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Hotel Aida
Via F.Gioia, 95
17021 Alassio
Riviera dei Fiori, Italy
Phone: (+39) 0182-64-40-85/64-40-86
Fax (+39) 0182-64-07-72

Italian Riviera on $100 a Day

By Rubin Carson

Nobody will stop you from going to glitzy Portofino but do what knowledgeable Italians, Brits, Swedes, and Germans docheck into the Aida Hotel in Alassio. That way you get to save about $500 per day and enjoy everything a small seaside town on the Italian Riviera offers (in the 19th century, Liguria was just as chic as it's French neighbor). It is a two-hour train ride from Nice where Aida's major domo Giovanni Galtiere collects guests at the station, if they phoned ahead.

Soon you're at the Aida, which true to its brochure is "a green oasis in the heart of Alassio, only 100 meters from the sea." Okay, not so green perhaps but a two-minute walk and five euros gets you a deck chair, umbrella, and the cleanest beach you've ever seen. In a few minutes you'll discover the guest rooms are spotless, service friendly, and the $100 per day tariff for two includes three home-cooked meals. (Be warned: "home-cooked" in Italy means bring stretch-pants.)

"Show me the buffet" is the battle cry for any Italian experience and
Aida's antipasti gets A-plus: stuffed eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, marinated vegetables, roasted peppers, goat cheese, salamis and hams, plus every fresh crustacean imaginable. Then comes delicious minestrone, choice of three pastas, fish course, veal course, or everybody's favorite
frutti de mare. This aromatic masterpiece is what the fishermen brought in that day cooked in pasta with zesty sauce. If you have room for the enormous dessert selection, you should run, not walk, to the nearest shrine and beg forgiveness.

Alassio sits in a beautiful bay surrounded by rolling hills. Some think the name comes from the story of Adelasia, daughter of Emperor Othon, who had a tragic love affair with a Duke of Saxony. A few killjoys claim that it derives from "Salacia," Latin for "sea-water" because the inhabitants made their living from the sea. In the second half of the 19th century, it became known for it's balmy climate and as a favorite destination for England's great families whose villas dot the hills. Half the visitors are still Brits who because of their 300 days of rain per year know how to noodle through the best sun-inclusive travel bargains.

Beach lovers will admire the fine sand and gentle waves pounding against the shore. Besides working on your tan, there's sailing, windsurfing, beach volleyball, and hang-gliding. Sand castle building is an ancient tradition and there are tournaments throughout the year. Many benches line the beach area where you can relax during romantic walks or serious gelato and/or cappuccino moments.

There are beautiful shrines and churches you can visit including Cappellettaa chapel situated at the beginning of the natural harbor. This lonely edifice is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to the memory of those lost at sea. The picturesque Church of Santa Croce is on the route of an ancient Roman road and dates back to the 12th Century. There's also a British corner where the Anglican Church of St. John was built in 1890.

There's no better place to experience the rhythm of Italian life, and that's because of Alassio's "caruggi"the Ligurian name for narrow streets. They're filled with shoppers, endless restaurants, quaint buildings, old shops, and ancient palaces, all against the sound of the sea. I always pop into Studio L' Imagine (tel: 0182-646703)a tiny shop that has the world's greatest collection of antique travel posters. The originals are expensive, but it's okay to collect copies. Bring posters back to your room at the Aida, tape them to the wall, and stare. Nothing like dreaming about traveling while waiting for pasta.

British Airways has flights via Heathrow/Nice/Genoa six times per day

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(Updated: 06/23/08 HC)

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