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Hotel Il Pellicano Through the Lens

“In an era when even the word ‘hideaway’ seems anachronistic, this is a hideaway. It’s Italy the way you dreamed it would be.”

Bob Colacello, A Visitor’s Note in Hotel Il Pellicano

Snapshot Hotel Il Pellicano

Close your eyes and imagine Italy.  Sunburnt afternoons, decadent art, gorgeous men and women and even more gorgeous, decadent food. Instant La Dolce Vita. Who cares if it’s a cinematic snapshot or a yesteryear dream, because every summer since Hotel Il Pellicano opened, that silver screen dream is a reality.


Chapter opener in Swope’s album ‘The Grand Opening, June 2, 1965. John Swope, 1965 © Hotel Il Pellicano

From Dream to Dreamy Escape

In 1965 Il Pellicano was born as the love child of Michael and Patricia Graham – he an English aviator and she an American socialite who famously turned down Clark Gable. The Grahams dropped everything to be somewhere else.  That somewhere just happened to be Porto Ercole, a sleepy fishing village whose biggest news to date was Caravaggio.  (The artist mysteriously died in Porto Ercole while traveling to Rome, following a near decade of exile, but that’s another story). Porto Ercole had quietly become a secret address for those who didn’t want to be seen – reticent aristocracy, reclusive actors, out-of-favour nobility, and upcoming entrepreneurs. 

Behind the scenes with John Swope

With a bit of luck,  great friends and excellent party tricks, the Grahams acquired the perfect piece of land, a bit wild and rough around the edges.  Friend, investor and Magnum photographer John Swope captured the fabled hotel’s quiet beginning in black and white. 

Tractors breaking ground while Patty catches some shade. Landowner and playboy prince Tinti Borghese and Michael reviewing architectural notes, Il Pellicano’s very first dinner party.  Like everyone whose visited Il Pellicano, Swope was captivated by the very personal relationships that the Grahams had with the land and the community and he snapped it up.  His photos are front row into the behind-the-scenes of Il Pellicano.

Salt water, speed boats and starry nights were the norm. Swopes loved his years at Il Pellicano, and opened up his rolodex to invite his friends, an eclectic collection of Cantabs, aviators, and Hollywood actors.  By 1967, Il Pellicano was no longer a secret, it was a destination.   Synonymous with La Dolce Vita, Il Pellicano was a luxurious private club and getaway for  tycoons, actors, presidents, and patricians from around the world.

Immortalising an era with Slim Aarons

“Ask anyone among the legion’s of Il Pellicano’s loyal clients to describe the fabled Tuscan retreat and the world most often used is a variation of home. . .  Il Pellicano is a much an attitude as it is home”, pens writer Bronwyn Cosgrave in Hotel il Pellicano.

From 1967 to 1991, photographer Slim Aarons would return “home” to Il Pellicano and Italy to photograph its palpable la dolce vita nostalgia.  Whether a stroll around Porto Ercole’s marina and coastline, or personal portraits of private aristocrats and socialites with melodious names like Agnelli, Pignatelli, Onassis and more as they enjoyed time out of the limelight and under a sun umbrella, Aarons iconised Il Pellicano’s timelessness as well as the passage of time.

By 1979, the Grahams hung up their room keys and long-time guest Roberto Scìo returned as the new owner.  If even possible, Il Pellicano became more glamorous under Scìo. A Michelin-starred restaurant and starlit parties, the glitterati and fashionistas decamped to Il Pellicano every summer. And Slim immortalised them all.

Capturing the contemporary with Juergen Teller

It’s hard to believe that more than half a century has passed since Il Pellicano’s 1965 opening. While Scìo and his daughter Marie-Louise have championed Il Pellicano into another decade of hidden glamour, there is not much difference in this 21st century incarnation.  Il Pellicano’s timelessness, attitude and even pool lounge attire remain pretty much the same. 

The everyday Pellicano life is exactly what photographer Juergen Teller capture on a weeklong stay in June 2009.  A quick dip in the cove, overexposed mornings and blurry evenings, Teller’s photos tell stories of wistful beach weekends that you already know.

Marie-Louise Sció and friends, poolside. Juergen Teller, 2009 © Juergen Teller

Limited edition Hotel Il Pellicano

“Hotels are bubbles where things happen in,” says Marie-Louise, who shares a glimpse into Il Pellicano moments the limited edition Hotel Il Pellicano.  Published in 2011, the art book (beautifully designed by Studio Frith for Violette editions) chronicles the exclusive Tuscan hideaway through the lens of photographers Slim Aarons, John Swope and Juergen Teller.  200 photographs -from burnt edged black and whites to Teller’s stark colours captures the Pellicano personalities from its inception as a wild plot of land on the Tuscan coast to one of the world’s best hotels.

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