Portofino is a charming fishing village that has become a boutiquey stop-off point for the yachting set.
But although it fills up with trippers, Hollywood types and paparazzi-courting celebs, this prettily-painted harbour settlement can still exude an air of tranquillity if you visit in its quieter off-season moments. It's certainly a must for anyone visiting this stretch of Italian coastline. Drop by for a visit during a walking tour or combine it with nearby seaside resorts or the famous Cinque Terre for an attractive holiday.
Portofino is very small; the little streets leading up from the harbour can be explored in very little time. As well as expensive boutiques, there are cheaper souvenir shops and also general stores where you could put together a picnic if you're planning on a walk. Via Roma leads upwards from the harbour, and is the busiest street, with a range of shops, the Portofino Tourist Information Office (ask for a map if you want to explore the footpaths), and the Post Office.
Portofino's pretty Piazzetta by the harbour is lined with café and restaurant tables; a lovely place to relax with a drink and watch the boats go in and out. A handy tip for visitors: there is a drinking water tap tucked away in a corner of the square.
Wandering the waterfront and the lanes, you'll find yachting boutiques, jewellers
and art galleries. There's not a lot to do other than enjoy a ramble, a browse in the shops and maybe a gelato or more substantial refreshments. The appeal of the little resort is in the atmosphere and picturesque views.
Castello Brown and a short walk from Portofino
A very pleasant walk heads up to the right as you face the harbour in Portofino. Climbing a series of steps, you come to the Church of St. George, a church with a cool, plain interior, dramatically situated on the narrow neck of the Portofino headland. As a lookout point, and probably as a site of religious significance, the spot goes back thousands of years. There are benches to sit on, and some great photo opportunities looking back down over the harbour.
Continuing onwards, you'll reach Castello Brown (entrance charge). This imposing building dominates the harbour; after
its warlike purposes were over, it was purchased in 1867 by the British Consul, Montague Yeats Brown, who made it into the charming dwelling you can admire today. The terraced gardens have wonderful views, while the building contains interesting historical exhibits and architectural features, as well as housing art exhibitions. There were once two pines here, planted to celebrate the consul's wedding; one for his bride and one for himself; they were a striking feature of the Portofino skyline until they were blown down during a storm in 2016, and are now commemorated with a plaque.
After visiting the castello, this walk continues out to the tip of the promontory and the Faro (lighthouse), with more splendid scenery on the way. A little terrace and bar provide a nice spot for a drink or snack overlooking the turquoise Mediterranean, before you retrace your steps to Portofino.
The area around Portofino is a protected national park, with good, marked trails and glorious stretches of scenery to discover. In July and August there are organised events and guided walks for those who want to see more of the area on foot. On my last visit I walked from the railway station in Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino by excellent footpaths up over the heights above the sea - quite a workout but a delightful way to arrive and an unforgettable experience.
Portofino travel information
Get to Portofino
Unless you are really splashing out, you'll probably just be visiting Portofino for a day trip. The best way to arrive is by boat - if you don't have your own, there are public ferries from nearby resorts. Santa Margherita Ligure is the nearest seaside town; the town's railway station is called Santa Margherita Ligure - Portofino, and buses run from the station along the headland to Portofino. While the ferry may be more scenic, the bus is considerably cheaper.
It is also possible to walk between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino. If you have time, this is a great way to discover the resorts and the local coastline. As mentioned above, I took a high-level footpath to reach Portofino, with many steps, ups and downs, and lovely views. An easier alternative, and one that I used on my way back to Santa Margherita Ligure, is to follow the road connecting the two towns at sea level. A pedestrian path runs all the way between the two towns, mostly along the road with a section of it aiming for footpath celebrity status and boasting the name 'Passeggiata dei Baci', the Walk of the Kisses. You can also stop off, as I did, for a break on the beach at Paraggi.
If you want to explore the blue waters at the foot of Portofino's cliffs, you can hire a boat at the harbour.
Where to stay in Portofino: hotels and more
Portofino is a special place to stay, but generally an expensive one. However, there is an increased variety of options these days, with holiday apartments to rent as well as a small number of hotels, a hiking rifugio and agriturismo accommodation. For those with an eye to their budget or looking for optimal public transport connections for exploring, I'd recommend staying in nearby Santa Margherita Ligure, which has a much larger range of good hotels.
In Portofino, one of the best options is the Hotel Piccolo Portofino, which has a picturesque location on the coast. Right in the heart of Portofino, on the square by the harbour, the Albergo Nazionale is a traditional, long-established three-star hotel. Apartments make a good alternative for a more independent stay - book well in advance for the best availability. Choices include the popular and central Clara's House and Portofino La Dolce Vita, which comes with a harbour-view balcony.
For something a bit different, the Agriturismo Terre Rosse is set in the hills above Portofino, with wide-reaching views, its own produce and National Park surroundings which are ideal for walkers and nature-lovers. And the Eremo Rifugio Escursionistico - Hermitage Refuge - near Paraggi and reached by footpath, is a remarkable and rustic sanctuary for those who want to get away from the tourism hubbub and enjoy the walking trails, natural scenery and sea.
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