Portofino is the prettiest and most exclusive destinations in the Italian Riviera. Brightly colored houses with wooden shutters line the cliff edges that drop down into the aquamarine Mediterranean sea. For years, it’s been a favorite bolthole for celebrities, millionaires and fashionistas seeking a more quiet side of luxury, though that’s not to say it’s any less glamorous than its more glittering neighbors. The tiny fishing village hides chic restaurants, designer boutiques and smart hotels within its winding cobbled streets.
Like the village itself, the harbor is a charming contrast of old and new with quaint wooden fishing boats bobbing along next to fully-kitted super-yachts, and local crafts shops sharing space along the front with big international brand names like Gucci, Giorgio Armani and Yves Saint Laurent. Side by side these two worlds of luxury and tradition, seem all the more appealing creating an atmosphere that is completely entrancing and completely surreal.
There’s plenty of cultural sites nearby too. A beautiful walk up from the harbour along a path known as Salita San Giorgio leads to the impressive San Giorgio church. After which you can continue round the headland to Castello Brown, once a strong hold and now a perfect viewpoint to admire the overwhelming beauty of the surroundings. Take a bottle of rose in your bag for a romantic sunsets gazing dreamily into the endless expanse of the sky and the ocean. Otherwise hop back aboard your boat to venture to the northern shore and the tiny bay of San Fruttuoso, where a Benedictine abbey was built in the eighth century. With arches half covered by sand and a maze of corridors and rooms inside, the historical structure is mysterious and breathtaking, and serves as a magnificent stage for classical concerts throughout August.
The treasures that lie within in the clear waters are also worth exploring either by snorkelling or diving. The latter is most enjoyable in the marine park where there are caverns to swim through and plenty of pretty, colourful fish, as well as the famous sunken bronze statue, Christ of the Abyss by Gudi Gallenti, standing tall with head and hands raised skyward.
Portofino is also an excellent foodie destination with a great mix of family run authentic Italian kitchen style restaurants as well as smarter, contemporary joints tailored to the jet-set crowd. Ristorante Da Puny is the best of those on the harbour, headed by the chef himself who makes tourists blush with flattery and greets his VIP regulars like long lost friends, which, most likely, some of them really have become over the years. The seafood is fresh and the pasta dishes divine – the pappardelle in particular comes highly recommended. For local specialties, Trattoria dei pescatori is the place, with dishes such pansotti in salsa di noci (pasta in nut sauce) on its menu and always the most impressive fish of the day. The yachting crews and guests alike flock to buy pastries, sandwiches and cakes from the local bakery, Canale so most days there’s a long queue outside the door, but its well worth the wait especially for the daily batch of freshly baked focaccia Genovese. The Splendido Hotel pool bar also serves up great pizza, made by an authentic Neapolitan, to enjoy whilst watching the beautiful people come and go in their Lamborghini’s.
Evening in Portofino is perhaps the most magical time of the day, when the air’s warm and buzzing with crickets. Join the Italians for ice cream at one of the stalls on the piazzetta after dinner before heading to the most trendy of bars on the waterfront, Bar Morena Di Ugo. The house special, a Bellini served in a regal goblet and made with fresh peach juice, is exceptional and when sipped overlooking the moonlit sky, it can feel rather like a scene from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Head next to the floating bar, La Gritta on a pontoon covered with cushions to continue the sophisticated, laid back vibe, before following the social scene into the piano bar at Hotel Splendido to sway to live music into the early hours.
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