Is Portofino worth visiting? That all depends if you like sun-splashed Italiano beaches on clear Ligurian Sea, with elegant bistros and bars dotting the promenades behind, and deluxe boutique hotels waiting for you at the end of the day. What’s that? You do? Thought so…
Make no bones about it – Portofino is the jetsetter escape extraordinaire of Italy. It’s unashamedly monied and expensive, chic and upscale; the boot’s answer to Antibes and St Tropez just a little along the coast. Our advice? Don’t come here if you’re pinching the pennies. Come if you’ve got some cash to splash and are looking to be pampered from start to finish.
This guide will run through just a handful of reasons why we think Portofino is worth adding to your Italian bucket list. Naturally, it touches on that aforementioned pampering and the uber-classy hotels that await. But it’s also got tempting info about the idyllic beaches and alluring day trips that are on offer in the region. Let’s begin…
Because it’s easy to get to
Let’s start with a practical one: Portofino is now easier to reach than ever before. The ever-growing Genova City Airport (also known as the Christopher Columbus Airport or the Aeroporto di Genova-Sestri Ponente) is less than an hour’s transfer up the road. And it’s served by a mix of flight arrivals on both premium and flag-carrying airlines, coming in from Amsterdam, Munich, Rome, and Paris to name just a few.
From the arrival terminal, you can either rent a car or opt – as most of the celebs do – for a private transfer. Either way, you’re looking at cruising down the main E80 motorway south from Genoa city. It’s a pretty road with plenty of potential stop offs, at charming Pieve Ligure and the beaches of Bagni. Drive it without breaks, though, and you could be stepping onto the salt-washed promenades of Portofino in 55 minutes, no more.
And it’s not only flying. There are regular trains to the S. Margherita Ligure-Portofino from Genoa. They take under an hour and cost just a few euros per person. Just bear in mind that you won’t get to the middle of old Portofino on those, but to an interchange about three miles from the center, though buses do link the two.
Finally, you could choose to travel in style and arrive in Portofino by boat. This is how the yachters do it. They cruise down from the ports of the Cote d’Azur or Genoa between May and August and slip right into the moorings beneath the town. Naturally, that’s a pricier way to get in but talk about dropping a line from the bucket list!
For the beaches
What’s a riviera town without the beaches, eh? Nada. Well…Portofino has plenty on the menu. They string along the whole headland where the town makes its home, running from the boat-bobbing port at Santa Margherita Ligure up to the rocky edges of San Fruttuoso and San Rocco to the north. Last time we checked, there were something like 30 individual coves on offer in the immediate vicinity of the town.
For the most part, the beaches of Portofino aren’t big, long, sweeping runs of sand a la the southern Algarve or Rimini. That’s just not the style on this rock-ribbed part of the Ligurian coast. Here, it’s all about the secret inlets and the nooks and crannies, where short runs of pebbles ring the base of the cliffs. You’ll find that space is limited on the shoreline itself, but the upshot is that the water is super-duper clear and fantastic for swimmers and snorkelers.
Our all-time favorite beaches in Portofino include:
- San Fruttuoso Bay – This is a seriously lovely one, backed by a handsome Neo-Gothic hotel to the north of the town itself. It’s hemmed in by high cliffs studded with lemon trees and pines and has some of the clearest water around.
- Paraggi Bay – A shallow walk-in here means Paraggi Bay is great for families and paddlers. You get there on a lovely coastal path that’s shaded by stone pines – it takes about 20 minutes from Portofino.
- Punta Pedale – A small sliver of sand and pebble that runs beneath the walking path to the north of Portofino, Punta Pedale sometimes gets larger waves and makes for a wilder swimming experience.
For beach holidays in Portofino, be sure to time your visit for the peak summer months. Anything from May onwards is usually good on the weather front here, with balmy days and warm Mediterranean waters. Things will start to cool again around September time.
For your slice of La Dolce Vita
Portofino is the St Moritz of the Italian coast. It’s the Cannes of the Ligurian Sea. AKA – this is where the beautiful people of the world come to holiday. That’s no secret, either. Just one glimpse at the clutch of millionaire yachts that meet in the harbor between May and August should be proof enough that you’re sharing promenade space with the oligarchs and Hollywood regulars of the planet.
But, despite the town costing a touch more than Rome and Florence and other Italian mainstays, you don’t actually have to be a millionaire to get your slice of La Dolce Vita here. Make for the promenade on the sea. There, a run of elegant bistros offer cold Spritzes and ice-creams and Italian fine-dining just steps from the water’s edge. It’s hardly easy on the bank account but it’s a chance to feel like a member of the 1% for an evening or two.
During the day, you’ll want to head down to the aforementioned beaches of Portofino. That’s a land plucked straight from a postcard or a Patricia Highsmith novel. Mornings of sunning yourself under a striped umbrella while the Med laps against the shore can mingle with afternoons that are all about tasty seafood lunches in award-winning bistros.
Mhmm…life is good in Portofino. Life is sweet.
For the day trips and explorations
Portofino is downright beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. But there’s also plenty beckoning in the immediate region around the town. So, try to peel yourself away from the lapping Ligurian Sea for a moment and ditch that Spritz cocktail on the marina, because there’s plenty to get stuck into, from soaring mountains to World Heritage-rated cities and towns.
Here’s just a taster:
- Cinque Terre – We think EVERYONE who visits Portofino should also make time to head south to the Cinque Terre. This iconic stretch of coast is home to five seriously wonderful villages that have pastel-painted mansions gazing and azure seas. It’s a joy to explore, especially if you have the energy to walk the planned hiking routes.
- Genoa – Head north to Genoa, one of the most historic ports in Italy. Less than 50 minutes’ drive from Portofino itself, the town is home to a fantastic aquarium and grand squares hemmed in by 1800s Neoclassical architecture.
- The Apuan Alps – This one’s a bit further in the car (about 1.5-2 hours) but is the get-away-from-it-all option. Rising like daggers from the Apennine chain, these peaks have 2,000-meter-high summits and some totally deserted hiking paths.
For the hotels
Last but most certainly not least is the alluring array of hotels that’s in the offing in Portofino. We’ve already mentioned how this town tends to cater more to the monied folks on planet Earth. Well…it has a range of hotel stays to match. They’re chic. They’re opulent. They’re boutique. And they come with some seriously luxurious extras – think Jacuzzis in the garden and sea views in abundance.
Here’s a look at just a few that we think stand out from the crowd:
- Villa Gelsomino Exclusive House ($$$) – Housed in a centuries-old mansion in groves of Mediterranean cypress tress back from the coast, this exquisite mansion come hotel is a stunner of a stay. We especially love the exterior hot tub and the homemade focaccia breads (a local delicacy).
- Sublimis Boutique Hotel Adults-Only ($$$) – This adult’s only hotel perches just above the Bagni Lido to the north of Portofino. It has suites that open to 180-degree views of the whole Ligurian shoreline.
- Portofino Above The Sea – Exclusive Seafront Apartment ($$$) – Choose this to be in the beating heart of Portofino itself. It’s a classic aparthotel with vintage furnishings. Fling open the windows and you’ll be gazing at the priceless yachts in the harbor.
Is Portofino worth visiting? Our conclusion
Is Portofino worth visiting? If you’re after a holiday of pure R&R on the Italian coast, we can think of few better places on the whole boot than Portofino. This is chic, jetsetter territory extraordinaire. Packed with glamourous hotels and glamourous people to match, it’s a land of yachts and designer beachwear, but also jaw-dropping beaches and tempting trattoria. The only reason we wouldn’t recommend coming is if you’re on a tight budget, because Portofino certainly doesn’t come cheap!