Bucket List  June 20, 2017

Does Tuscany’s Hotel Il Pellicano Live up to Its Price Tag?


by Larkin Clark

There’s a reason photographer Slim Aarons frequently turned his camera to Hotel Il Pellicano, an iconic seaside retreat originally built for the rich and famous: It’s Fabulous with a capital F. The price tag is steep – during peak summer season, rates start around $700 a night for a garden room and go up to around $2,200 for a suite with a private pool –and it can be a destination in itself. But is it worth the hefty price?

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Perched on a cliff overlooking Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea, Il Pellicano is not only photogenic, it’s a place where Campari spritzers flow like water and sun-kissed pool boys cater to your every whim. There’s an outdoor bar and two fine restaurants – one of which is helmed by Michelin-starred chef Sebastiano Lombardi – right on site. The Wellness Center uses Santa Maria Novella products from Florence for its treatments. If you like to swim, you’re in luck: You have a pool with sea views and a private bay to help you get your laps in.

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While these are impressive stats, the thing that’s most striking is the upscale casualness of it all – the intimate country club vibe that suggests this level of decadence has been commonplace here for decades. That’s because it has been: Il Pellicano’s founders, a World War II veteran and his socialite American wife, met at Pelican Point in California and decided to create an exclusive Tuscan retreat for their star-studded social set inspired by that meeting spot. (The irony that I traveled halfway around the world to visit a resort inspired by my home state is not lost on me.)

Guests during Il Pellicano’s golden era, the 1950s through 1970s, included totally unimpressive people like Charlie Chaplin, aforementioned Slim Aarons, European royals and, perhaps most importantly, Italian hotelier Roberto Sció, who was responsible for transforming Il Pellicano from the original private club into the world-renowned hotel it is today.

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Suites come with incredible views (and one even has its own private pool).

So, is it worth the splurge? It depends on what you’re hoping for.

If you’re dreaming of the typical “Italian beach” scene, you find a version of it here – though a bit more subdued than what you’ve likely bookmarked to your travel list on Instagram. While there are hallmark touches like the umbrella-lined swimming cove, striped towels, and cerulean waters, Il Pellicano is so private, it lacks the vibrancy you get from just having more people around. The fact that the original club was inspired by California really comes through in the natural surroundings (rugged coastline, pristine weather, similar greenery) and the overall design of the buildings. I have to admit, there were actually moments when I thought I could have been somewhere in Carmel or Big Sur, but with much warmer weather. So if you’re looking for something that feels completely different than anywhere you’ve ever seen or been before, you may want to reconsider.

However, making the trip is 100 percent worth it if you have had Il Pellicano on your bucket list, or are adding it after you read this. I am far from having boatloads of money to throw at 5-star hotels whenever I choose, but this spot was a bucket list item that both my friend Sarah and I wanted to check off.

Il Pellicano is a top romantic vacation destination for honeymooners and anniversary revelers, but we found that it is also a good pick for solo retreats or fancy trips with friends. Sarah and I were both single at the time we visited, and we had a fantastic stay that we dubbed our girlfriends’ honeymoon. In fact, Sarah claimed Il Pellicano as her “soul place” out of all the places we visited during our three weeks together in Europe. You could technically travel to Italy specifically to visit this place and stay in the smallest room and still feel like you had a rich experience.

That being said, there are some other things I wish I would have known before we visited. These tips can make your visit even better, should you choose to bite the bullet and go.

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The outdoor bar, which overlooks the sea and pool. At night, there's a tiki vibe and live music.

 

Book a rental car way ahead of time and drive out to the hotel. We made the amateur mistake of thinking we could rent a car in Florence, where we stopped in the days prior to our Il Pellicano arrival, and found that there was literally not a single rental car left in town. (Note that this was in peak summer season; it likely wouldn’t be such a problem other times of year.) We re-planned our route via train, which was easy enough. However, taxis don’t arrive regularly at the Porto Ercole station, so we ended up calling the hotel to arrange for a shuttle bus pick-up. It was a big black Mercedes van, so we did roll up in baller style – even if it wasn’t exactly cheap.

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Fancy a swim? Take the elevator from the pool down to the private swimming cove. Or, better yet, swan down these cool stone steps.

 

If you don’t have a car or bike, plan to stay on site most of the time. I was surprised to find that Il Pellicano is mostly surrounded by private residences, and it’s a long walk to restaurants and shops. But remember: The seclusion is a large part of Il Pellicano’s draw. You’re spending a lot of money to stay there, so it makes sense that they offer everything you need right on site. There are several daytime activities at your fingertips – tennis, swimming, reading, spa-ing – and plenty of food and drink options to keep you sated throughout the day. And should you want to rent a bike or hire a driver for the day, the front desk can help make arrangements.

Don’t sleep through breakfast. The upscale Pellicano Restaurant space is transformed into a massive buffet that I still dream about, with dining tables on a terrace overlooking the resort and ocean. Guests tend to chat with each other during this time, so you’re sure to walk away with some new friends.

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Pull up a seat at the terrace bar.

 

If you do like to swim, head down to the private swimming cove before breakfast to reserve your lounger. This is common practice at most Mediterranean seaside resorts, but at Il Pellicano, the chairs go quickly. All the more reason to get up early and start enjoying the place.

There is cozy wine cellar below the main restaurant that houses around 1,000 bottles from around the world. Ask for a private tour of it. (Or, if you’re lucky, as we were, a Pellicano Restaurant staff member will kindly offer one when you show interest in the wine list procurement.)

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A cozy writing nook in our room.

 

Not to sound tacky, but you may want to pick up your own snacks before you arrive. Even bottled waters are a pretty penny at Il Pellicano and there’s no food store within walking distance, so I do recommend stashing some Evians and trail mix in your luggage to help curb your inevitably insane food and drink tab. Otherwise, you’ll taste the pool menu’s incredible club sandwich once and subsequently order it every time your stomach grumbles, as I did.

Exit through the gift shop. It has some great suitcase-friendly souvenirs, including colorful French sarongs, fashionable turbans (which you better believe I tried on), and affordable vintage-inspired Il Pellicano totes. Pick up a few for friends and family. Though you’ll be tempted to buy the Hotel Il Pellicano photo and recipe tomes, save luggage space and order them off Amazon when you get home.

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California or Italy? From this view, it's hard to tell.

We stayed for two nights and though it was tough to pry ourselves away from the private swimming cove and its yellow-striped towels, any longer than that may have called for going off-site with a vehicle. So I’d say around three days is the perfect amount of time to get the baseline Pellicano experience. That being said, we learned that some guests treat Il Pellicano as a second vacation home, spending a month or two there each summer. With rooms priced as they are, that’s no small investment. But if you fall in love with this place, you do it like an Italian – truly, madly, and deeply, as a life-long love affair.

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Words and photography: Larkin Clark

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