I remember the 53 Rivale blowing me away when she joined Riva’s portfolio in 2003. We flung her around the Bay of Cannes off the South of France during what was known then as the Cannes Boat Show. Here we are now, 15 years and an extra 3 feet later, with the next-generation model: the 56 Rivale, which I stepped aboard this past September at the Cannes Yachting Festival. My expectations were high, and so are Riva’s; more than 100 of the 53 Rivales were delivered, the last one just a year ago. Indeed that’s a worthy tally for any mass-market branded mid-50s model, but that’s not Riva’s market position at all. Fitted out, a 56 Rivale can weigh in north of $2 million. But, of course, such things are purely relative. Top-end open cruisers don’t get much better than this. Rivas are yachts of a different breed and, as they say, vive la différence. The 56 Rivale does not beat her competition by being faster, offering more accommodations, or even by being better engineered — although she happens to score very highly in that last category. Instead, she wins by presenting just about every square inch of her many attributes in the most exquisite of bundles. Few brands have such caché. Her profile doesn’t just imply class; it sings it, with every design element contributing harmoniously, from her proud stem to stepped transom, tinted wraparound windshield to arch mast, and shark-gray metallic livery to gray-caulked decking.
Gleam and glamor are DNA-defined when it comes to Riva — hence, you can spot any one of the builder’s models a mile off. The distinctive nature of the brand is not surprising, given that all of the models in the modern-day fleet began life in the same way: as electrical impulses in the brain of Mauro Micheli, a colossal talent and, along with Sergio Beretta, one of the founding partners of Riva’s preferred creative studio, Officina Italiana Design.
The port side of the main deck consists of two back-to-back, L-shaped settees, the larger one being aft with a dinette. To starboard are a wet bar and helm console. A sun pad is aft atop the tender garage.
The helm console, with its bezel-like, stainless-steel frame, looks like a giant wristwatch. I particularly like the Böning display, the transponder ignition key and the adjustable AC vents. An electrically activated Bimini top can protect the whole area from the elements.
One standout feature aboard the 56 Rivale is the combination swim platform and tender garage, which accommodates a Williams Turbojet 325. The swim platform raises and lowers at the press of a button. It travels a couple of feet or more, making it useful in various conditions. The steps are beautifully engineered, as is the garage, whose door has a properly molded lining and whose interior has appropriate lighting for use on the hook after the sun says goodnight.
Access to the main cabin is through a sliding door amidships. Several steps descend into the salon, which comprises a galley to port and a settee with dinette to starboard, plus a day-head with shower. And owners can choose two or three staterooms. My test 56 had the optional three-stateroom layout: an owner’s en suite amidships and to starboard, with a transverse double berth, plus an en suite VIP forward in the bow and a portside twin-bunk guest stateroom.
The standard layout substitutes a crew cabin for the latter that’s accessed via the cockpit. For me, crew quarters on a model like this seems incongruous, but I fully appreciate that some may well see the world the other way up.
Riva décors are always magnificent. My test 56 had what I deem to be the Riva signature: striped, grain-matched mahogany throughout, glossed to a fathomless shine. Riva-specific details include highly polished stainless steel everywhere, along with rich lacquers, stitched leathers, Venetian blinds, cool-tone carpeting and mirrors aplenty. Many surfaces let the natural light bounce around, and every stateroom door handle and tread has an engraved Riva logo.
Rivas always perform well and handle beautifully. If there is any discernible elevation between the new 56 and the old 53, it’s probably sound and vibration attenuation. Riva’s engineers have moved things forward on that score.
The standard powertrain for the 56 Rivale is twin 1,000 hp MAN V-8s, which the builder says provide a top speed around 35 knots and a 31-knot fast cruise. My test boat had the optional 1,200 hp MAN V-8s and hit 37 knots with a 33-knot fast cruise. She achieved those speeds at two-thirds load, with some 400 gallons of fuel and about 85 gallons of water, plus five people, aboard.
Depending on engine options and allowing for a 10 percent reserve, the 56 Rivale’s range with my test yacht’s bigger V-8s would be around 200 nautical miles. Owners could add another 50 nm or so aboard a Rivale with the standard MANs.
Handling is crisp, and I particularly liked the progressive steering. My test yacht also had several options that I would categorize as essentials, namely a Seakeeper 5, a gyrostabilizer that packs a lot of resistive punch. Additionally, this 56 had the super-tropical air conditioning, white underwater lights, and an electric Side-Power stern thruster to match the standard-fit one at the bow — all of which make boating easier and more comfortable, especially for novices and anyone prone to seasickness.
The word rivale translates from Italian to English as rival, which is ironic, given the fact that I’ve been testing yachts for almost 30 years now, and haven’t found many rivals for Rivas.
A Tour of Italy
The Riva 56 Rivale is built at the company’s original yard just outside Sarnico, Italy, on the north bank of Lago Iseo, about a 45-minute drive east of the Lombardi city of Bergamo, and an 80-minute drive east-northeast from Milan. This factory builds all the smaller Rivas, from the entry-level 27-foot Iseo to the 63 Virtus. The larger models, from the 76 Bahamas and 76 Perseo to the soon-to-launch 110 Dolce Vita, are fitted out at Riva’s west coast facility in La Spezia, which is a 90-minute sojourn south of Genoa and just more than an hour north of Pisa. The biggest-ever Riva, the almost 161-foot steel and aluminum trideck 50 MT, is pictured above and is in build on the east coast at the Ferretti Group’s CRN and Riva Superyacht Division in Ancona.