If you have never been to Portofino, you probably have never seen a sea colour of such a pure, dark emerald green. Maybe it’s the surrounding vegetation that, hanging from the hills enclosing the small bay almost to touch and caress the sea, gives the water that colour. Or maybe it’s the depth of the cliffs under the water that contributes to the games that the sunlight plays with the sea. Whatever the reason, the experience is unique.
Portofino is in the region of Liguria, in the north-west of Italy. It’s in the section of the Ligurian coast east of Genoa, known as Riviera di Levante.
Portofino is an ancient village, according to the Latin historian Pliny the Elder founded by the Romans, who called it “Portus Delphini” (Port of the Dolphin) due to the many dolphins living in the bay.
It is built around a small natural port at the head of an inlet in the Bay of Tigullio (Golfo del Tigullio in Italian), that has preserved its traditional character.
It is a small hamlet with less than 1,000 residents, in the province of Genoa, at the southeast tip of the small promontory of Portofino, which has one of the highest concentrations of flora in the Mediterranean and some of the most renowned seascapes in the world. The sea around the promontory is of great importance for preserving the Mediterranean’s biodiversity, and it contains a large variety of species in a small area. It’s a complex ecosystem benefiting from many favourable conditions, in particular the cliffs descending deeply 20 or 30 metres below the seasurface, creating different levels of light.
It’s amazing how, with the growing human presence and blooming tourism, Portofino’s natural heritage has largely remained intact. This is one of the major areas of protected coastline in Liguria and it offers some of the best trekking in Italy.
The peaceful Parco Naturale Regionale di Portofino, the natural park of Mount Portofino, comprises the promontory that overlooks the Tigullio Gulf, on the top of which is Monte Portofino (610m) on whose summit are the small settlements of Portofino Vetta and Ruta. There are well-marked hiking trails and foot paths through the park, leading down to San Fruttuoso, with its historic Benedictine Abbey, and to the coastal villages of Portofino and Camogli.
The views from the the top are splendid: you can see the two bays around the promontory, from the Bay of Tigullio to Sestri Levante, from Paradise Bay to the island of Bergeggi and, in the distance, the French island of Corsica, one of the largest in the Mediterranean.
Protected since 1935, among pine-woods, the promontory nestles cool Appennine forests and warm Mediterranean bush, has witnessed past civilizations founded on chestnut woods and olive groves, and has been part of farming and seafaring traditions.
More inland is another natural park, the Parco Naturale dell’Aveto, containing a wide variety of rich natural environments.
On the other side of Portofino promontory, opposite to Tigullio Bay, is Paradise Bay (Golfo del Paradiso in Italian), at the end of which is Camogli, another old village with splendid waters and breathtaking scenery. The promontory encloses on the west the Gulf of Rapallo, where lies Rapallo. Halfway between Portofino and Rapallo is Santa Margherita Ligure: the latter two towns are famous seaside resorts.
Just north of the village of Portofino (1.5 miles [2.5 km]) is the Monastery of La Cervara, where Pope Gregory XI rested on his way from Avignon, in France, to Rome (1377) and where Francis I of France was imprisoned after the Battle of Pavia (1525). Southeast is the Church of San Giorgio, said to contain relics of St. George, patron saint of Portofino, brought by crusaders from the Holy Land.
Portofino has two souls, living in perfect harmony: a cosmopolitan, elite aura, with prestigious shops, elegant boutiques and luxury restaurants, and a traditional persistence of old crafts and skills, like those of axe-makers and craftsmen who make pillow lace and macramè to traditional 18th-century patterns.
Between the lime green of the mountains and the emerald green of the sea, Portofino is a world famous jewel of the Italian Riviera. It’s an enchanting place, lined with brightly painted houses, with its old, picturesque buildings, the incredible colour of the sea and the surrounding vegetation. It’s trendy in summer and quiet in winter, and has mild climate all year.
Already in the 19th century the Gulf of Tigullio was the privileged destination of an elite tourism. The atmosphere and colours of this bay have inspired poets, writers and composers.
Portofino Hotel Map
Portofino is a small village, and in winter, during this period of the year, hotels in Portofino itself are closed.
Scrolling on the above map, though, you can find hotels, accompanied by their prices, in resorts very near to Portofino, overlooking the Bay of Portofino, called in Italian Golfo del Tigullio.
Look out for Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo immediately north-east of Portofino and, west of Portofino, check the splendid Camogli and Recco.
Find a Hotel in the Portofino area
Check out the page on Italy Travel Ideas dedicated to this topic:
How to Get to Portofino
You can get to Portofino by car, by bus, or by boat. By car you’ll have problems due to the long queues of other vehicles trying to enter the small village, especially in the summer; parking is only permitted in an underground car park. You will have to park your automobile there and walk, because Portofino is not made for getting around by car: there are no roads, except an access one.
By motorway. Autostrada A12 Genova-Livorno, exit Rapallo.
By road. From Genoa SS n 1 Aurelia direction Pisa (east); from Rapallo SS n 227 direction Portofino.
By train. Rail line FS Genova-la Spezia. Trains are many and frequent, both long distance and local.
By plane. Nearest airport Cristoforo Colombo, Genoa (Genova in Italian), which can be reached by motorway: from toll exit Genova Aeroporto (about 35 Km from Santa Margherita) take autostrada A10 direction east, then the A12 until exit Rapallo.
Check a travel aggregator for the cheapest air fare.
Travel and flight aggregators are websites that have information on many companies and operators and search the best flight for you. With aggregators you save money when you book flight and hotel, and possibly car hire, together rather than reserving them separately.
One of the best known and most popular aggregators is Expedia UK, with access to over a million bookable properties around the world, more than 500 airlines, 175+ car hire companies, and all sorts of activities and ground transport.
Trip.com, one of the world’s leading online travel agencies, also offers a very wide choice, with a hotel network of over 1.2 million properties across 200 countries.
A popular company operating since 2005 to help travelers save money by touring the world at a discount is CheapOair .
CheapOair provides airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars and vacation packages in collaboration with top travel brands, including the inexpensive Ryanair airline.
Where to park in Portofino. There are pay car parks for visitors. Charges vary based on season and length of stay.
Portofino Vacation Rentals
You can rent a vacation home in this little paradise on earth known as Portofino through the internationally-renowned online vacation rental agency Vrbo, formely HomeAway.
Vacation homes like the villa in the photo above, just above Portofino with a stunning view of Portofino Bay, 2 minutes’ walk to the beach, can be found at Vrbo.
Other villas, apartments, few minutes from the beach, in the heart of Portofino, above Portofino, or in nearby villages like Camogli are also available for rent.