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A quick guide to Portofino

Our little guide to Portofino: What to do, where to eat, and the must-see spots

Ask an Italian what he or she thinks of Portofino, and he or she will probably tell you that it is at its best off-season, when the throngs of VIPs and paparazzi give way to days of calm and pale sunshine. 

If you just can't resist the allure of this international enclave, that since the 1950s has gone from fishing hamlet to mecca of luxury stores and exclusive weddings, then you might as well visit with expert advice.

Being captivated by the colorful little houses in the piazzetta is as easy as falling into a tourist trap, which is why we put together a little guide to Portofino and the surrounding area from a more local point of view. 

What to do, what to see, from chic restaurants by the water's edge to places of worship for those who prefer the substance of an old-fashioned focaccia recipe to the Instagrammability of the piazzetta.

 

The picturesque harbor of Portofino. Photo Credit: Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

What to do and where to eat in Portofino

Our tour begins at the little harbor or rather, as the locals call it, the piazzetta. After a stroll among the cobblestones, the little yellow houses and a peek at the docked boats you might get peckish. 

If so, there is nothing that is more symbolic than the historic Puny restaurant, established in the 1950s, with its tables nestled in the small harbor covered in dull yellow tablecloths, the retro chic furnishings seemingly unchanged by time. 

Here you can enjoy seafood appetizers, trofie with pesto sauce and green beans and potatoes, and warm strawberry parfait. The prices are not modest, but the harbor atmosphere certainly casts a spell.

In the afternoon it's a good idea to rent a boat and push westward to discover the rugged coastline of Punta Chiappa, perhaps arriving at the Christ of the Abyss of San Fruttuoso that can almost be spotted from the crystal clear waters. 

If you like exploring, you can choose to dedicate yourself to discovering the town's chicest stores or stroll along the pedestrian and bicycle path that connects to Santa Margherita Ligure. 

Alternatively, remaining in Portofino, a trip to the Castello Brown, a 16th-century fortress that often hosts exhibitions and offers breathtaking panoramic views, is a must.

 

Castello Brown is a house museum located high above the harbour of Portofino. Photo Credit: KATE TARTACHNA / Shutterstock.com

If you have the time and desire to walk, another incredible tourist spot is the Benedictine Abbey of San Fruttuoso, which can be reached by a long walk across the Monte di Portofino. 

This magical place is located directly on a beach that comes alive with tourists in summer. The more convenient but also more expensive alternative is to be taken by boat.

Of course so much wandering has again made you hungry, so we recommend a stop at Enoteca Winterose, in a secluded corner of the marina, where you can sample fine Italian wines, champagne and nibble on something as the sun goes down. 

Be careful, though, because the enoteca closes at 8 p.m. Just in time to decide where to continue with dinner.

Here the roads diverge between those who decide to abandon the center in the name of substance and those who want to end the romantic dream of Portofino surrounded by beauty. 

New, though already an institution, is Cracco Portofino, which stands on what used to be the historic Pitosforo and promises to continue the legacy of Ligurian cuisine by combining it with the chef's signature. 

The menu at Cracco's Portofino restaurant is simple, consisting of just a few dishes: there are no meat courses, but only and exclusively fish and vegetables. 

Beyond the classic destinations you will find the trattoria La concordia, a little further from the port. 

Here one can savor a cuisine made up of breaded and fried anchovies, spoonfuls of fresh pesto, grilled whole fish, and creme caramel.

The elegant dining room of Cracco Portofino. Photo Credit: Cracco Portofino

Where to eat around Portofino

As we mentioned above, if you are passing through Portofino, you cannot deprive yourself of a trip to its surroundings. 

A mandatory pit stop between pilgrimages is the Capo Nord restaurant, where you can eat with the feeling of being suspended over the sea.

Located in the bay between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, just below the ancient Cervara Abbey, Capo Nord allows you to enjoy Ligurian and Japanese cuisine accompanied only by the sound of the waves.

Hot addresses for gourmets are two focaccerie in Santa Margherita Ligure that know how to please all, those who like the classic or those who prefer the revisited version. 

Locals suggest that ending of the eternal war between the two schools is ended by first tasting a slice from Pinamonti in Santa Margherita Ligure, spectacular for those who like white focaccia, then another from Fiordiponti, for those who prefer it crispy. Peace at last.

The gastronomic tour cannot end without an experience at U Giancu

Nestled in the Recco countryside, this sincere-looking eatery with comic books on the walls (true fans will be thrilled to find memorabilia from Leo Ortolani to Carl Barks) offers homemade cuisine, from bread to ice cream to beer. 

Everything else is practically farm to table and can be enjoyed by the fireplace or on the terrace overlooking olive trees. 

For those who want to have a real experience, there is also the opportunity to get into the kitchen and get hands-on.

What to see in Portofino

Portofino is a small fishing village set like a precious gem among the greenery that surrounds it and the blue Mediterranean Sea.

The village is part of the Portofino Regional Park and borders the Gulf of Paradiso on one side, and the Gulf of Tigullio on the other. 

Verdant hills, forests of holm oaks and chestnut trees, pine forests, and sheer cliffs over the sea on which the waves break make it a unique spot in the world.

The Portofino waters are known to diving enthusiasts because they hold one of the most famous underwater sculptures in the world. 

The “Christ of the Abyss” is also located-at a depth of 17 meters-in San Fruttuoso Bay, between Portofino and Camogli. 

Christ of the Abyss in Portofino.

Beaches in Portofino

Beaches where you can actually swim, and that are equipped for lounging, and convenient to reach, are few and far between. 

Actually, this area is particularly more suited to boating vacations. 

However, with a little patience and waking up early you can try to find a place in one of these locations:

Paraggi beach with the legendary Bagni Fiore is much loved by VIPs and entrepreneurs. 

Keep in mind that the cost of a sunbed (without an accompanying umbrella) is around 50 euros for the day. But believe us, it’s worth it.

Gio and Rino Beach is an alternative establishment that you can reach by walking from Santa Margherita Ligure to Paraggi. Try calling in advance to suss out availability for their coveted lounge chairs.

Nightlife in Portofino

Nightlife in Portofino is quite lively. In addition to playing host to private parties of wealthy businessmen and artists, the area offers two very trendy nightclubs. 

The evening starts in the port bars and continues at Carillon in Paraggi or Covo di NordEst in Santa Margherita Ligure. 

The former is suitable for a more adult clientele while the latter hosts mainly young people looking to have fun.

Where to sleep in Portofino

Sleeping in Portofino is not for everyone. Unfortunately, hotel prices are at a premium. Consider about 30/40% more than average on any type of accommodation.

What was originally a humble fisherman's hut is now an elegant inn with a seafaring spirit, the Splendido Mare, Belmond Hotel. 

Immortalized on the covers of countless lifestyle magazines, the windows open right onto the heart of Portofino. 

The interiors recall the spirit of the Piazzetta with amber, terracotta and green hues.  Suffice to say that this hotel is a bit of a dream for all travelers who love luxury.

Among the cheaper accommodations, we recommend Agriturismo TerreRosse, which is located on the slopes of the Portofino promontory.  The facility has only two rooms so book well in advance.

How to get to Portofino

It takes about five hours to get to Portofino from Rome by car.  Keep in mind that Portofino is a pedestrian town, and you can only drive into it with special permission.  Leave your car in the covered car park.

Alternatively, it is possible to get to Santa Margherita by one of Trenitalia's many trains. From Santa Margherita, you have a few options.

First, you could continue on foot with a 30 minute walk. Second, take a public bus that, after about a 15-minute ride, will leave you in Piazza Martiri della Libertà. The cost is 5 euros round trip.

Third, hop in a cab at a cost of about 30- 35 euros one way. Fourth, book a boat, also available in the municipalities of Rapallo and San Fruttuoso, which will cost you about 12 euros round trip.

Of course, the most scenic arrival is aboard a sailing boat!

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