In Italy they call it Ora Blu. In Germany they call it Blaue Stunde. In Spain it’s called La Hora Azul. And in France, where it originated, it’s L’Heure Bleue. I just call it a magical time of day. Technically, it’s at early dawn and at dusk when the sun is just below the horizon and the indirect light takes on a predominantly deep blue hue due to the diffusion of the shorter wavelength of blue light compared with the comparatively longer wavelength of red light. Personally, I don’t look for a scientific explanation, I just sit back and marvel at the results
It typically lasts for about 45 minutes, just before the sun rises and right after it dips below the horizon, and is most effective when the sun is setting or rising behind a body of water and the sky and sea merge together. The unique light of the Blue Hour is revered by both artists and photographers, who refer to it as the “sweet light”. It is also celebrated in song. In Roy Orbison’s “When the Blue Hour Comes” he laments that “Good Times Don’t Last Forever.” In “L’Heure Bleue,” Françoise Hardy sings “Où tout devient plus beau, plus doux, plus lumineux” (where everything becomes more beautiful, softer, brighter). And Bing Crosby famously sang about “When the blue of the night meets the gold of the Day.” There’s even a perfume by Guerlain called L’Heure Bleue. And in France they refer to it as the hour of confusion, the time when it is neither day nor night. A time when devious people are up to no good and good people are tempted. But it is also a time for enjoyment, especially when you are dining al fresco with friends and family.
Our First full day in Italy would be spent in Portofino. Having visited this famous seaside resort previously, I knew the afternoon would be spectacular. So, I wanted to end our day in an equally spectacular fashion. Our hotel in Rapallo was the Hotel Italia and Lido, a hotel that has its roots going back to 1931, when Luigi Pola, an experienced hotelier and restaurateur from the Alto Adige, fell in love with the area and bought the Lido guest house and adjacent Hotel Italia. A few steps from the historic city center and adjacent to the medieval castle, the hotel has a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Tigullio and the Portofino promontory. The hotel restaurant (Ristorante Grande Italia) specializes in the flavors and aromas of Liguria and tries to provide a meal that satisfies all the senses. The menu looked outstanding, that coupled with their emphasis on local ingredients and the marvelous location, made this an ideal choice for our welcome to Italy dinner.
So, before leaving home, I contacted Beatriz Lagos-Pola, not only the manager of the hotel but the granddaughter of founder Luigi Pola, about having dinner at the Ristorante Grande Italia. After discussion with the group, we decided not to have our dinner on our first night in Italy when we would be too exhausted to enjoy our feast, but the second night when we had not only begun to adjust to our new time zone but to the Dolce Vita way of life. Weather permitting, the dinner wouldn’t be in the dining room, but behind the hotel on the promenade along the water, with the castle and the Mediterranean as a backdrop. And because we would be dining at sunset, and experiencing the Ora Blu in an optimal setting, I knew that this dinner held the promise of being something really special.
After discussion with Beatriz, I decided to go with a fish menu. Not just because it was Friday in Italy, but being a Mediterranean town, seafood just seemed the thing to do. Dinner started off with an unexpected pesto-making demonstration from Chef Andrea Bruzzone, who is from the Sampierdarena area of Genoa, a region renown for its pesto. The chef explained to us that it was important not to make the pesto with a food processor, but make it by hand. Not only is the texture improved, but the taste is quite different. After our pesto tasting, which was simply delicious, we started with an Antipasto Misto di Pesce (mussels, shrimp, langoustines). This was followed by Spaghetti alle Vongole (with clams like you never see back in New York) and Bronzino Grigliato con Verdure (simple in preparation, but extraordinary in taste). For the final course we went with an assortment of local cheeses. And of course there was wine. For the white we had a Pigato from Torre Pernice and for the red we had a Ciliegiolo from Azienda Agricola Pino Gino in Portofino. The pigato, which was from a vineyard near Albengna, a town on the Riviera di Pontente between Savona and Imperia, was a light wine with an aromatic bouquet with hints of peaches and apricot. The Ciliegiolo was a dark ruby color with aromas of cherries, which is not surprising since the name of the grape means cherry in Italian. Coffee and after-dinner drinks followed. And even though jet lag was beginning to catch up with us, nobody left the table. We were all caught up in the Blue Hour, which continued for us well into darkness.
The weather was perfect, our view of the Mediterranean sensational, the sound of the waves lapping on the shore soothing, the food and wine outstanding and even though the atmosphere was blue, our mood was anything but. Call it Ora Blu, Blaue Stunde, La Hora Azul, L’Heure Bleue or the Blue Hour; it really doesn’t matter. For me, it was simply a moment in time when the entanglements of life did not exist.