Portofino Italy: History, What to See, How to Get There, Where to Sleep

Liguria is one of those areas in Italy, and more generally in the world, where you can find some of the most beautiful places in existence. Famous for the area of Cinque Terre, Liguria also hosts one of the places has gained more and more attention from tourists that over time, thanks to it being so picturesque and touristy, as well as wonderfully enjoyable during the summer season.

Portofino. A fishing village of fundamental historical and archaeological importance, it has now become a destination where you can enjoy unbridled fun, as well as the beautiful landscape.

A destination that has become a must both for foreigners visiting, Italian tourists on holiday and of course, a must for anyone living nearby.

Such a magical place deserves extraordinary attention, after all.

 

Everything you need to know before visiting Portofino Italy

 

The history of Portofino

genoa surroundings portofino

The main symbol of Liguria, Portofino and its historic square have made history in the area of tourism in Italy and continue to do so.

But what made Portofino so special?

In addition to being visually spectacular, Portofino boasts a tradition as a marine village dating back to Roman times under the name of Portus Delphini.

The history of Portofino is quite lively: from the beginning of 1200 to the end of 1800 it underwent many “changes of hands”, being first annexed to the Republic of Genoa, then passed to Florence, then regained by Genoa, ending up being part of the First French Empire until the Congress of Vienna in 1814, with which Portofino became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and finally part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

From the beginning of the 20th century until today, Portofino has been characterized by an influx of British and German foreigners who, during the last century, have contributed to base most of the economy of the village on tourism and to make Portofino the tourist destination that we know today.

Clearly, the great administrative movement between 1400 and 1700 have left their mark on the city: Saracen towers, castles and architecture, all sometimes very different from each other … Portofino is nowadays known for its city landscapes and not the history that marked it, the great family feuds, demonstrations of power and administrative arrogance that characterized the years of the mid-millennium.

In such an extremely varied historical context, it is easy to understand how it is possible to find historical testimonies belonging to different eras and styles, giving Portofino a really high importance in terms of history and archaeology.

 

What to see in Portofino in a day

Portofino in one day
Villa in “Via Duca degli Sbruzzi 52” – Photo by Kristine Tanne

A day in Portofino can give you so many different emotions.

In addition to the wonderful sea, there are some really fascinating buildings and monuments, left by the various families that have ruled Portofino over the centuries and the administrations that have given Portofino points of artistic interest, some with greater care than others.

One of these is certainly the Oratory of Santa Maria Assunta, with its gothic details and its architecture in full gothic style.

The town’s promontory is certainly dotted with equally interesting buildings, arriving at the 16th century Brown Castle and the Punta del Capo lighthouse, the panoramic view around which can really take your breath away from its beauty.

With regard to the landscape and the sea, of course, Portofino is a seaside resort with a lot of charm, between paths, beaches and bays, you can also find one of the sculptures known throughout the world: the Christ of the Abyss.

Lying on the bottom of the sea at a depth of 17 meters, placed in the second half of the twentieth century as a work of art, it is now a tourist destination with diving organized specifically to see it.

The area is also extremely suitable for trekking and other types of adventure trails, perhaps by canoe, to reach places otherwise not reachable by land, such as North Cape and the beach of Paraggi, reachable by car, but also by a panoramic walk in the Park of Portofino, where you can also immerse yourself in the protected flora and fauna.

One day in Portofino is incredibly varied and, if taken in detail, the attractions of Portofino are really characteristic and capable of entertaining even the most demanding tourist.

 

Portofino: il centro storico

The historic centre of Portofino, like most of the city, preserves an ancient structure, but in particular, the centre is based on the Roman colony originally named Portus Delphini.

The houses are multicoloured and give colour to the little harbour decorated with the pastel colours of the facades, a truly iconic landscape, which some believe have also been “imitated” by other marine villages scattered all over the world, a belief that is entirely possible, given the very special effect caused by the choice of style.

The Church of San Giorgio is, without a shadow of a doubt, a bit of a litmus test of the marine village and represents the essence of the village.

Built in 1154, it has an exemplary Ligurian Romanesque style, although some excavations dating back to the post-war period have made us think of a Lombard settlement dating back to the seventh century AD.

The nature of Portofino is reflected entirely in San Giorgio: the church has undergone profound changes and events that have upset the appearance, bringing it to the current appearance little by little: the first changes began in 1691, which expanded the church and made it easier to access, with the widening of the road between the legendary square and the church.

Unfortunately, the bombing during the Second World War razed the structure to the ground, and the reconstruction works, entirely carried out and financed independently by the population, attempted to mimic the maniacal attention and meticulousness of the original project, in an attempt to bring the church back to its princely version.

The interior houses relics of St. George, the patron saint of Portofino and for this reason it is certainly one of the “must-visit” places within the streets of Portofino.

Other stops that cannot be missed in the historic centre are certainly San Martino, the Abbey of San Fruttosio and the already mentioned Oratory of Maria Assunta. An artistic path and, for those interested, certainly of religious interest.

The Abbey of Fruttosio is an asset of FAI, the Italian Environmental Fund, which preserves and reconstitutes it. A Benedictine monastery dating back to the year 1000, it was a pirate’s hideout and later a base for the fishing village.

Originally a church, in the 8th century A.D., it was refounded as a Benedictine monastery in the 10th century, and it intertwined its destiny with that of the Doria family, who made the Abbey their familial burial ground until 1983, when the entire structure was donated to FAI.

The Dorias changed its appearance, and it is still a place that demands constant and perennial care, on pain of the loss of its artistic heritage of high value.

The works try to restore otherwise unusable parts of the structure, and the spring on which the nullar tower was built has recently been freed.

This abbey is truly a place where you can escape from the world, thanks to the Foresteria del Bene, a corner where you can completely forget about reality for a few hours.

The history that oozes from every corner of the town, as well as from the ancient architecture is certainly good for both the first-time tourist as well as for the returning visitor and will definitely leave the sensations of this unique and special place imprinted on their hearts and minds.

The craft shops, boutiques and small businesses in the town, moreover, are just another picturesque touch to a place already that’s extremely characteristic.

The main craft consists of macramé embroidery and lace, with craftsmen still able to make them in their own shops on the road.

 

The Portofino Park

The Portofino Regional Nature Park and its protected marine area are a natural heritage, with seabeds dotted with coral formations, grasslands and a really wide variety of fish worthy of protection with the greatest possible attention.

Much like in Camogli and Santa Margherita Ligure, the marine area is only a part of the Park, which also includes the Monte di Portofino with its countless hiking trails and a landscape of great prominence.

On the website of the Authority you can choose from many routes which can give you a taste of what you can find, provided you can carefully measure your skills, as some trails are certainly more challenging than others and are able to test even the most skilled hikers.

In general, the park, as well as the marine area and the part of the mountain are all fantastic places, able to fascinate the occasional adventurer and satisfy the thirst of the most hardened trekkers.

 

The best beaches near Portofino

A real pearl of the sea (so much so that it is included in the “Jewels of Europe“, or a list of European tourist centres of great importance) Portofino offers visiting tourists a certain degree of choice.

The beaches of Portofino are renowned enough to be a fixed stop for many VIPs and at the same time to accommodate tourists of all kinds, immersing them in landscapes of rare beauty.

Cannon Bay is certainly a place very suitable for intimacy and for spending a day of romance with fascinating sunsets.

The coves make the place a favourite destination for a bath and to relax, beyond the view of the picturesque surroundings.

Another very suggestive beach is that of the Bay of Silence, where you can admire the beautiful play of light, as well as enjoy a swim.

genoa things to do
Baia del Silenzio, Sestri Levante, Genoa

The coast of San Fruttuoso is another landmark for lovers of the sea and the beach and can be reached by a 5 km walk in the park, or a drive through Santa Margherita Ligure. Obviously, for divers, there is a chance to admire the Christ of the Abyss and the beauty of the underwater flora and fauna.

An honourable mention is Paraggi and its beautiful bay: lovers of long walks can reach the North Cape and walk on a wooden structure suspended over the sea, admiring a landscape impossible to describe if not seen with your own eyes.

The divers are also marvellous, as in addition to the aforementioned variety of flora and fauna, they can observe the wreck of an old merchant ship at the bottom of Paraggi.

For the nightlife, also, you can find it all in this one neighbourhood, where there is a disco on the sea and several places where you can spend the evening.

 

San Michele di Pagana

Troneggiante between the crystal-clear waters, pines and fishermen’s houses, San Michele di Pagana is one of the most beautiful places in Liguria and deserves to be mentioned separately, as a really characteristic place.

Located between Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure, San Michele di Pagana has several bays such as Pomaro, Travello and Prelo that enchant bathers of all kinds and encourage you to bathe in the purest waters.

San Michele di Pagana is also a very important place from a historical point of view.

It boasts several important monuments, one of which is the particularly fascinating Saracen tower on Punta Pagana, built in 1562.

It was the tower of the Ancient Castle, which was part of the defensive system of the Gulf of Tigullio. The Castle of Punta Pagana, built in 1625 and currently owned by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, is a not-to-be-missed curiosity.

The church of St. Michael of Pagana is also a great tourist attraction, as well as an important religious stage and boasts valuable paintings as well as artistic particularities of great importance, donated for the most part after the fire of 1872, which destroyed almost the entire church.

 

Santa Margherita Ligure

Among woods of maritime pines and olive groves, not far from Portofino, Camogli and Rapallo, the town of Santa Margherita Ligure is a true match for Portofino.

It began to gain acclaim in the second half of the nineteenth century, a period during which many villas began to be built by famous people, continuing in the years to come the trend of luxury homes, favoured by the climate and conditions of the city.

Its port is extremely active from a cruise point of view, and many cruises stop in this picturesque village, so much so that much of the local economy is based on luxury hotels and tourism.

Sailing events and other maritime competitions are the norm, but in Santa Margherita there is also a second “layer”. The city is in fact divided between luxury yachts and luxurious villas, and ancient fishing traditions, with city events such as the Palio Marinaro del Tigullio or the Palio dei Quartieri.

All these characteristics make Santa Margherita Ligure a fascinating place, where the history and the recent acclaim of its many festivals have caused an influx of tourists and have really shaped the city.

One of the most awaited popular festivals every year is certainly the Spring Festival, celebrated with bonfires, St. Joseph’s pancakes and different events every year.

 

How to get to Portofino?

portofino parking

Portofino is a place that can be reached in many ways.

Depending on your situation, it can be more or less difficult, but it is entirely possible to reach Portofino in different ways.

By train, you can reach Santa Margherita Ligure-Portofino, as a station, 5km from the town of the same name. The train leaves from Genoa and takes about 45 minutes in total.

Once in Santa Margherita Ligure-Portofino, bus 82 takes you to Portofino and tickets are available in the nearby café once you get off at the station.

By plane you can reach Portofino in different ways: from Cristoforo Colombo airport in Genoa you can either rent a car, and within 38km, you can get directly to Portofino, a journey certainly lengthened by the congested traffic and roads once off the highway.

Perhaps not the simplest way for less experienced drivers, but certainly feasible.

In any case, there’s always a bus, but other options obviously include other nearby airports, including Nice or Milan.

It is also possible to reach Portofino by sea: while crossing the coast by ferry you can relax and in summer there is a daily departure with direct route between Genoa and Portofino. In exceptional cases, or if you want to visit more places, ferries are also available from Santa Margherita Ligure.

To get to Portofino by car, just take the A12 Genova – La Spezia and take the exit for Rapallo. From there, just follow the signs for Santa Margherita – Portofino, but be careful of the narrow streets.

The entire duration of the trip should take no more than 20-30 minutes, traffic permitting.

If you arrive in Portofino by car, it is obvious that you will also have to think about where to park. The municipality of Portofino is entirely pedestrianised, where transit and parking are granted only under authorization.

A covered car park in Piazza Martiri della Libertà solves most parking problems and is open 24 hours a day.

Otherwise, there is also a free car park along the road between Santa Margherita Ligue and Portofino, where you can leave your car without paying a fee.

The centre of the village can be reached from here on foot with a walk that will allow you to appreciate the view, or by using the regular bus service.

 

Where to sleep: the best places

portofino hotel

Let’s be clear that Portofino, being a very small and extremely touristy town, boasts very few places to sleep and, once you find a hotel or a bed and breakfast, is extremely oriented towards a very luxurious and special experience compared to the simple “get in the room and sleep”.

One of the most special nights of all is certainly at the Belmond Hotel Splendido, located in the peace and tranquillity of Portofino Park.

Other really good places are the National Hotel, right on the promontory of the city and the Hotel Piccolo Portofino, equally fascinating and certainly a good place to have pleasant dreams.

Unfortunately (but not too much) it is entirely possible that you have to turn to Santa Margherita Ligure to sleep, with its many hotels and a wide choice of B&Bs, thanks to the influx of cruise tourism to the Ligurian city.

 

Where to eat: best restaurants in Portofino Italy

Liguria is a food-lovers’ paradise, where there the wide variety of flavours is sure to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.

Portofino certainly offers a variety of fish products of the highest quality, obviously due to the fact that it is a historic marine village.

The presence of olive groves in the area makes it possible to produce olive oil for centuries, thus giving the opportunity to taste some of the most prized olive oils of the peninsula.

The climate favours the growth of the olive trees, and the quality is very high.

Portofino itself produces three varieties of oil, all produced by mixing various types of olives, each with a characteristic taste.

Obviously, you cannot miss the wine “symbol” of the city, the Giancu de Portofin, a typical local wine, white and produced by mixing different types of grapes, with a fresh and sparkling taste suitable to accompany the fresh local fish and other typical dishes.

Fruit, in turn, has special characteristics and the cherry camoglina and the apple limonina are two of the most picturesque products of the crops.

The first one is a tasty and sweet fruit, while the lemonime apple is just an apple with a greenish skin, yet the taste can resemble that of a lemon. It is also used for herbal teas and thirst quenchers.

Although the restaurants in Portofino are quite expensive, as they host internationally renowned personalities, the opportunity to taste various typical dishes is not to be ignored.

Fresh fish is the main ingredient and is certainly the staple ingredient of most appetizers, first courses and fried dishes.

One of the most commonly recommended dishes is certainly morone, a Ligurian style fish and a particular seafood muscle.

For those who are not crazy about fish and would prefer meat or vegetarian dishes, there isn’t a shortage of that either.

The pesto is excellent and, according to Ligurian tradition, there is the gachas of Ceci and the “pisciadela“, a focaccia with tomatoes, anchovies, garlic, olives and the phenomenal “salsetta di Portofino”, made mostly with tomatoes and vegetables and 30% with pesto.

Portofino is therefore clearly a rather sensational destination from a culinary point of view, and it will certainly be worth taking some time to enjoy what this small fishing village offers.

 

Conclusion

Portofino is undoubtedly proposed as one of the most famous destinations in Europe for tourism, not only for its seaside, but also the hiking, the historical landmarks and undoubtedly the landscape.

Probably “challenged” only by other places of great beauty such as the villages of Sicily or the Islands, the marine village of Portofino has over time assumed a character of its own, however, the essence of the small village has been put at risk, although never completely eradicated from the town.

Fishing boats continue to work, history continues to be preserved and the flora and fauna, as well as all the nature around, are constantly monitored to ensure that Portofino remains an unspoilt corner of paradise.

If at first glance the idea of a holiday in Liguria only briefly includes Portofino, hopefully going into detail has helped you see that the uniqueness of the place is really remarkable and certainly deserving of a prolonged holiday, to be enjoyed calmly.

Moreover, the fact that this gem is small in size makes it possible to visit it entirely on foot and thanks to the colourful aesthetic details and the ancient architecture, you will most definitely leave Portofino with a truly vast amount of emotions and memories.

This is what makes Portofino a tourist destination of great value not only for foreigners, but also, and perhaps especially for, Italians and the locals who always look abroad for a holiday destination, rather than for local gems like this town.

 

Andrea Semonella
Hey! I'm Andrea and I am a little bit obsessed with exploring the world and meeting people on the road. I'm in love with my city, and I'm happy to share with you all the best place and most incredible secrets of Genoa, Italy.

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