Along the Lerici Coast on the southern Italian Riviera, you’ll find one of the most splendid seaside settings in Italy, Eco del Mare. An idyllic cove with intense blue-green seas nestled among photogenic cliffs and a hillside blanketed with pine trees, the property, which includes a boutique hotel, restaurant and beach club, is one of the country’s most exclusive coastal getaways, favored by big names and entertainers, who come for the privacy and knowing hospitality, then linger for the incomparable beauty of the setting. You half expect Raffaella and Gennarino, the fighting lovers in Lina Wertmuller’s classic Swept Away, to wash up on its shores, so gloriously seductive is the spot. Billionaires have coveted this piece of Riviera heaven, trying to purchase it but without any luck.
Eco del Mare Night and Day Beach Club is the full name of this luxury haven run by Francesca Mozer, who reimagined the property after inheriting it from her father, Francois, a Swiss businessman. In the 1950s Francois, who loved the sea, was looking to buy a house in the area, but what he found instead was an irresistibly beautiful seaside cove.
While the logistics made it difficult to construct a house on the cove’s steep slopes, the land was too special to give up. After creating steps (he had initially accessed the beach lowering himself by rope), Mozer had an elevator installed, then built cabins and a kitchen. He invited friends; it soon became an insider favorite attracting artists and creatives who were as entranced by the spot facing onto the Golfo dei Poeti as generations of literary figures and artists (Byron, Shelley, Virginia Woolf) had been before. In 2008 Francesca decided to turn Eco del Mare into a boutique hotel with six rooms overlooking the sea. Her father was skeptical about its potential, but she regarded the undertaking as both “a passion and challenge.”
To get to Eco del Mare, about a mile from Lerici, you drive a coastal road through wooded hillsides to arrive at a leafy parking spot, the sea barely visible through the sprawling umbrella pines. The elevator whisks you to a restaurant and lounge area embedded into the rocks and opening on to the beach. The stylish Francesca Mozer greets you with a gentle warning, “The only rule here is that you must relax.” It’s easy to comply after one glance at the sparkling sea settled between cliffs blocking out the rest of the world.
The secluded property gives off a desert-island vibe along a coast where beaches are beautiful, but can become crowded in summer. The remoteness of the spot is one of the reasons celebrities come to Eco del Mare. And they know Mozer and her team will respect their privacy. Who better to understand the celebrity desire for anonymity on holiday than Mozer? Her husband is the star singer Zucchero, sometimes described as the “father of Italian blues,” who has collaborated with everyone from Pavarotti to Bono and Sting. When asked who has stayed at the hotel Mozer is resolutely mum, answering broadly, “A lot of music stars, musicians, and producers,” she says. “They don’t want to be disturbed, or have pictures taken.” The only name she will mention is David Beckham, who came by to shoot an advertising campaign. The fact there are only six rooms (with decor inspired by and themed to Zucchero’s songs) is another reason anyone seeking to get away from it all can feel comfortable here (or even book the entire property for the ultimate escape).
Each year Mozer makes adjustments to the haute boho chic decor, with elements including sculpted wood art furniture, sea-related decorative items and for the lounge areas, large canvas cushions and coverings; she often picks up items on her off-season travels around the world. And while Mozer will readily adjust the decor, she says she has no plans to add rooms, despite demand. Rather she hopes to reduce the number of beach cabanas to further protect the ecology of the tiny bay, which routinely earns the coveted Bandiera Blu rating (given for meeting environmental and cleanliness standards). Erosion is always a challenge for beachfront owners, ever more so in an era of unpredictable climate change-driven weather. Mozer says the Eco beach is smaller than in her father’s day, a situation that could eventually require importing more sand and building sea barriers to preserve the shoreline. Other ongoing sustainable practices include the use of solar panels and maintaining a zero-plastics environment. Whatever plastic has been retrieved along the beach or in the water will be used to create artwork, she says.
Eco del Mare welcomes non-overnight guests who want to come for lunch or dinner or book a spot on the beach (depending on availability). At the restaurant the cooking is high-end Ligurian with international twists, with such specialties as “carbonara di mare,” made with a squid ink sauce, cuttlefish, prawns, quail eggs and katsuobushi; and second courses including just-caught fish served with vegetable caponata. or tuna tataki. The menu changes according to the seasonality of local produce.
Mozer is a particularly dedicated hotelier. You can imagine someone in her position enjoying her own island getaway somewhere during peak summer months, but she’s onsite at Eco del Mare from May to September. “It’s like a drug to be here,” she admits, obviously as mesmerized by the beauty of the setting as her father was.
While Eco del Mare has long drawn celebrities, it’s also an international destination for sophisticated travelers looking for a private corner of the Riviera. Many bookings still come from word-of-mouth recommendations. “We have guests from Finland, Holland, Switzerland, France, Spain, Japan and Korea,“says Mozer. “About 20-30% are Americans. A lot of Italians who live in the UK come too.”
In addition to establishing Eco’s renown, beating the odds and making a very small boutique hotel work in a secluded location, Mozer says what has given her the greatest satisfaction is watching the property transform from the time her father owned it until the present, and “seeing it be appreciated by people from all over the world.”