5 California Hotels Where You Can Learn To Ride The Waves

If you’re looking to try your hand at surfing this summer, there’s no better place to pick up a board than California. For decades, California’s surf beaches have beckoned rookies and professionals alike with their laidback atmosphere and consistent waves. Dozens of surf schools line the coast, offering instruction from beginner to advanced. But if time is limited and research intimidating, look up the following hotels, which offer surf packages on California’s gnarliest beaches to help ease the introduction.

Huntington Beach, Orange County
Huntington Beach Surf Experience at Shorebreak, a Joie de Vivre Hotel
Includes: accommodations, equipment rental, a bar of Organic Surf Wax, an “Endless Summer” DVD, and a two-hour surf lesson.

Coronado Island, San Diego

David’s Discoveries: Portofino Perfect

Portofino’s horseshoe-shaped harbor and plumb-line cliffs are among the more actively gorgeous places on the Italian Riviera, as Italians call the boomerang-shaped region of northern Liguria. And Liguria is one of my favorite regions in the world for hiking, eating, dreaming and wandering.

A picture-postcard faux fishing port, Portofino is the Riviera’s most glamorous time warp: the villas of the super-rich perch on pine-studded promontories jutting into the Mediterranean. Billionaires like Silvio Berlusconi spend precious leisure hours here. “Precious” is the operative word.

Five hundred years ago one irreverent overnight traveler noted that in Portofino “you were charged not only for the room but the very air you breathed.”

Paying for the atmosphere is still what Portofino is all about.

But my wife Alison and I have a novel way enjoying Portofino for free. It includes some of the greatest views on the Mediterranean seaboard, plus lots of fresh air, and exercise. Naturally on either end of our “Portofino Perfect” walking experience (and even halfway along it) you can drop a few euros for a cappuccino, or spend $200 per head for a snack at a fashionable ristorante.We live much of the year in Paris, but spend several months-usually in fall and winter-in Liguria. Childhood attachments and more–call them elective and professional affinities–draw us back.

Why fall and winter (and spring, for that matter) and not summer, when you can swim and sunbathe? The easy answer is we prefer the low-season peace and ease of access. And I am not a lover of heat
Our fall-winter ritual is to trek to Portofino from the neighboring resort of Santa Margherita Ligure. This is an unwise proposition in summer, when the traffic on the narrow, serpentine coast road flies thick and fast. Until recently it was not only unwise, it was downright suicidal. That’s changed.

So to ring in the autumn, we laced up and marched toward Portofino on foot, marveling at the scenery: a jigsaw of conglomerate boulders and cliffs, offset by those patented Italian umbrella pines and deep blue waters, where sailboats, fishing boats and motorboats splashed and spluttered.

What’s refreshingly new on this walk is that cars, buses and trucks were unable to molest us.

A skillfully sprung boardwalk now runs from Santa Margherita Ligure a couple of corkscrew miles toward Portofino, via the oligarchs’ hamlet of Paraggi. It’s hunkered down in a hairpin curve a few hundred yards west of Berlusconi’s turreted castle.

The boardwalk ends at Paraggi. A steep, curving, perfectly paved forest pathway leads the remaining mile or so to Portofino.

We scrambled up it, amid the pines and strawberry trees–arbutus to a botanist–and drank in the scent. The wisteria and jasmine were having their third blooming, and the arbutus trees were covered with spiky orange fruit and tiny, sweet-smelling, bell-shaped blossoms.

Instead of battling summertime crowds to reach Portofino’s stone-paved harbor and airborne, black-and-white church of San Giorgio, we were practically alone. A garrison of cats guarded the Castello Brown-the hilltop fortress-mansion where Enchanted Aprilwas filmed.

Back down in the quaintly costly village, there were no lines at the fashion boutiques-not that either of us could afford to or wanted to shop. Shop for designer clothes in Portofino? That’s what the sun-bronzed vacationers who roll off the 200-foot motor-yachts do, before hitting perennial Portofino hangouts and glam, chic-issimo Lo Strainer, on the wharf.

More important to us, there was no wait for the onion focaccia at the sole bakery in Portofino. No, it is not the best focaccia in Liguria, but it’s not bad, and it won’t bankrupt you.

This year my understanding and appreciation of Portofino and of “Enchanted April” deepened as never before: I actually read the novel and was enchanted. Enchanted April, the book, is better than the movie. Read it, take this leisurely seaside stroll, and you too may understand why, back in the 1840s, Portofino became Italy’s first full-blown resort. You might also appreciate why it’s so popular today. Granted, “popular” isn’t the right word. In its peculiar, pretentious, gilded way, Portofino still manages to distill the essence of the Italian Riviera.

Author and guide David Downie’s latest books are the critically acclaimed “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light” and “Quiet Corners of Rome.” His websites are www.davidddownie.com, www.parisparistours.comand http://wanderingliguria.com, dedicated to the Italian Riviera.

[Flickr image via Valentina_A]

Gaddafi’s kid on the hook for half million dollar Italian hotel bill

Have you ever stiffed the hotel on the bill? They might be able to slap it on your credit card while you’re making a getaway, but a few thousand dollars is easy to recover. When the tab starts creeping toward half a million dollars, though, courts start getting involved … especially in Italy and especially when your father is a Libyan dictator.

Saadi Gaddafi, whose dad is Muammar, dropped €392,000 for a 40-day stay at the Grand Hotel Excelsior, near Portofino. In fairness, he also had his entourage with him – personal trainer, bodyguards, secretaries … you know the drill. It takes a lot of people to keep a dictator’s son on the go. Instead of making things right at the front desk on his way out, Gaddafi left a black SUV in the parking lot. According to local media, it’s still there.

This may seem like irresponsible behavior for a world leader’s son, even if he is only from Libya. At the time, though, he was wrapping up his career as a soccer player in Italy, so he had to party in a manner appropriate to his profession. And he did have his fun. According to the Guardian:

After signing in 2003 for Serie A side Perugia, Gaddafi joined Udinese in 2005 and Sampdoria in 2006, playing in a total of two matches in Italy and failing a drugs test. When not in training, he made the Italian gossip columns when he reportedly crashed a yacht into a harbour wall in Sardinia. He is now reportedly forging a new career as a film mogul.

The hotel didn’t rush into court. Rather, it worked the usual channels with a country that has solid relations with Italy:

Corriere della Sera reported that prior to taking legal action, the Grand Hotel Excelsior contacted the Libyan embassy in Italy which had paid previous bills on behalf of Saadi Gaddafi, only to be told that it would not cover the cost of the stay until it was told to do so by the Libyan government. On Friday, an Italian judge ordered Gaddafi to €5,000 in legal expenses in addition to his bill.

Time to sell some more plutonium, I guess. I’m sure there’s someone out there with half a million dollars and a flux capacitor to feed.

[photo by StartAgain via Flickr]