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, it’s L’Heure Bleue. Technically, it’s at early dawn or at dusk when 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 really don’t care about understanding the scientific explanation, I simply accept it as a magical time of day and just sit back and enjoy it.
It typically lasts for about thirty minutes and occurs just before the sun rises and right after it dips below the horizon and is at its most effective when the sun is rising or setting behind a body of water where the sky and sea merge together. The unique light of the so-called “Blue Hour” is revered by both artists and photographers, who refer to it as the “sweet light”. It is also celebrated in song. Joan Osbourne laments that “Good Times Don’t Last Forever” in Rodney Crowell’s “When the Blue Hour Comes.” 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. In France it’s commonly referred to as the hour of confusion, the in-between time when it’s neither day nor night; a time when people are tempted by the forces of nature to do mischief. But for me there’s no confusion or mischief about it, it’s just a wonderful time of the day, especially for dining al fresco.
I was leading a large group of friends and family on a trip to Umbria and decided that the first couple of days of our Italian vacation would be in Rapallo, a resort town on the Gulf of Tigullio between The Cinque Terre and Genoa, before heading to our villa near Castiglione del Lago. Our first full day would be spent in Portofino, which is not only one of the most famous seaside resort towns on the Italian Riviera but is an utterly fantastic place for a relaxing afternoon. I wanted to end our day in an equally spectacular fashion, so I decided to plan what I hoped would be an unforgettable dinner for that evening. Our hotel in Rapallo was the Hotel Lido and Italia, which is just off Lungomare Vittorio Veneto, the main promenade that runs the length of Rappallo. The hotel has its roots going back to 1931, when Luigi Pola, a passionate hotelier and restaurateur, fell in love with Rapallo and bought the Lido guest house and adjacent Hotel Italia. A few steps from the historic city center and adjacent to the medieval castle, which has been standing guard over the town since the 16th Century, the hotel has a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Tigullio and the Portofino promontory. Because of the beauty of its location, Rapallo has been a favorite haunt for writers and poets, including Nobel Prize winning authors Ernest Hemingway, Friedrich Nietzsche, André Gide, Gabriela Mistral and Ezra Pound (who was a frequent visitor to the Hotel Lido and Italia.)
The hotel’s website states that the restaurant specializes in the flavors and aromas of the cuisine of Liguria, mixing in the influences of French cuisine, 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, the Food and Beverage Manager at the hotel (and the granddaughter of the founder), about having dinner at the Ristorante Grande Italia. Weather permitting, our dinner would not be in the dining room, but behind the hotel on the promenade along the water, with the Castello sul Mare and the Mediterranean as a backdrop. And because we would be dining at sunset, and experiencing the Ora Blu in the optimal setting, I knew that this dinner held the promise of being something really special.
After a discussion with Beatriz, I decided to go with a fish menu. Not just because it was a Friday in Italy, but since Rapallo is a seaside resort on the Mediterranean, seafood just seemed the right thing to do. Dinner started off with an unexpected pesto-making demonstration by the restaurants’ head chef. He 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 it tastes better. (It did!) After our pesto tasting, we started with an Antipasto Misto di Pesce (mussels, shrimp, langoustines). This was followed by Spaghettino di Gragnano alle Vongole and Orata Grigliata con Verdure, which were served family style. The spaghetti with clams and the sea bream were exactly what we wanted: Light and flavorful dishes that blended perfectly with both our mood and the environment. For the final course we went with an assortment of local cheeses. As for the wine, we had a Pigato from Agriturismo 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 on the Riviera di Pontente, was a light white 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 enjoyment of 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 simply the Blue Hour. It really doesn’t matter. For me, it was just a moment in time when the entanglements of life no longer existed. As I sat in the cool night air nursing my Amaro Montenegro, I was reminded of the title of another Bob Dylan Song: “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.” And for myself and my group, everything was just right.