As I wrote on the Santa Margherita Ligure page, the best way to get to Portofino is from Santa Margherita Ligure. You can drive but I don't recommend it. Portofino is very small with limited parking so most of the time you cannot even enter the village. Instead, you can take the bus or the ferry boat but the best is to walk there. There is a hiking trail with some ups and downs or you can just follow the road along the sea for a flat and easy walk. You will pass cute little bays perfect for a quick, refreshing swim. There are also some great sights on the way. First, I would like to mention the Cervara Abbey (Abbazia). It has a beautiful Italian garden with seaview. Timing is an important issue here, visits are allowed on every first and third Sunday of the month, from March to October. For more information and contact details, please look at www.cervara.it.
Not long after passing the Abbey, you will get to a breathtaking turquoise bay, Paraggi. You just have to go for a swim here! Irresistible. The beach itself is very crowded during the summer. Most of it is private but there is a narrow free section in the middle. Here is my tip: as you walk towards Portofino and first see the Paraggi bay after the big bend to the right, you will see some steps on the left side. It takes you down to a rocky area with a ladder where you can go for a swim. Of course, there are people here as well but it does not feel as crowded as the beach. The water is deep here so it's for good swimmers only. Make sure you have snorkeling equipment or at least swim goggles with you. Some bread will also be useful, to feed the fish. The area is full of colourful fish, I felt like swimming in an aquarium. Last time I had an amazing experience like this was in Thailand…
Among the many luxurious and impressive villas, these two below are probably the most famous ones. I am sure you have seen them somewhere before, in a travel magazine or on the internet. I wonder who owns them… (As far as I know, Silvio Berlusconi, Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana all have a posh villa here.) Well, whoever owns them, I am jealous… Not so much for the villas–a small house would do it for me–but for the breathtaking location and for the balconies from where they can dive directly to the crystal clear Ligurian Sea.
Once you get to Portofino, you will realise that it is quite small and easy to discover. Life is mainly around the little bay with the fishing boats and the million-dollar yachts surrounded by the world-famous row of colourful houses. There are several fancy shops (Dior, Gucci, etc.) and restaurants around; if you are on a budget, it's better to avoid them. But you can still have a gelato on the piazza. If you enjoy reading gossip magazines about the life of famous people, keep your eyes open as you might run into the Beckhams, Jennifer Lopez or other VIPs here. Portofino used to be a tiny fishing village but it turned into a celebrity hotspot. It became the favourite destination of the rich and famous in the 1950s and 1960s when stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot and Ingrid Bergman spent their holidays here.
Wherever there are stars around, there will be paparazzi as well. The last time we were walking towards Portofino, we saw a man sitting by the sea holding a camera with a huge lens. He was watching the water and smoking, smiled at us and even greeted us when we passed him. First we thought he was a nature photographer, taking pictures of seagulls let's say. Then we soon realised that he was a paparazzo and he was interested in the luxury yachts out there, not the birds. Some days later, we saw a magazine at a petrol station; on its cover a couple was sunbathing naked on a nice boat. We did not know them but they must have been some very important celebrities.
Portofino really is stunning but it is also very busy. To avoid the herds of tourists, climb up to the San Giorgio church; you will enjoy a wonderful view from the little piazza. If you want even less people and even better views, walk all the way up to the Brown Castle (Castello Brown). The castle is surrounded by a lush Italian garden and when you look at the panorama from its terrace, you will understand why Portofino has become so popular and famous. There is an entrance fee to the castle. For some quiet time, visit the lighthouse (il Faro di Portofino) at the end of the promontory. From here, you can see the Ligurian coastline all the way to Tuscany.
For a really special experience, have a drink at the bar of the Belmond Hotel Splendido. This is the most famous 5 star luxury hotel of the area, several celebrities have stayed there. Even if you don't stay at the hotel, you can have a drink on its terrace with breathtaking view. We visited the hotel because of business reasons of course, and were invited for cocktails. The hotel really is splendid. The rooms, the terrace, the garden and the pool, all are amazing. The staff is extremely friendly and helpful, as you'd expect. If you are looking for a 5 star experience, this is the place to be.
Once you have discovered Portofino, catch the next boat or hike to San Fruttuoso. We did this hike in August 2019. It was a really hot summer day, we spent it snorkeling at Paraggi. Late afternoon we decided to hike from Portofino to San Fruttuoso and go for an evening swim there, before catching the last ferry to Camogli. I was not quite sure where the trail started, so I asked a local policewoman. It was very funny, as she looked at me from head to toe. I was wearing a light summer dress and teva sandals. She told me it was actually a trekking trail and the sun was going down in a few hours. I assured her that I knew the trails of the area very well and we had plenty of time for this 2-hour hike. I also told her my sandals were very comfortable and perfect for a summer hike. So off we went. The hike started with way too many steps, but after a while it was flat and easy, and we got to enjoy amazing views from up there. Well worth the effort. At the end there is a long descent to San Fruttuoso. As we wanted to catch the last ferry, we had to keep going, but if you give yourself enough time and make some stops, it's not so difficult. We did not meet too many people, so it's a really nice experience off the beaten track. If you prefer to do the hike with a guide, I can book a private tour for you.
If you are not so much into hiking or would just prefer to spend a hot summer day on the sea, you can also rent a private boat to discover the Portofino peninsula. The boat can pick you up in several towns in the area, and you can comfortably visit Portofino, San Fruttuoso and Camogli in a day. The protected marine area is wonderful, so a boat rental is a perfect solution to do some swimming and snorkeling in various locations.