
and subterranean and while the staff is attentive and solicitous, and the menu is
varied enough, the kitchen could stand some beefing-up to meet the hotel's general
level of excellence. Finally, ask Fanciulli to tell you how Il Pellicano got its
name. It's a great romantic tale right out of Hollywood. Truly.
Il Pellicano, Cala dei Santi, 58018, Porto Ercole, Italy, tel. 39-0564-83-38-01,
is a member of Relaix & Chateaux, tel. 212-856-0115. Rates start at $106
per night. www.pellicanohotel.com/
– Elaine B. Steiner