I’m writing this as I sit in the quaint lobby of an 1800s hotel along the Italian Riviera, waiting for a taxi to take me to Nice, France, where I will begin my journey back to Australia. Dare I say, life’s good?
For the past 10 days I’ve been in San Remo (or Sanremo, as the locals spell it) reporting on the EPT for PokerNews. Luckily I had a few days to explore this gorgeous town so I’m about to share my findings here with you.
Getting to San Remo and Exploring
The closest airport to San Remo is in Nice, France, approximately 65 km away. You can easily get a bus from the airport, which takes approximately one hour and costs €27 for a return ticket. This is the ideal option for those on a budget, as a taxi from Nice will set you back a lot of euros. If you want to book a car for your arrival, I highly recommend booking a driver from DIY-Taxis, which cost €120.45 each way (business trip!). Having a frenchman in a suit meet you at the airport holding your name on a card and driving you in a Mercedes along the French Riviera, through Monaco and into Italy, sure does provide a true one-hour glimpse into the life of the rich and famous!
Once in town, San Remo has more scooters per capita than anywhere else in Italy — and if you’ve been to Italy before, you’ll know that’s quite a statistic. If you’re brave enough to ride one yourself (let alone walk across the street!), then it’s a great way to get around if you want to explore the surrounding towns, such as Bussana Vecchia, about 10km northeast of San Remo which is Lonely Planet’s #1 pick for things to do in San Remo. I didn’t make it there myself, but it sounds fascinating. After being torn down by an earthquake in the 1800s, it was rebuilt in the ‘60s by artists who took over the region, making it a thriving and world-renowned community of international artists. San Remo was once the home of Monet, so it’s easy to see why this region of the world has such an artistic culture.
If you want to stay local, then exploring San Remo is easy on foot seeing it is such a tiny town. La Pigna (The Pine Cone) is the oldest part of town, and the center of the true San Remo experience. The name reflects the shape of the town, which feels as though you’re climbing the curling edges of a pine cone as you follow the narrow, winding streets to get to the top. This is where you’ll find Madonna della Costa Sanctuary, offering incredible views of the entire city and beyond, just like those in the pictures above and below. Around the “base” of the Medieval town is where the classic architecture lays, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, Casino Sanremo, the Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral of San Siro, the Borea d’Olmo Ducal Palace and many old villas. Throughout these spots you’ll find shopping and restaurants around every corner – exactly what Italy is famous for, of course! Just when you thought that was enough, all of this sits atop of two harbours housing some of the most ginormous yachts you’ll ever see. This place is truly beautiful.
Hotel Miramare Continental Palace
I stayed at Hotel Miramare Continental Palace for 10 nights. This hotel is an old castle from the 1800’s, overlooking the beach, and just a short walk from the center of town. When we first checked in, my boyfriend and I were given room #110. It was a great size for one person, however a bit of a tight squeeze for two. It certainly wasn’t anything I would rave about (apart from the view), but it didn’t displease either. The view was absolutely gorgeous – looking straight over to the ocean with the tops of palm trees perfectly blocking the view of the road in between. The only problems were that there was no air-conditioning and no internet. After paying €50 for a week of internet access (which actually means a weeks worth of login time – not just “buy now and expire in seven days regardless of how much you use me” – so right now after a week, I’ve still got over five days of usage left) I couldn’t actually access the internet from my room, and had to sit on the couch in the hallway outside my room. When in town for business, this is a slight problem, so I asked the front desk if they had another room available with a better signal. Let me tell you – this was the best thing I could have done to turn my experience upside down at this hotel from OK to AWESOME. We were upgraded (at no extra cost) to room #310. This room is about 50% larger, with air-conditioning, a larger bathroom that has the most beautiful double doors that open out to a balcony with the view shown in the picture below. There is something so special about having a balcony in the bathroom! I have never experienced this before – being able to open the doors while in the shower so that when you close your eyes it feels as though you’re having a shower on the beach as you hear the waves crashing and the birds chirping while standing under the faucet. It’s the ultimate way to wake every morning.
While I haven’t stayed at any other hotel in San Remo, I could not recommend this hotel enough – provided that you receive a spacious room! It’s well priced, a basic continental breakfast is included and lovely hotel staff. My boyfriend stayed at the plush Royal Hotel last year, and he loved it, although it is about three times more expensive and he was really happy with Miramare this year as a cheaper alternative.
My only warning: one of my workmates was placed in room #207 which is like a bed squashed into a closet. I’d imagine back in the day this was the “servants bedroom” as it is less than half the size of the two above-mentioned rooms, her makeshift shower was a curtain in the corner of the bathroom, with a tiny handheld-style mirror being her sole mirror in the entire apartment (my room has a floor to ceiling mirror, as well as two other huge mirrors). Her own breath was stronger than the hairdryer and she had no air-conditioning! So I warn that your experience in this hotel is heavily dependent on the room that you receive. Don’t be afraid to make requests when booking – it will make all the difference. While my workmate understandably hated it, I’m absolutely in love with it!
Other central hotels that my friends have stayed at and high recommend include Hotel Paradiso (free internet, swimming pool), Hotel Europa (free internet, located directly across from Casino Sanremo, 24hr room service) and Gran Hotel De Londres (free internet, outdoor swimming pool), and the above-mentioned Royal Hotel which has everything and will break the bank, but sure will give you the experience of living like a king! We visited the wellness spa at the Royal Hotel for a “Couples Massage” and it was excellent. The facilities are beautiful and the therapists were fantastic.
The Must Do’s and Eats
Twice per week, the center of San Remo turns into a bustling barter-fest thanks to the Piazza Eroi Sanremesi market, just around the corner from San Siro Cathedral. Every Tuesday and Saturday morning the daily fresh food market extends out into the surrounding parking lot with a cluster of hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of Italian and French bags, shoes, cashmere, and more.
While I’ve been here, the amount that everyone has been raving about Ristaurante Mare Blu has been beyond belief. The key to its popularity, on top of the fantastic menu, is that in recent years the owner recognised that catering for the hundreds of poker players in town for these two weeks each year was a huge business. They adjusted their schedule and menu to suit poker players on a limited dinner break, with a featured ravioli dish that is guaranteed to be served up in speedy time. Sarah Grant and I paid the restaurant a visit to see what all the fuss was about, and with excellent staff like Mario (featured in this video), it was hard to resist returning time and time again:
Another place that impressed the pants off me (literally, I had to undo the top button on my jeans) is a little restaurant tucked within La Pigna called Taverna al 29. You have to ring the doorbell to enter, walk down a small corridor into what feels like a tiny apartment, and then it opens up to a warm little restaurant with just five large tables. The owner is so welcoming and seemingly loves everything about his job. They spoil you with a few complimentary (and homemade) aperitifs and digestifs, which the owner never fails to join in on!! I had a ravioli dish which was all homemade with a local herb (I cannot remember the name of it), and naturally, it was absolutely delicious. The highlight of my feast here was the dessert – vanilla ice-cream dressed with a balsamic sauce and pepper… I’m not kidding. It was AWESOME!
Rare Find – Whole Foods in Italy!
I was as happy as a pig in mud when I came across Il Filo Di Paglia on Via Pietro Calvi – an organic food store with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (which are pretty easy to find in Italy) as well as all the grains, nuts, quinuoa, rice and almond milk, coconut water, vegetable juices and vegan choices that your heart desires!
Built in grand Art-Nouveau style at the turn of the 20th century, Casino San Remo is situated right in the centre of town and was conveniently our office last week during the European Poker Tour. If you enjoy a punt with a taste old-school glamour, then you’ll love everything about Casino Sanremo.
That’s it from me for now – it’s time to disconnect from the world as I fly back home to Australia.