A pizza in Portofino, chili oil served on the side. Photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Between crazy-busy travel and much work all July, and then a work-travel assignment in France, Donna and I took a two-day breather to celebrate our back-to-back birthdays. I’m not always very smart when it comes to marital issues, but I did know one thing: I did not want to be sitting around in Cleveland on Donna’s 50th birthday, wondering what to do, Donna glaring at me. (Guys, no matter how much they protest, no matter how much they tell you they don’t want to do anything, don’t give in to your partner. They don’t really mean it! I know you want to believe them, I know you want to take them at their word not to do anything special or make a fuss, but you do so at your own peril.) This conviction to leave Cleveland led to the obvious: carry Donna to someplace beautiful on her milestone. As something of a lumpish happy-to-go-nowhere, intrepid-indoorsman-type husband, this was no easy feat. So I called my mom.

“Take her to Portofino,” she said.


And it was every bit as beautiful as promised.

Donna and I had done our first story together on the marble of Carrara (where we stumbled on a little hilltop mining town, called Colonnata, its specialty lardo—”You mean you eat raw pig fat?” I asked; it was 1988, and we were still cooking pork chops well done in America). So Italy 24 years later would be appropriate, and in the gorgeous coastal town of Portofino.

We hiked the hills, swam in the pool, strolled along the harbor. It was perfect.

Donna ordered lobster ravioli at the Hotel Splendido, a definite splurge. Love the curled lobster antenna garnish!

Wooden rowboats in the harbor.

On my birthday we hiked above the town. There is no bad view.

Hotel Splendido, at the top of the hill in the above photo, which my pal Annie dubbed Hotel Spendido, is indeed lovely and was where we ate on Donna’s birthday. If you don’t splurge on a 50th birthday, then there is something wrong with you. Happily we choose to stay at the less expensive annex, Hotel Splendido Mare, every bit as elegant, considerably less expensive, but right there on the harbor and its piazza and more attuned to our low-key styles.

Alas, birthdays last only a day, or two days in our lucky circumstance, so when it was done it was time to get back to work.

We flew to France.

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© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


24 Wonderful responses to “Italian Interlude—Portofino”

  • john v phipps

    Congrats to both of you! What a marvelous treat for a milestone event! Way to go!

  • Maureen Sanchez

    molto bene. and a good lesson to be learned. don’t do anything *special* for my birthday [channeling anyone’s partner] … do something *thoughtful* Thanks for sharing the pictures. Gorgeous. Happy birthday to you and your lovely wife. Thanks for letting everyone live vicariously through you. The boats on the water picture looks like a watercolor postcard. Stunning.

  • Carolyn Z

    Sounds like a wonderful trip! Welcome back!

    Happy birthday to you both.

  • Tana Butler

    So now everyone knows how old your wife is? Oh, Michael, WHAT are we going to do with you?

    You two make fifty look gorgeous. Happy birthdays, lovebirds.

  • Carri

    Happy Birthday to you both! What an inspiring trip…may the next 50 years hold many more.

  • joellaco

    Your mom is so wise! Great way to spend anyone’s birthday. Thanks for the lovely photos. The place is just as lovely as it was 25 yrs. ago when I was there.

  • Carly

    All apologies to Cleveland, I think you made the right choice. These photos are unbelievable.

  • Michael Ruhlman

    Thank you all for your good wishes, yes a momentous bday!

  • Allen

    Maybe I’ll share your photos for my splurge, I just checked the rates and if I move the decimal place two places to the left it would still be a splurge, and one that we could afford. Looks fantastic, just not within my means. More of a hostel, b&b off season commoner, but I do love to dream! Lovely!

  • Donna Adams

    Belated Happy Birthday! Love the Hotel Splendido, stayed there many years ago! Glad to know the food is still Yummy! Thanks for sharing photo’s!

  • Marina@Picnic at Marina

    Michael, happy birthday to you and Donna! What a wonderful getaway you had! Your mom was right, and the note to guys in parenthesis is absolutely true (I need to give it to my husband to read)… 🙂
    Photos are fantastic. Love the colors of raviolis: is the dough for the middle one colored with squid ink?
    Photo of Wooden rowboats in the harbor is lovely, I would love to have in on my wall and stare at it all the time… 🙂

  • Elke

    Happy Birthdays to you both! I second the idea that these photos should be turned into prints to sell, always looking for a great new photo of Italy since we haven’t been back since 2007.

  • KB

    And here I thought my 50th in Chicago last fall was the bomb. (It was, but…) Happy birthdays.

  • Witloof

    You are so right about not wanting your wife to glare at you for not planning anything for her birthday. When my last boyfriend {who was very good indeed at planning all kinds of interesting adventures} had no gift for me and no plans for my special day, I knew the relationship was over!

  • claudia young

    i loved portofino… (wheelchair nightmare.) the amalfi coast is my favorite destination in the world. been twice. and it’s been way too long. gore vidal had a place there – in ravello. i had an al fresco lunch way up high looking out over the water, sitting at a table right next to him. he smiled at me and raised a glass… nice memory. enjoy every moment…

  • Zalbar

    Happy birthday to the both of you! May your pans be hot, your photos clear, and you love to age like a fine wine!


  • Dave_C

    I think there’s a typo on your blog post… Wasn’t it your wife’s 29th Birthday? 😀 Happy B-Day you two.

  • Pat

    You can’t always fly away to Portofino, but you can take a min-vacation by watching the excellent movie “Enchanted April.” The film was shot on location at Castello Brown in Portofino. If you have not seen it, rent it.

  • Jacqueline Algaier

    My husband and I just returned from a 20 day trip starting the first 10 in France with 60 kids in our local Pittsburgh Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, where they played in Nice, Florence and Milan. We loved Beaune and the French Riveria My husband and I put our daughter on a plane and left Milan by car and drove to Levanto Italy. We then took day train trips from Levanto to Cinque Terre and adored the most beautiful little towns…Bonassola, Monterosso, Vernazza, and Riomaggiore. We loved eating in Vernazza atop a restaurant overlooking the mediterranean sea. We also had a wonderful meal in Riomaggiore. This trip was a dream of a lifetime. I have a renewed appreciation for my husband who worked so hard to provide this much needed lift in our relationship. This too was my 50th birthday present.
    A memory I will cherish forever!

  • Jon

    Likely, Donna agrees with Dave C’s comment… a typo that should have read 29th ; – ) Congrats to both on B’days. Portofino looks to a lovely place to spend some special time together.


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