Sorry Coleen, the Real Gem but Rapallo Is of the Riviera; 1. SPLENDOUR: The Excelsior Palace in Rapallo, Where Stars Mingled with European Royalty during the Fifties and Sixties 2. LOVE MATCH: Wayne and Coleen Rooney 3. TRIBUTE: Columbus in Santa Margherita

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

Sorry Coleen, the Real Gem but Rapallo Is of the Riviera; 1. SPLENDOUR: The Excelsior Palace in Rapallo, Where Stars Mingled with European Royalty during the Fifties and Sixties 2. LOVE MATCH: Wayne and Coleen Rooney 3. TRIBUTE: Columbus in Santa Margherita


Byline: JOHN STAPLETON

T WAS an unusual challenge, to put it mildly - where to go on holiday with a woman who had just broken her arm. Unusual and difficult, because her idea of holiday fun is a four-mile walk before breakfast, with the rest of the day spent chasing up cliffs or hillsides.

Mrs S does not do sunloungers by the pool. But with her arm in a sling after a fall downstairs, any form of walking or jarring of the arm made her sore. So maybe this time she would have to relax.

That is one of the reasons we chose Rapallo. No, we hadn't heard of it either.

It's on the Italian Riviera, just across the bay from Portofino, where Wayne Rooney and Coleen McLoughlin tied the knot in June. So easy to get to - less than a couple of hours on the plane and only half an hour's taxi ride from the airport. The perfect spot to spend hours doing nothing.

Fat chance. Seduced by the sight of a crystal-clear sea and a sweeping bay lined with palm trees, and armed with a handbag full of painkillers, Mrs S dragged me off to explore the place. On foot, of course.

We walked six miles on the first day, discovering that this is one of those places where Italians go on holiday.

Rarely do you see a Brit here - just Italian families with their children. And, of course, their dogs.

What is it about this nation and dogs? All immaculately groomed, they are paraded with almost as much pride as Italian babies.

At least they are in this charming, slightly old-fashioned place where many of the waiters at seafront restaurants still wear perfectly laundered shirts and black bow ties, where bathing huts circa Fifties Britain still line the pebbly beaches and where old men with leathery faces chew the fat in the shade of Mediterranean pine trees.

It wouldn't be everybody's cup of cappuccino.

Not much evidence of wild nightlife. But we loved our evenings in bustling bars and eateries - not cheap, mind - devouring mouthwatering fish dishes washed down with local plonk.

There were seafront concerts; a rather iffy solo singer one night, an Eighties tribute band the next. But it was good family entertainment, often accompanied by copious amounts of wine - and not even a hint of bother.

We stayed at two hotels - the Grand Hotel Bristol, 15 minutes' walk from the town centre, with stunning views across the bay, and the Excelsior Palace at the other end of town, enjoying a different but equally spectacular vista.

The treatment you get from the staff on reception can colour your entire impression of a hotel. Sylvia, Sara and their colleagues at the Bristol were superb. Always smiling, informative and helpful, they could make a fortune teaching others closer to home how to do the job properly.

The staff at the slightly more upmarket, more formal Excelsior Palace were equally charming. This is a massive pile of a place where stars such as Rita Hayworth and all manner of European royalty apparently stayed in the Fifties and Sixties.

Both hotels are what they say they are in the publicity blurbs - smart, sophisticated, well appointed. But save up. They don't come cheap.

A short ?2.50 ferry ride away is Santa Margherita Ligure. Like Rapallo, this old fishing port's bay is lined with palms and stunning architecture - hotels, churches and palatial homes built for the elite who watered here at the turn of the century.

These are buildings that you can look at time and again and still miss some of the exquisite decoration, gargoyles and figurines so painstakingly created and so carefully preserved. …

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Sorry Coleen, the Real Gem but Rapallo Is of the Riviera; 1. SPLENDOUR: The Excelsior Palace in Rapallo, Where Stars Mingled with European Royalty during the Fifties and Sixties 2. LOVE MATCH: Wayne and Coleen Rooney 3. TRIBUTE: Columbus in Santa Margherita
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