One of the things I am most fascinated by, when traveling somewhere, is the fact that famous and important people may have been there before me.
By famous and important people I mean writers and painters, most of them already dead, whose lives are a constant inspiration for me.
I remember tracing the steps of Ernest Hemingway down the streets of Paris or sitting at a table at Les Deux Magots, wondering if that was the same table where Simone de Beauvoir used to sit. One day in Florence, many years ago, I was moved when entering the small church where Dante Alighieri, author of La Divina Commedia, certainly the greatest literary work in the Italian literature, met Beatrice, the love of his life.
The only thought that I was in the same place where such an encounter took place, centuries ago, touched me deeply.
Given all that, you can only imagine how excited I was when I learned that D.H. Lawrence has spent one year of his life in Spotorno, in the midst of his gypsy travels around Europe, Sri Lanka, Australia, the United States, Mexico, and France.
Spotorno is a small seaside town with a long stretch of white sandy beaches backed by green hills, not far from where I live. Like many other coastal towns, it is usually kind of sleepy in the winter and bustling with bathers in the summertime.
On the Riviera, there are a lot of more famous places, like Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, Camogli, Alassio or Sanremo, but D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda ended in Spotorno because the father of a friend of theirs had bought a hotel there.
The Lawrences arrived in Spotorno in 1925, a period when the Italian Riviera was hugely popular among the British middle class.
The fame of the Ligurian coast is now a bit overshadowed by Tuscany, but at the time it was the perfect getaway for tourists escaping the dreadful English weather.
Having fallen ill with tuberculosis, D.H. Lawrence needed a place where he could recover and Spotorno was just the perfect spot. The couple first stayed at Hotel Miramare and then rented Villa Bernarda, whose owner later became Frieda’s third husband.
The Lawrences loved Spotorno.
In a letter to a friend, Lawrence wrote: “We got here yesterday, it is lovely and sunny, with a blue sea, and I’m sitting out on the balcony just above the sands, to write”. And a few days later: “We’re in a hotel for a bit – probably shall look for a house for the winter here, though the village doesn’t amount to much. But if the sun shines on the Mediterranean, that’s a lot”. They spent almost a year there and it seems that D.H. Lawrence was inspired to write Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his masterpiece, there.
I went to Spotorno, a few days ago, looking for the places where Lawrence used to stay. The Hotel Miramare is still there, with its white and pink nineteen-century façade and the shady garden. Villa Bernarda, unfortunately, has been torn down a few years ago and nowadays a modern complex of apartments stands in its place.
There are not many memories of D.H. Lawrence nowadays, but if you go to Spotorno in a quiet, sunny afternoon, you can walk up and down its narrow streets and – if you stop and close your eyes – you can go back to almost a century ago, when Lawrence used to take a stroll around town basking in the sun, after having its glass of vermouth.
If you want to know more about D. H. Lawrence’s travels in Italy, I heartily recommend you Lady Chatterley’s Villa by Richard Owen, which tracks Lawrence’s entire Italian adventure, and – through copious correspondence – describes D.H. Lawrence’s domestic and artistic life under the hot Mediterranean sun. If you want to read D.H. Lawrence’s own words about Italy, look for Twilight in Italy and Sea and Sardinia, his Italian travel diaries.
If you are not particularly interested in tracing the steps of D.H. Lawrence but still want to spend some time in Spotorno, you can enjoy its endless beach – whether it’s summer or winter. Spotorno’s historic center is a typical Ligurian fishermen village, with narrow streets and colorful houses.
There is a handful of small shops, some good restaurants, and plenty of places where you can have great gelato. You can swim to the little island that lies in front of Spotorno or hike the trails on the hills that surround it.