Sometimes, a girl just needs to get away.
Anyone in need of this reminder should uncork a bottle of Chianti and escape to the Italian Riviera, with “Enchanted April.”
This 1992 release will leave you jonesing for a Mediterranaen holiday. “Enchanted April” is an adaptation of the 1922 novel of the same name by Elizabeth von Armin. Shot on location in northeast Italy’s Liguria region, the romantic drama takes place in the post-WWI era, when spirits are low, yet hope springs eternal. The narrative revolves around the spiritual rejuvenation of four world-weary English roses and unfolds against the backdrop of the rugged and romantic northern Italian coast.
Promises of wisteria and sunshine lure two housewives Lottie and Rose (Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson), a beautiful young socialite (Polly Walker) and an elderly dowager (Joan Plowright) to share an historic villa called San Salvatore, which overlooks the Tiguilo Gulf. It is here they find rest, respite, and a renewed sense of self.
The film opens bleakly in rainsoaked England. Dark interiors of lonely homes and abandoned street corners are the driving factors behind the housewives’ desire for freedom. With all this, gloom and doom you find yourself screaming, “Get out of town before it’s too late!” and wonder if and when the sweeping Italian scenery will grace the screen.
Not to worry, the women hear your cries of concern, and decide to pool their resources in answer to an ad for a month’s villa rental in Italy. Due to financial difficulties, they ask two other women to join on the holiday. Just as Lottie and Rose are running from a bleak life, the other two women seek refuge from their own prisons. Socialite Caroline Dester lives a wholly jaded life of shallow privilege and dowager Mrs. Fisher exists soley in the past.
Legends say San Salvatore is enchanted, and just one look at the medieval stone villa, with its distinct Italian architecture, sweeping turquiose sea views and pastel gardens, is proof that there is indeed something magical about the property. Under the spell of the villa each woman’s soul is permeated, each grows in her own way and is uplifted in her outlook. Even Lottie’s and Rose’s husbands, who come to visit, are changed for the better. Love is restored, purpose is found, and hope in the future is renewed. If this isn’t proof that a romantic Italian vacation can change lives, then I don’t know what is.
Considering the substantial amount of time devoted to the interior/exterior of San Salvatore, it’s interesting to note that this is the same villa in which von Armin wrote the original novel and found so much inspiriation. Residents of Liguria know it as Castello Brown. It is now a house museum situated high above the harbor of Portofino. Originally built for military defense in the 1400’s, it became a vacation villa for Montague Yeats Brown, the English consul in Genoa, in 1867. Almost 100 years later, the City of Portofino became it’s proprietor, and Castello Brown remains an historical landmark for everyone to enjoy. A breathtaking hike from the beach up into the lush cliffs will lead you there.
The women in “Enchanted April” spend a vast majority of their time in the villa, leaving you to wonder what they’re missing with Portofino just steps away. This picturesque Mediterranean village is known as much for it’s jet-setting crowd as it is for it’s “Old World” charm and Italian bravado. Thanks to the watchful eye of neighboring Genoa’s Superintendent of the Arts, nothing on the seafront changes, ever. Minus the mega luxury yachts anchored in the harbor, Portofino’s pastel façade remains just as it was when Armin wrote the novel back over 80 years ago. It’s also a great base for anyone looking to rent a villa on the Riviera or spend some time at a chic boutique hotel.
Portofino is the heart and soul of the diverse and appealing region known as Liguria. Nestled in the northwest corner of the boot, this area is the less pretentious version of neighboring Cote d’Azur, offering miles of heart-stopping coastal highway, dotted with quaint fishing villages, and claims the much beloved Cinque Terre.
The wonderfully old-fashioned Riviera resort town of Santa Maria Ligure sits to the east of Portofino on the Levante Riviera. With fewer crowds and a balmy climate, it boasts views of Casata dei Delfini, and the maritime activities are endless. Scuba, sailing and rowing are just the beginning of things to do here. The architecture is also worth a mention, with it’s cyclopean use of big, irregular stone blocks for terracing bordered gardens, the grand Villa Durrazo (a monument to the faded glory of the region) and the cobbled roman street pavings.
For a bit of history, swing by Abbazia de San Girolamo. This old monastery dates back to 1361 and sits on the upper part of Portofino. It has immaculate, scuplted gardens-just imagine Versaille with ocean views!
Thanks to the temperate climate and substantial rainfall, Liguria is a lush and fertile region, so it’s no wonder olive groves abound here. These make for memorable picnic spots, and the Olive Tree Museum is a must-see. Some of the last surviving traditional olive presses can even be found in Ligurian homes and are worth tracking down.
All this talk of a Rivieran escape has my mouth watering. Unwinding with some fresh bread, olive oil and a big glass of Italian red during a Mediterranean sunset is just the ticket. So go ahead, find a little rest, respite and retreat with “Enchanted April,” and then experience for yourself the spellbinding magic of Liguria.