- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

LADISPOLI, Italy — Pell or Post? A choice should not be this difficult. So, consider both Il Pellicano and La Posta Vecchia.

Each hotel serves some of the best food on any coast in Italy, and the service and accommodations are excellent. Life is easy at both; life is good — la dolce vita. La Posta Vecchia is near Ladispoli, north of Rome in the Lazio region. The villa once was owned by the late J. Paul Getty, and he lived there briefly. Mr. Getty’s gardener, Raffaele Moretti, is still the gardener at La Posta Vecchia, raising vegetables, fruits and herbs on the estate for the kitchen of chef Michele Gioia. Mr. Gioia formerly worked with chef Antonio Guida at Il Pellicano, whose restaurant has been awarded a Michelin star.

This time of year, artichokes from the Posta Vecchia garden are young and perfect for Mr. Gioia’s magic. He trims them, slices them fine, sautes them in olive oil and a hint of garlic and then adds white wine; this is served with barely cooked fava beans over ravioli filled with duck. Pasta doesn’t get better than this, but it is also superb in Mr. Guida’s kitchen to the north, where the fagottini ripieni — stuffed little bundles — are spectacular in his four-color pasta.

Imagine the pasta as a pound of butter, with each of the four sticks a different color, and all pressed together so that when the block of pasta is sliced there are four squares of colored pasta that form each fagottini, about the size of ravioli. The colors come from different ingredients: the familiar basic egg pasta; black pasta from squid ink; green from spinach, and orange from carrots.

After a filling is placed in the center of each slice, the four sides are sealed as the corners are pinched together on the top. Each side of the fagottini is a different color; only by looking down on them are all four colors visible.

The talent in both kitchens shows the heights Italian and international dishes reach in the hands of such artisans. The dishes are memorable, from suckling pig as tasty as it can be — at both hotels — to Mr. Gioia’s perfection of ginger ice cream at La Posta Vecchia. The ice cream is worthy of its name, as beautiful in Italian as it is to the taste buds: gelato al zenzero.

La Posta Vecchia is close to Rome, about 25 minutes from the main international airport, Fiumicino; Il Pellicano is about 95 minutes from the airport. Along the highways between the hotels and Rome, tractor trailers on the autostrada — like American Interstate highways — are seen in late spring bringing loads of produce, including artichokes to markets in the capital and other destinations.

The hotels are near SS1, a strada statale, or secondary highway, which is also called Via Aurelia after the Roman road built about 240 B.C. to connect the city with France. The autostrada parallels much of Via Aurelia near the Tyrrhenian coast.

La Posta Vecchia and Il Pellicano are on the Tyrrhenian Sea — part of the Mediterranean — so called after an ancient name for the Etruscans, predecessors of the Romans. The sea extends north to the Ligurian Sea, west to Corsica and Sardinia and south to Sicily, meeting the Ionian Sea at the Strait of Messina. The Tyrrhenian’s east coast is along the Italian peninsula.

The two hotels are different in size, layout, surroundings and appeal. Think of La Posta Vecchia as a villa, a private home where one is a guest of the family.

Both hotels get the devoted attention of owner Robert Scio, who often can be seen talking with his guests. Each hotel is ably managed by a woman, a rarity in the hotel world.

Of the two hotels, La Posta Vecchia is much more intimate and compact. Children would find more to keep them occupied at Il Pellicano, but both hotels are very romantic.

ROMANTIC BEGINNING

Il Pellicano had a romantic beginning, originally the home of British aviator Michael Graham and his wife, Patsy Daszel, an American socialite. The two met at Pelican Point in California and used the name for their home. Il Pellicano, originally built in 1965, is high on a hillside above the sea on the Argentario promontory, connected by a causeway to the mainland. It has rooms and suites in the main building and several villas as well. An elevator takes guests — stairs are available — from the large swimming pool terrace down to seaside.

The address is Porto Ercole, which long has been a fashionable and popular port resort, and where the royal family of the Netherlands has a summer place and docks the royal yacht. This is in the Tuscany region’s Maremma area, the home of wheat fields and longhorn cattle that are herded by horsemen wearing large fedoras — Italy’s wild west.

Il Pellicano’s sommelier, Costantino Russo, placed second last year in Italy’s major wine competition as the country’s best wine steward. Speaking of stewards, Il Pellicano also has an olive oil steward who advises diners about which olive oil they should choose to have with breads. The breads, by the way, are superb at both hotels.

The area of Lazio — from the Latin word “Latium,” as the region sometimes is called —around La Posta Vecchia is not as rugged as Maremma and often is flat. However, mountains rise farther inland. The regional capital of Lazio is Rome; in Tuscany, it is Florence.

Centuries ago, La Posta Vecchia served as the post house, where guests of nearby Castle Odescalchi — built in 1500 for Prince Orsini — could leave their horses and carriages and their servants could spend the night. Since 1780, the castle has belonged to the family of Prince Odescalchi.

To say that Mr. Getty had good taste is very much an understatement. During excavation beneath the building after Mr. Getty acquired the Posta Vecchia property, workers discovered ancient vases and other objects, some pre-Roman, and mosaic floors and the foundations of two Roman villas from the second century A.D.

Guests at La Posta Vecchia may go to the lower level and see the mosaics and the vitrines of artifacts discovered in the digging, which was aborted. Italian antiquities officials also examined the find.

The pool is in the north wing of La Posta Vecchia, with large window-doors that open in warm weather, making it seem like a covered outdoor pool. The pool room belongs on the cover of a glossy design magazine: gardens on one end, the sea on the other, and between them, views of the Odescalchi Castle. The entrance to the beauty center is near the pool.

This wing also houses a library-lounge, a comfortable setting for pre-dinner cocktails when the evening air is a bit chilly on La Terraza by the sea.

In the south wing are the kitchen and restaurant, Cesare, where Mr. Gioia rules so ably.

Accommodations can be quite spacious at La Posta Vecchia, where the Red Suite has five windows in the center part of the building. The furnishings are comfortable and the decor, as elsewhere in La Posta Vecchia, is restrained so that much of the elegance comes from this tasteful understatement.

Mr. Getty’s suite includes a bathroom with a mural on one wall. The large bathroom of the suite for madame has a large round pink marble bathtub and is called Cleopatra’s Bath. A secret passage connects the two suites.

Part of a day at La Posta Vecchia can be set aside for a visit to the Etruscan necropolis at Cerveteri, a modern city that has risen on the site of Caere, the old Etruscan city.

The design of the Cerveteri tombs, carved into the soft tufa stone, are believed to date between the seventh and first centuries B.C. They became more elaborate as the Etruscan city thrived. Streets pass between the tumulus mounds, which now are covered with grass and shrubs; many more remain unexcavated, but on the entrance road into the necropolis, the orderly arrangement of the tombs is obvious.

In some places, the stone roads among the tombs have ruts that were dug into the surface by passing carts.

In the later tombs, the walls show more embellishments in the construction. What were flat slabs to place the dead in the early tombs became more elaborate, with indentations for a body carved into the stone, sometimes with a place carved for the head and occasionally a carved pillow.

The Cerveteri tombs are not noted for fanciful wall paintings as are some other Etruscan necropolises.

During Rome’s first centuries, the residents of Caere were allies of the empire, but they revolted against Rome in the first century B.C., and soon Caere was history. The site also has an Etruscan museum that displays artifacts, including gold bracelets, recovered from the tombs.

ANCIENTGRAPES

Also near La Posta Vecchia is Casale Cento Corvi, a vineyard that has been producing a limited bottling of what it calls “the wine born before Rome” — Giacche. The owners discovered a wild grape on their property and say tests have revealed it to be a survivor of an ancient grape. After all, the Etruscans made wine in the area before Rome happened.

Posta Vecchia guests can consider a trip to Rome; at Il Pellicano, they can think of going farther into Tuscany, say to Pisa or Florence. At either hotel, they should have no trouble relaxing as they adjust to a slower pace, enjoying the air, gazing at the horizon of the Tyrrhenian Sea, marveling at the inland scenery, reading a good book — or, simply, go fishing or for a swim.

They must take time to savor the cuisine. Consider the tuna marinated with lemon grass and served on a mosaic of spring vegetables.

Order the homemade flat pasta (stracci di pasta) served with crabmeat, peas and cherry tomatoes, and don’t forget the ravioli filled with duck and vegetables and served with artichokes and fava beans. There are the cheeses, the wines, local and imported; the fabulous breads; perfectly cooked suckling pig; the incredible local olive oils; crustaceans fresh from the sea; a double espresso — but after the gelato al zenzero, please.

Pell and Post. Take your pick or choose both, but be warned that parting is painful. This is la dolce vita.

Big comfort by the sea

Alitalia flies daily between Washington Dulles International Airport and Milan, Italy, where flights connect to Rome. The

connecting flight from Rome to Milan on the return trip leaves early in the morning, so an option is to fly on another international carrier such as British Airways, departing from Rome at a later hour and connecting to a flight to Washington in London.

La Posta Vecchia, near Ladispoli, and Il Pellicano, near Porto Ercole, two stylish hotels north of Rome’s Fiumicino airport, can arrange transportation between airport and hotel.

Taxis also operate between Ladispoli and La Posta Vecchia (about $7 each way) and between Porto Ercole and Il Pellicano.

These luxury hotels are pricey, the stuff for honeymooners, people who want to splurge on a special trip, and those who easily can afford it. Depending on the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro, daily accommodations at La Posta Vecchia — open from early April to Nov. 12 — begin at about: $755 for a superior double; about $1,225 for a junior suite, and about $1,850 for a master suite. These rates include a luscious buffet breakfast, service charge and the value-added tax.

Il Pellicano’s season also began in April and runs to Oct. 30. Daily rates begin at about: $500 ($1,000 in high season from June 15 to Sept. 15) for a double standard; $890 ($1,150, high season) for a double with sea view; $650 ($1,150, season) for a junior suite; $1,050 ($1,900, high season) for a deluxe suite; and $1,050 ($2,150, high season) for a deluxe suite with private pool. These rates also include service, VAT fee and buffet breakfast. The high-season rates also include half-board.

Il Pellicano has tennis courts, a heated seawater pool, a private beach with access to such water sports as skiing, diving, fishing and sailing. Nearby horseback riding and golf facilities are available. A range of spa treatments is offered at Il Pellicano. A boutique stocks items from clothing to jewelry by Bulgari.

Excursions from Il Pellicano can include visiting Porto Ercole and La Parrina, an old estate that has been producing wine, olive oil and cheese since 1830. For information, go to www.parrina.it/ENGLAND/wines.htm; e-mail, [email protected]

Cerveteri, one of Italy’s important Etruscan sites, is near La Posta Vecchia. The tombs are neatly arranged along a grid of streets, and many of them have not been excavated; some of the tombs can be entered.

La Posta Vecchia, Palo Laziale, 00055 Ladispoli, Italy; phone 39/06-994-9501; or go to www.lapostavecchia.com.

Il Pellicano, Cala dei Santi, 58018 Porto Ercole, Italy; phone 39/0564-858-111; or go to www.pellicanohotel.com.


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