Au Revoir France, Ciao Italy. I have to say goodbye to France but without regret. The weather was lovely, the scenery beautiful and the food delicious. Oh, the food…olives, tapenade, ratatouille, foie gras, cheese, macaroons, and wonderful wine.
After leaving Vence, my husband and I drove the coast road along the Cote d’Azur. The weather has been warm so there was a little haze in the air but otherwise perfect. Our last stop in France was the lovely border town of Menton. We walked along the strand where we marveled at the many beach clubs, bars and restaurants along the sand at the edge of the Mediterranean.
Ciao Italy. After crossing into Italy, we continued along the coast road. Coast road is actually a deceiving word, as so much of the time you are on a road that winds and twists its way through the coastal hills covered with olive trees and greenhouses. This area is a famous flower growing region.
My husband had a dream of finding the ultimate little seafood restaurant for lunch and we lucked into finding one in the small town of Ospedaletti, which is on the outskirts of San Remo. Spotting a sign for Restaurant Byblos, we headed down a step road that lead to the water. This was a truly wonderful discovery on the Ligurian Coast. We had no idea that it is a favorite restaurant of locals from San Remo and beyond and listed in the Michelin Guide. The restaurant is on the beach and all tables have a sea view. You can dine at tables both inside and outside.
Byblos was my husbands dream come true. First, everyone was Italian…no tourist trap here. Second, the menu was totally seafood. For an appetizer, there was a warm salad of octopus and potatoes, dressed with local olive oil.
Our main courses were frita misto (an assortment of fried fresh seafood) and a fresh pasta dish of prawns, zucchini and fresh tomato.
Desserts were a milliflori stuffed with pastry cream, fresh peaches and strawberries and a canolli.
After lunch, we hopped onto the Autostrata de Fiori and headed to our destination of Santa Margherita, Italy, and the Grand Hotel Miramare. The Miramare was one of the first grand hotels in Santa Margherita, converted from a villa in 1903.
Santa Margherita is a charming seaside town from a bygone era. It has a harbor filled with yachts and a small fishing fleet.
There is an esplanade lined with palms, flowers, fountains and a carousel. People walk through town to the many cafes, gelateria, restaurants and bars that have tables laid out on the sidewalks.
On one of the back streets that was closed to traffic, we found a small pizzeria run by a husband and wife who have set six small tables outside. After a large lunch, we shared a pizza of prosciutto and arugula for dinner accompanied by a carafe of local white wine. The perfect way to end our first day in Italy.
The town itself is located just a couple of miles away from the chic and expensive town of Portofino in one direction and some forty miles away from Cinque Terre in the other direction. Santa Margherita is a perfect place to stay, making day trips by car or the ferry.
We explored this section of the Ligurian Riviera before heading to Portofino. If you have the chance to visit this area…do not miss Portofino. The town is everything you have imagined Italy to be. From its high points, you look down at the turquoise water with small fishing boats and mega yachts anchored in the harbor.
Homes, hotels, boutiques and cafes line the water and climb the hills above. Simply breathtaking!
We met a lovely couple staying at our hotel that told us not to miss Restorante Puny in Portofino. It was also recommended by the Concierge at our hotel as a wonderful restaurant specializing in fresh seafood. Everyone was right in the recommendation. It was located in the heart of the piazza overlooking the harbor. We started with a frutti di mere, consisting of sliced small squid and prawns that was lightly dressed with local olive oil and lemon.
For a second course we had a pappardelle pasta that was special to the region. The sauce is a mixture of pesto and a fresh tomato cream sauce. The pasta was incredibly light and delicious.
Our main course was a fresh local sea bream that was baked in a crust of sea salt.
After our waiter deboned with fish, it was dressed with olive oil.
I have had this dish before, but never this good. Of course, I had to try the house special dessert, which was an egg caramel custard similar to flan with raisins.
I am sitting on the front terrace of our hotel this evening writing this post. The lights of Portofino are twinkling in the distance. Believe it or not, this is the only place that I can get WiFi. Here’s hoping that the WiFi will stay on long enough for me to publish. I hope you have enjoyed the trip so far. Our next stop on our journey will be Reggio Emilia.