Portofino, Italy is one of those picture-perfect, postcard locations you recognise immediately. You can’t mistake her iconic U-shaped port, flanked by a tidy row of similar-sized, multi-coloured buildings. Boats and yachts continually bob in the harbour, and it just seems so darned cute. I knew its reputation was synonymous with the, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” on par with St Tropez, but is Portofino, Italy worth a visit?
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Is Portofino, Italy on your bucket list?
- 1 Is Portofino, Italy on your bucket list?
- 2 Along the Ligurian Coast
- 3 Cinque Terre Travel Cap?
- 4 Hotels in Portofino are expensive; Santa Margherita Ligure is a good base
- 5 How to get to Portofino – take the ferry!
- 6 Portofino, Italy is worth a visit
- 7 Dining in Portofino
- 8 Best Restaurants in Portofino
- 9 What to see in Portofino, Italy
- 10 Shopping in Portofino, Italy
- 11 Where to stay in Portofino; Hotels are expensive
- 12 Is Portofino, Italy worth a visit or is a visit to the Amalfi Coast better?
- 13 Beyond Portofino
Portofino had been on my bucket list of Italian resorts to visit for a long time, but never had the chance to get there. To be honest, that part of Liguria, Italy has never appealed to me. Yes, the Cinque Terre is along that same stretch of coast and I’ve not been there, either, but I need to get there. So many people ask, “What’s so great about Portofino, Italy?”
You might enjoy these travel books on Portofino, Italy
One reason I may not have been drawn to visit Portofino is the schlep you have to endure to get there. That actually may be its cachê, again, quite like St. Tropez. You have to really want to get there. You either go by train to Santa Margherita Ligure and trudge along by bus, which should take 18 minutes, but good luck in summer. Or from Santa Margherita Ligure, you go by taxi or boat. If you have friends in high places, you arrive by yacht. Portofino reminded me so much of St. Tropez that I thought I should see it for myself.
Along the Ligurian Coast
I was invited to stay with friends in Ruta, just on the other side of Genova. I hadn’t seen them in years, and didn’t know where Ruta was. But since it is just on the other side of Genova, that meant it’s not a long journey from home.
I took the train to Recco where they picked me up, and we drove to their place in the wilderness. It was a beautiful, little place within a secluded, wooded complex. In fact, you couldn’t see it from the road. You enter the driveway and go down a steep, winding decline to arrive at the complex. Continue down a dozen steps and there was a communal swimming pool flanked by imposing, cliche Cyprus trees, and the Mediterranean Sea in front of me.
The sweeping views to the Mediterranean Sea below were magical. From the front lawn you can see a perched village to the left, and in front and to the right was nothing but Med sea and mountains. I feel like I am in the middle of nowhere.
We fired up the grill that night and dined outside as the sun went down. The atmosphere had the sights and smells of a campground, but with really great accommodation. But if you don’t have friends that are local, don’t fret. There are some excellent hotel options available in the Portofino, Italy area.
Cinque Terre Travel Cap?
The topic of travel came up around the campfire, and I mentioned an article I read saying that the villages of the Cinque Terre were going to put a cap on the number of tourists. The article said tourists would need to buy a card to visit the towns and trails. They want to limit the number of tourists to 1.5 million from the 2.5 million they usually have each season. Seemed like quite a drastic reduction. There are lovely trails there, particularly if you are considering hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza, and you can easily see why the Cinque Terre is so popular.
The area around the Cinque Terre is very delicate, and with too many tourists traipsing around, they not only risk damaging the landscape, but also their major source of revenue through tourism. The Cinque Terre has a small population, so a part of me could understand why they’d want to do this. But I mentioned I’d never been there, and perhaps it was already too late.
My friend immediately asked whether I had visited Portofino. Well, no I hadn’t. It was on my list, and I didn’t even know where Portofino was compared to where I was… So we flippantly decided to head to Portofino in the morning before they, too, impose a travel ban.
Hotels in Portofino are expensive; Santa Margherita Ligure is a good base
In the morning, we drove to the lovely seaside village of Santa Margherita Ligure. This is actually a great place to base yourself to explore Portofino if you are not staying in Portofino itself. Santa Margherita Ligure is 22 miles east of Genova with a population of 10,000. You can get there via train. It’s quaint, beautifully, well-manicured, and has a nice beach area. There are numerous quality restaurants and hotels there, at much better prices than you’ll find in Portofino. It’s also where Christopher Columbus spent some time before sailing to America.
How to get to Portofino – take the ferry!
One of the most visually stunning ways to arrive in Portofino is by boat. Hands down. Forget the taxi and bus. You need to see the coastline from a boat to take in the views. We took the Trigullio – Marine lines to Portofino for $12 roundtrip. It’s a 15-minute ride, and sweeps you past stunning coastlines and unimaginable mansions perched within the cliffs.
Again, with the Traghetti Portofino lines, you can also reach the various villages of the Cinque Terre from Santa Margherita Ligure. I should have killed two birds with one stone, but hadn’t planned to stay that long. Next time I will definitely use Santa Margherita Ligure as a base to explore the Cinque Terre.
The coastline along Portofino is really something special and strange at the same time. I couldn’t help but wonder who lives in these secluded mansions. Are they hiding out? Are they happy? What do they do? Are they bored? Are they stuck within their castle? Can I hotwire their yacht and take it for a spin? You know… random thoughts.
Portofino, Italy is worth a visit
Portofino is definitely worth a visit, but it depends on what you are into. If you want to step foot on Portofino to say you’ve been there, then great. The ferry drops you off on the west side of Portofino’s port, and you disembark to find a little beach area, a variety of restaurants, shops and some streets leading off into different directions. The port area is quite congested and not a place to swim, but just a place for boats to come and go.
Dining in Portofino
Dining in Portofino can be pricey. There are a variety of lovely restaurants fronting the port offering that, ‘Ah, we are in Portofino’, feel. We checked out a few and decided the price tag was a bit high for what we wanted. Plus, we were on the ferry schedule.
Most restaurants require reservations, and I don’t like stuffing a $100 meal in my belly in 30 minutes. So build in plenty of time in Portofino to wander the small streets and enjoy a leisurely lunch at a local restaurant. We bought something quick and fresh from a local bakery and found a quiet place to have a picnic. Not very Portofino-like, but enjoyable, none the less.
Best Restaurants in Portofino
If I had more time, I would have chosen one of the following highly-recommended restaurants in Portofino. First up is Chuflay Bar and Restaurant. This restaurant is connected to the Belmond Splendido Mare Hotel, right on the main square. It’s in the Michelin Guide, and is frankly the only restaurant in Portofino in the Michelin Guide. The menu is quite diverse with plenty of starters, pastas, meats and seafood mixed with Ligurian accents. Wash it down with something from their extensive wine list, and you’ll be happy as a clam. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is located at Via Roma 2, just next to Dior. For other Michelin choices you’ll need to head to Santa Margherita Ligure.
Ristorante Puny at Piazza Martiri dell Olivetta, 5 is another highly-rated restaurant in Portofino. It’s on the left side of the port. The name makes me laugh. Puny, as in tiny! There are about 15 tables on the terrace and the same inside, and you may be grappling with an A-lister to get a table. I hate it when Clooney gets a table and I don’t! Their menu is simple, Genovese fare with lots of homemade goodness.
Ristorante Taverna Del Marinaio is also part of the Da Puny family and offers a variety of more moderately-priced seafood and pastas. This is a great local hangout where you can feast on gamberi, sole, calamari and salty anchovies. Be sure to go when the fish is in season or ask them what is fresh because not all fish will be fresh all year long. They also have a sister restaurant in Santa Margherita Ligure.
What to see in Portofino, Italy
Portofino is tiny with about 400 permanent residents. Seriously, 400 residents! There are only a few routes to take, so you won’t get lost. We decided to head up to Chiesa San Georgio for the best views of Portofino and to enjoy our lunch alfresco. The cemetery is also quite unique. The views are spectacular here and it was less crowded than by the port area.
Continuing along from San Georgio’s church, you’ll come across the castle and luscious grounds of Castello Brown. It was built in the 1400’s and today hosts various art exhibits, festivals and events. The magnificent gardens would make a great backdrop if you are considering getting married in Portofino. Keep going and you’ll come across Portofino’s lighthouse, where you can stop for a bevvy and, again, some great views. Aside from hiking a few routes or renting a bike, you might as well shop in Portofino.
Shopping in Portofino, Italy
As you’d expect, shopping in Portofino revolves around high-end boutiques. Wander the small alleyways and you’ll find Loro Piana, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Missoni, plus others. Again, this town is quite baffling. Either everyone is mega wealthy, or they go elsewhere to shop.
I also pondered about all the cruise ships that stop in Portofino. Just where does everyone go? I assume you can buy high-end clothes on the ship, and wouldn’t need to shop in Portofino unless you wanted to say, “Oh, I bought this in a shop in Portofino.” It was quite busy when we were there, even without a cruise ship in port. I can’t imagine how the locals deal with all these cruise tourists flocking through…
Where to stay in Portofino; Hotels are expensive
If you want to stay in Portofino itself, book early. There are not a lot of hotels in Porfofino and the hotel prices can range from near $200 and up for a room for two people to over the $1000s. Most of the hotels are located near the port and are in a great location to visit all of Portofino’s attractions. There are also some great villas and apartments you can rent if you want a more private and local feel during your stay. A few hotels I can suggest are the Belmond Hotel Splendido, Hotel Eden Portofino, and Hotel Piccolo Portofino.
Is Portofino, Italy worth a visit or is a visit to the Amalfi Coast better?
In a nutshell, visiting Portofino was underwhelming. I’m glad I visited. I’m glad I didn’t stay. I don’t profess to always shed a positive light on any destination, but I will give you my honest opinion. And even if I wanted to splurge on Portofino, which I can, I wouldn’t. It was missing something for me. For a small chic resort, I really prefer Positano on the Amalfi Coast, south of Naples.
A lot of people question whether they should visit Portofino or Amalfi Coast. The Amalfi Coast is more than a 7-hour drive from Portofino, and the train from Santa Margherita Ligure to Naples will take a bit more. Then from Naples you take the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento, and then start your tour of the Amalfi Coast. Whew! It takes time to arrive at the Amalfi Coast, but it’s so well worth it. You have stunningly beautiful scenery – prettier than Portofino, and you have the southern Italian food that just adds a special element to this area. The people are by far friendlier. The Italians in the south are just more open, fun, loud… Italian.
You could also consider taking a Mediterranean cruise that has a stop in Portofino as well as Naples, and then from Naples you can take a boat excursion to Sorrento, Positano or Capri. Find a cruise that has an overnight stay in Naples, because all these Amalfi Coast excursions will take time. But you could time a day trip just right to see a couple different spots on the Amalfi Coast.
If you are in the Portofino area, another small fishing village worth visiting is Camogli. It’s unassuming and you’ll find reasonably-priced restaurants and bars along the sea with plenty of lovely beach areas. There are also nice hotels in Camogli to choose from.
One other thing that I find off-putting is dark sand, like you find in Camogli. I’m not a lover of black or red volcanic sand beaches. Santorini is included in this lot. I feel like I have been frolicking in the dirt and the waters seem ominous.
Not sure what it is, but I love white sand with clear waters; Mallorca falls into this category. However, in the photo below, you see the dark sand in Camogli with beautiful water. You can only imagine how spectacular this would look if the sand was white. The reflection through the water would be amazing.
I wouldn’t solely visit Portofino, Italy on its own, but would absolutely include Santa Margherita Ligure, the Cinque Terre and Camogli in the mix.
By the way, the Cinque Terre never did impose that travel cap, so feel free to visit the area, but be sure to read up before you go so that you respect the surroundings so others may enjoy it in the future. Please feel free to drop me a line with your thoughts. What did you think of Portofino?
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