VELE AT IMPERIALE AND BEACH RESTAURANTS – II

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I’ve always liked northern Italy more than the south. Natural beauty, cultural sophistication and social welfare have always been prominent in determining my preferences.

The coasts of Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Cinque Terre provide numerous delights.

The Imperiale is an elegant hotel that hails from the Belle Époque along the Italian Riviera, overlooking the Harbor of Portofino. The hotel boasts a private beach, but to get down to it, you need to cross a busy street. Unlike the task that awaits guests at the Hotel du Cap Ferrat, Carlton, Negresco or Imperiale Garoupe, however, there’s no need to take your life in your hands and try and dodge traffic to reach the sea. Instead, crossing is a breeze thanks to an attractive bridge that brings you over the road; after that, make your way through a pretty garden, twisting your way down past flowers and statues. It’s quite out of the question, however, to retrace your steps, given how much the steep hill is likely to take out of you. Instead, board the “macchina” and head up to the top with this miniature cable car.

The hotel’s beach itself is the type that I love; there’s no sand, and you enter the sea from a stone pier. It’s great if a person doesn’t get their feet all full of sand, but this case of affairs presents two problems of their own: First, if you first went long ago, you’ll notice that the heavy maritime traffic in the cove has changed the sea. Second, because space is at a premium on the beach, you can’t rotate your deckchair to maximize your exposure to the rays of the sun; if that’s the way you have been deployed, you must continue to lie in the same position with a suitable sense of military discipline. If you do wish to desert your position, however, you can head right over to Le Vele Grill for a prosecco and, if you happen to be hungry as well, you could nibble on some cheesy mozzarella or a few slices of prosciutto. Or you could even splash about in the pool, which is filled with heated water from the sea, before returning to your position.

In contrast to me, though, you might prefer southern Italy, the Amalfi coast and the islands in the Bay of Naples. If that’s the case, let me share a few thoughts about a number of beach restaurants in the area.

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It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that the restaurant at Il Riccio Beach Club and Restaurant on Capri is one of the best beach restaurants around. As a matter of fact, it would appear that Michelin must share my opinion, as it has awarded Il Riccio with a macaroon. Its view, quality of the clientele, fare (particularly the desserts) and the service is truly excellent. I’ve already touched on the place extensively in my piece “The Paradise of Il Riccio after the Inferno of the Marina Grande.” The problem is, ironically, the lack of a beach at the “beach club!” Apart from a few sunbeds, you can’t find anything that fulfills the requirement of what the term “beach” ostensibly entails. The sea is way down below, and even if you’ve mentally prepared yourself for the descent, using the ladder to actually lower yourself into the water is a non-starter, unless you happen to be a pro at chin-ups or have gone on tour with Cirque de Soleil. The restaurant is most certainly not cheap, but at least you can be sure you’re getting what you paid for – especially if you happen upon an enjoyable evening following a magnificent sunset!

Unlike the one on Capri, the branch of the Il Riccio Beach Club in Bodrum has both a restaurant and beach. The restaurant’s kitchen is not as well-endowed as the one on Capri, but it doesn’t lack in ambiance. It’s more of a meeting place for those that want to see and be seen far from town. At the same time, however, its beach is all by its lonesome. Despite a beautiful sea and all manner of amenities and comfort, no matter when I go, I almost never see anyone swimming. For further comments on the place, check out my piece “Poached sea bass and Il Riccio Bodrum.” If you don’t entertain great expectations and don’t mind the somewhat high bill, you can enjoy a unique dinner at the beach restaurant.

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Although Capri is an island, there are only a limited number of places to get into the water; instead, its neighboring island of Ischia offers more opportunities on this front. Still, one of the best beaches and beach restaurants on Capri – actually, make that the best – is Da Luigi. Nestled between the rocks, access to the sea is supplied comfortably by a stone pier. Famous and expensive, its restaurant even draws people who come by boat just for the food without stopping for a swim. The kitchen’s fish and the pasta stand out from the rest but, caveat emptor, when it’s busy – and it is particularly so in August – you might have to wait for service while the waiters might fall prey to grumpiness. My recommendation? Come by boat in September, enjoy a bit of a swim, have a great meal up above and then return by sea.

The Bay of Naples’ biggest and most verdant island is Ischia. Next in size is Capri, while the tiniest is Procida, which owes its fame in part to the film “Il Postino.” There’s a limited amount of space at the private beach belonging to the San Montano Hotel on Ischia, which is located by a small but beautiful cove accessible by vehicle from the hotel. The sea is pure and safe, but gets particularly busy on weekends. Moreover, the amenities in terms of food and drink are not particularly enticing. At the same time, the Acropoli Bar, which is situated next to various pools belonging to the hotel, is excellent, both thanks to its view overlooking Lacco Ameno and its menu. I’ve previously related my impressions of the hotel’s main restaurant in “Finding Serenity at La Bourgainvilla.”

It’s possible to have a swim in front of La Conchiglia on Procida, but just accessing the restaurant is no easy task – I hope you’ve perused the difficulties in question in my piece “Conchiglia the Destination, Il Postino the Consolation.”

But out of all beach restaurants, my favorites have to be a pair that happen to be located by the same cove in Bodrum: Garden Grill and Manzara. I’ve already discussed the former in “Anisa and Aslan’s Ocean.” Both of them operate under the aegis of Hapimag, which is only open to members. Unlike the Garden Grill, Manzara’s tables are not located where the sea meets the sand; instead, they’re on top of the dike, just where the sand ends. During the day, you can rise from the beach and reach your table in just a few steps; after consuming your food and imbibing your beer, it’s just a few steps until you can be back in the sea once more. They serve good fish, although their meze is nothing to write home about. On some nights, there’s even live music. What tops it all off, though, is the sight of a tranquil cove ringed on both sides by pine trees extending down to the water, fish frolicking in an unspoiled, blue-flagged sea and, if you’re lucky, a majestic full moon…

If all this doesn’t convince you to down another glass, then what will?

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