A grand dame in the Belle Epoque seaside holiday tradition, the Excelsior Palace opened in 1901 as one of the Riviera di Levante’s most celebrated society haunts, home to Italy’s first casino and the filming location of The Birth of a Ship, one of the first movies shot outdoors. Through the heyday of the jet-set era, Rapallo and the Excelsior welcomed international royalty and glitterati to its opulent rooms and private beach, the likes of Rita Hayworth and the king of Jordan hobnobbing over Aperol spritzes on the seafront terrace. Nowadays, after an extensive renovation in the 1990s, the casino is gone, but the movie stars and holiday-going cognoscenti return, attracted by the Old World glamour of the hotel’s soaring columns and arched windows, panoramic Tigullio Gulf views from private balconies, yacht club–style bars, and the decadent spa. After all, the Excelsior doesn’t need to be cutting-edge anymore—a stay here takes you back to a bygone era, where boat excursions and afternoon aperitivos are de rigueur. Just don’t forget the fedoras and oversized sunglasses.
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Once a major vacation town whose casino (Italy’s first) and luxury resorts attracted glamorous holiday-goers from the Belle Epoque through the 1960s jet-set era, Rapallo may not be as decadent as it used to be, but the views and postcard-worthy surroundings haven’t faded a watt. The Excelsior looks across the bay at the historic town center, lined with the region’s signature colorful houses, and the many yachts and sailboats docked in between indicate the area’s main attraction—the water. Along the scenic coastline, take day trips to similarly quaint villages and private beaches. Go snorkeling and diving in the surrounding Portofino Protected Marine Area. And go hiking along the coast or on the many trails that traverse the protected Mount Portofino. Genoa is less than an hour’s train ride north along the Riviera.
Need to Know
Rooms: 127 rooms, six suites. From $220. Check-in: 2 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Overlooking the water through soaring windows and from the breezy terrace, the Lord Byron Restaurant serves classic Ligurian cuisine with a seafood focus in an antique-laden dining room. The more relaxed Eden Roc Lounge & Restaurant is even closer to the water, attracting yachters and other well-heeled locals to its gourmet, locally sourced cuisine for both lunch and dinner in the summer months; in the evenings, live music and candlelight make it especially romantic. Inspired by the boats that frequent the coast’s ports, the wood-paneled Yachting Bar is a popular watering hole throughout the year, while the poolside Sporting Bar serves refreshing drinks and light snacks during the day. Spa and gym details: Known as the Beauty Farm, the Excelsior’s wellness complex includes four pools (two infinity pools, one floating pool in the sea, and one indoor pool), a small gym where fitness classes are offered, two hot tubs, a sauna and Turkish hammam, and a full range of spa treatments that can be tailored to guests’ specific needs.
Who it's best for: Travelers who love history, sea views, and traditional hotels. Our favorite rooms: It’d be a shame to be in such a prime location and not take advantage of the panoramic views of the Tigullio Gulf and Portofino Bay; most suites and Exclusive Rooms have private balconies overlooking the water. Water access: The Excelsior has a private jetty which allows the hotel to offer private boat excursions for guests to Portofino, San Fruttuoso, Cinque Terre, and Genoa; those with their own yachts can also tie up here for the day to take advantage of the hotel’s myriad facilities.