The hidden jewel of Portofino - La Cervara
La Cervara is a fourteenth century Abbey that is now a hotel set above the buzz of the Portofino esplanade. The panorama is breathtaking across the bay of Portofino.
Believe it or not, Pope Gregory XI (the last Pope of Avignon) regularly stayed here. It has been a retreat for religious, artistic and military leaders.
The honeymoon suite, otherwise known as 'the prison' was where Francis I, King of France was imprisoned following his defeat in Pavia in 1525 by Charles V, King of Spain.
The estate has had a turbulent history. Over the past seven centuries it has been abandoned, pillaged and restored several times over.
The glory days of the monastery were during the sixteenth century when it led ten Benedictine monasteries enabling the monastery to build substantial wealth and power. At this time the imposing renaissance-style defense tower was built for protection from the Saracen pirates. Hundreds of similar towers were constructed along the Italian Riviera and Amalfi coast.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Monastery changed hands many times and underwent numerous transformations. In 1868 the Marquis Giacomo Durazzo purchased and restored the buildings and gardens. He then sold it to the Somascan Fathers so that it could be once again used by Monks.
Since 1990 it has been privately owned and transformed - now it is a luxury hotel and venue for special events.
The Emperor's gallery has a striking slate and Carara marble floor with historic marble busts and Medici urns displayed on pedestals. The busts were found in the gardens.
In the middle of the Emperor's gallery, sits the impressive Staircase of Tapestries where guests would be welcomed by the host. A stunning console is decorated with a pair of gilded cherubs playing music that frame a decorative crested antique mirror.
The chapel (despite the original artworks being pillaged and on display in galleries worldwide) has perfect acoustics and mass is still held on Sundays. The simple decoration make this a happy space with a meditative atmosphere.
The grey and white striped columns and vaults are typical of churches along the Italian Riviera including the churches in the villages of the Cinque Terre.
The same two-tone masonry is found in the cloisters - perhaps the most peaceful part of the Monastery with a simple fountain in the middle surrounded by verdant lawn.
The rooms have been beautifully decorated with modern comforts and lovely antiques. The views are breathtaking whether overlooking the rugged coastline and turquoise waters or the pristine gardens.
La Cervara was named after the local woods and Mediterranean plant life which were called 'silvas'. This dense vegetation provides the Monastery with much privacy, even from the sea.
There are several gardens to enjoy all year round - flowers are guaranteed thanks to expert planning.
Stunning geometric box hedges have been painstakingly pruned into patterns and walkways that lead to the seventeenth century marble putto fountain in the Monumental Garden.
Ancient pergolas are covered with climbing vines, bougainvilleas, jasmine and roses providing fragrant walkways to meander between terraces and gardens.
This precious and idyllic Monastery is without a doubt the most beautiful place to stay on the Italian Riviera! We feel very fortunate to have visited this serene property.
Visit the website of La Cervara here.
Photo and video credit: Chez Pluie Provence
Exploring the Cinque Terre, Italy