Buffed and polished mini boulevards bedecked with couture awnings; hot flashes of sunlight bounced off Cartier- and Bulgari-clad wrists while vintage upcycled bicycles whistled by shop entrances framed with glinting gold topiary. I dodged little Lamborghini-shaped go-carts as they chugged round the dappled tree-lined roundabout and realised why the Principe Hotel was the perfect destination in this jewellery-rich toy town.
Arriving at the hotel, we’d been greeted by a masculine Cubist ménage à trois of marble, glass and wood, discreetly set behind the lush green hedges typical of the avenues surrounding Forte dei Marmi. Our welcome from the reception staff echoed the style of the Italian furniture inside – minimalist. Not put off by the frost in the air from the icy blonde, I took time to breathe in the sleek and chic styling. My personal taste doesn’t usually thrill at contemporary design, but Principe is undoubtedly elegant; fashion-forward yet Midcentury Modern. The illuminated marble bar in the open-plan lobby is impressive: since the region of Versilia is famed for its marble (Forte dei Marmi translates as ‘fortress of marble’), I was delighted that it features in style here at the Principe.
Ensconced in our room with its black four-poster, Mr Smith became excited by the all-glass bathroom and the view it offers of the rainshower. Upon discovering that our butter-soft circular leather sofa was revolving, he quickly worked out that he could lounge facing magnificent Tuscany or spin round for a shower scene. Unlucky for him there are modesty curtains should you so desire.
Keen to catch the late afternoon sun, we strolled the seven minutes into Forte dei Marmi in search of an Aperol spritz. Though the town’s reputation for an ultra-luxe clientele may seem intimidating, the locals are incredibly charming, and helpful. Strolling along, I broke a nail on my bag clasp; within seconds, spotted by a glam Italian octogenarian with a glossy black mane, she sprung from her shop door and ushered me towards a local manicurist. Emergency averted, we had a balmy evening gorging on local delicacies and people-watching. Hearing six different languages in 10 minutes was truly continental. (A word of caution: swing your latest Miu Miu bag around like the big-haired Italians doing the same, be prepared for a swarm of men dangling fakes for sale.)
Before long, Hotel Principe lured us back for a nightcap. I was delighted to make the acquaintance of bartender Nicola back at that fabulous marble bar. Most people go to the Versilia coast for the sun, sea and sand – I can happily sunworship like a dedicated disciple – but I wanted to know what else this beach town could offer. When I casually enquired if there is much in the way of local non-beach-related culture, he left us with an outstanding choice of grappas and dessert wine, and re-appeared 15 minutes later as discreetly as he’d left, with a folder of print-outs from the concierge, kindly recommending his own favourite places too… Along with a final grappa to take to our room.
Pastel-blue vintage bikes parked in the Principe forecourt insisted we sample them the next morning. Mr Smith led the way with me pootling behind, my Fifties’ petticoats flapping in the breeze giving a few cars something to beep at. Like homing pigeons we pitched up at the Principe’s private beach and were delighted to find a relaxed rustic Italian restaurant in contrast to the hotel’s modern vibe. Simple and chic, it has cute green beach huts and muslin-draped cabanas. Italy’s not best known for having clean beaches but this is magnifico… as was our lunch of fresh razor clams, mussels and anchovies and warm pistachio crème brûlée.
Next we ventured to nearby Cinque Terre to stock up on non-shopping-related culture. The coastal trails are picture-book perfect with pastel multi-coloured villages clustered and perched on rocky outcrops with pocket-size ports in each. Nicola’s recommendations were spot-on, in particular Porto Venere with its black-and-white stripy church.
Mr Smith had reserved dinner at the Principe, so I decided to revive before aperitivo. The hotel spa offers a great choice of massages, and despite being intrigued by the ‘golf ball treatment’, I plumped for an ‘ego massage’. Blissed out after an hour, I took a dip in the pool followed by a scented and colourfully lit ‘emotion shower’. Realising Mr Smith would soon be sending out a search party, I headed back to the room to coif for dinner.
Dusk’s ‘magic hour’ had been recommended by Nicola, in particular from the top-floor cocktail bar and terrace. I’ve seen some sunsets, but this was impressive. Floor-to-ceiling windows open out onto a panoramic-view terrace. Friendly staff brought us excellent aperitivi, and a guest DJ was spinning lounge music to keep the mood upbeat. My floor-length gown matched the colour of the marble bar just to make me feel even more at home, and I noticed all the guests were exceptionally good looking.
My half-Italian Mr Smith persuaded me to try the 10-course degustation menu. I was apprehensive of the progressive Italian menu, not just for my waistline but knowing that ambitious experimental chefs can throw too many flavours on one plate. No qualms here: the meal was comparable to any of A-list restaurants in my hometown of London. Even if you aren’t staying in the hotel, I urge you to try the food. The chef won me over at the slow-cooked venison with vanilla glaze. Of course our waiter was a lesson in pitch-perfect discretion and he even sneaked in an extra plate for us to try.
At breakfast next day, overlooking the manicured lawns and chic pool, we were sad to be leaving the Principe. This push-the-boat-out retreat brings a few large drops of St Tropez to the Tuscan coast, and no one does glamour like the Italians. This neighbourhood is where the VIPs of Versilia live. Collect your key from the doorman, and you’re one of them.