The poshest gem of the Italian Riviera, Portofino is a playground for the rich and famous with enchanting tales, while maintaining a rare and pristine charm.
If you’ve ever wanted to indulge in The good life (I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t dreamed of a life of indulgence and indolence!) you have to visit Portofino once in your life. It’s another matter that one visit necessarily leads to many others…
As we stepped off our cruise ship onto ferries that took us to this quaint Italian fishing village, we realized we had never seen such crystal clear turquoise waters, such spectacular colorful houses clustered around the harbor, or such a magnificent bay that we were approaching at some rapidity. Portofino (Latin Portus Delphini=Dolphin Harbour) is the name the Romans gave to this beautiful jewel because of the many dolphins in the Ligurian Sea. The village is on the Italian Riviera, part of Liguria, the crescent-shaped region of northwest Italy. This charming fishing village is a world famous seaside resort that has magically kept its charm intact, famous not only for its beautiful harbor but also for its artistic and famous visitors.
No wonder it was there that, as recently as May 22, Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker chose to wed — an extravagant ceremony sponsored by Dolce & Gabbana. While the ceremony took place in a medieval castle in Portofino with a beautiful view of the gulf, the reception took place at Villa Olivetta, owned by Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. We arrived in Portofino exactly two weeks later.
Descend into this sleepy Italian village and you are immediately engulfed in a sense of timelessness, a deep need to let go and lean into a simple, slower pace of life. We gave up on visiting Santa Margherita Ligure or Cinque Terre, the highly recommended string of centuries-old villages further along the Italian Riviera coast, or even visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa, about an hour away by boat. . That was it. We would soak up all that Portofino has to offer in the limited time we had – the sun and sea, the rocky climbs, the churches and castles perched on the hilltops, and the general milieu of cheerful apathy.
The first sight that accosted us was the many chic trattorias and bistros overlooking the Ligurian Sea with its fishing boats and ferries alongside a few yatchs (which were surely owned by Hollywood celebrities) floating peacefully in the lush waters. You can choose to browse fashion boutiques and enjoy Italian cuisine and service in trattorias before or after your stroll through the city. We decided to take a stroll and save the food and wine for later as we lazily gazed at the beautiful Mediterranean distance, absorbing the charming Italian culture, cuisine and climate. The first store I entered was – but of course Dolce & Gabana! I fell in love with the first dress my eyes landed on – a graceful, dreamy, flowy one-shoulder outfit. It cost 2000 euros. I politely declined the friendly sales clerk’s offer to try it on and walked over to the vast, rust-colored Alexander McQueen store and the many charming boutiques with the finest dresses and trinkets.
What to eat in Portofino
As for catering, you will be spoiled for choice of course! The Italian pizza and pasta cannot be missed, nor can the world famous Gelato, available at numerous outlets, each proud of their own offering. But if you want to be truly local, get Focaccia al Formaggio, the local Ligurian bread, and eat it topped with cheese, herbs, tomatoes, onions and pesto. Pesto is a must, as that’s where it originated and the locals take great pride in it, making it with locally grown basil, cheese, local olive oil, garlic and pine nuts. A pancake-like snack called Farinata is another favorite, as are mussels. Local white wine is a great choice to end your day in Portofino!
Celebrities who love Portofino
Portofino itself has about 400 inhabitants. There’s not much to do in Portofino other than wander around and admire the colorful houses, charming surroundings and cheerful bustle of the town. You might stumble upon the beautiful vacation homes of Giorgio Armani or the Italian fashion design duo Dolce and Gabbana. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana purchased Villa Olivetta from the original owners, the Italian Trossi Fracassi family. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rented this villa as a summer residence for over a decade. The Armani villa, Castel San Giorgio, is just 50 meters away.
What to do
Stroll through the central vista and up an incline to San Giorgio Church, admiring the view of the bay as you go. At the church, pause to admire the peaceful cemetery and snap a photo of the sweeping view of the sea beating relentlessly against the base of the tall, steep cliffs. Castello Brown, a 15th century castle is beyond the church; we didn’t go inside but it has the highest view of the bay and amazing lush foliage. Beyond is Portofino Lighthouse with more stunning views.
What adds to the buzz is the activity in the water. The more adventurous love Portofino for some of Italy’s most famous beaches, for diving and other water activities, and for its hiking trails that take you through forests full of wildflowers and olive trees.
There is something extremely liberating in the Italian atmosphere with its climate and its cuisine. Even a day in Portofino lifted our spirits and memories that remind us of another vacation in the enchanting village, where we may be able to explore Cinque Ferre and all the other Italian gems on the Riviera… Until then, Ciao, Ci vediamo dopo!
Guy de Maupassant on Portofino!
I can’t let that go! Portofino enchanted Guy de Maupassant in 1889 as much as it captivates us today! Here is what he wrote –
“And there, all of a sudden, we discover a hidden cove, olive trees and chestnut trees. A small village, Portofino, spreads out like the arc of the moon around this calm basin. We slowly cross the narrow passage that connects this magnificent natural port to the sea, and we enter the amphitheater of houses, surrounded by a forest of powerful and fresh green, and everything is reflected in the mirror of calm waters, where some of the boats seem to be sleeping. fishing”.
Lord Carnarvon, who discovered the tomb of the famous young Egyptian king Tutankhamun, lived in Portofino at Villa Altachiara. As a result, Portofino is said to still be living the “curse of the pharaohs” for disturbing their eternal rest. A few years after his discovery, Lord Carnarvon died of a mosquito bite on his face which became infected. Years later, in 2001, Italian Countess Francesca Vacca Agusta, owner of Vlla Altachiara, died when she fell on the cliffs below the villa. Many others associated with the discovery of the tomb suffered a similar tragic fate.
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