A traditional fishing village full of pastel-colored houses, crystal-clear water, and sea-side trattorias overlooking the Ligurian Sea.
The charming fishing village of Portofino is regarded as one of Italy’s most alluring resort destinations. Located along the Italian Riviera just north of the Cinque Terre, Portofino features a small harbor lined with colorful homes, chic bistros lined along the boardwalk and gorgeous views everywhere you look. It’s a tiny place, home to only 400 resident year-round and a handful of yachts, but it’s a gem that is absolutely worth a visit and makes for a perfect 2-night getaway. Depending on your budget, you can stay directly in Portofino, sleep at the nearby Paraggi beach, or opt for the bustling Santa Margherita Ligure which is a great base for exploring the area.
There’s not much to do in Portofino but wander and enjoy the beautiful setting of the town. Walk along the harbor before you make make your way up past the San Giorgio church to Castello Brown, a 15th century castle that was overlooks the harbor. It’s worth the €5 entrance ticket to enjoy the gardens and the highest viewpoint of Portofino bay. If you’re in the mood for a longer walk, you can continue the trail to reach the Portofino Lighthouse and La Portofinese: an eco-farm which produces local products (like craft beer, wine and organic honey) and arranges guided tours, picnics and wellness experiences on the promontory.
In Portofino town, grab a gelato or cup of coffee at Gepi, a cafe and gelateria set in a cute corner of town. Winterose Wine Bar is lovely little enoteca for a glass of wine and bite to eat at lunch or pre-dinner aperitivo – there are only 5 tables outside so call ahead to book. Across the harbor, Ristorante Lo Stello serves excellent fish dishes with scenic views of the water while Trattoria Tripoli in the main piazza, complements al fresco dining with classic cooking (including delicious pesto lasagne).
How to reach Portofino: The closest train station is Santa Margherita Ligure (which is a great base for exploring the region). From here you can catch a bus, boat or come on foot – the 5km coastal trail is a beautiful walk that takes you past hidden coves, beach clubs and seaside villas. Portofino is a pedestrian town but if you arrive by car, there is a parking lot off the main road.
Where to stay: If you can afford to splurge, there is no better place to stay in than the Belmond Hotel Splendido. Originally a 16th century Benedictine Monastery, the hotel has been welcoming a VIP clientele since 1901 and is one of Italy’s most iconic properties. Even if you don’t stay overnight, it’s worth a visit for a panoramic lunch. Read my review here.
You can’t miss a visit to the Abbey of San Fruttuoso while you’re in the area. The 13th century Benedictine Monastery is set within a scenic bay that overlooks a pebbled beach – it’s a perfect escape for some sunshine and lunch. You can only reach via boat or on foot (the hike is 2 hours so I’d recommend boat!). You can hop on a ferry in multiple destinations, including Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino.
During the summer, you can rent sun loungers from the Bagni San Fruttuoso or lay out on the free beach area. The cove is tiny so show up early to snag a spot and as usual, visiting in the shoulder season is ideal (I visited on a warm day in April and the setting was pristine). For lunch, book a table at Da Giorgio, a little restaurant set above the sea and directly across from the ferry dock. Eating trofie al pesto while gazing at the shimmering sea was the highlight of my trip to Portofino!
Set between Santa Margherita Liguree and Portofino, Paraggi is a sleepy beach cove with a sandy beach. It’s low-key and elegant, with a couple beach clubs and crystalline sea. Langosteria Paraggi is a gorgeous eatery overlooking the sea, open from morning to night (they also have a beach menu if you want to order directly from your lounger).
Where to stay: Situated right in Paraggi’s exclusive little cove, the Eight Hotel Paraggi is an idyllic escape a short stroll to Portofino.
Santa Margherita Ligure
And last but not least, Santa Margherita Ligure. It may not have the name recognition of Portofino but it’s a chic port town and arguably the best place to stay in the area for the breadth of accommodations, shopping and dining options. It’s easy to move along the coast from here and it’s just a short train ride from Rapallo (which is connected to larger destinations like the Cinque Terre, Genova and Rome).
Where to eat: The best bakery in town is Fior di Ponti which serves up freshly baked breads, cakes and Liguria’s famous focaccia. Order whatever flavor just came out of the oven because focaccia is best eaten when it’s warm and soft – it’s truly heavenly. For aperitivo, I loved Vineria Macchiavello, an old-school enoteca & bistrot located along the main street. There are a few tables outside and you can enjoy abundant finger-food to accompany your wine for under €10/person (when in Italy…). For lunch or dinner, Reve Cafe is a cozy and romantic little bistrot that serves local (and some international) dishes and Angolo 48 is a lovely place that serves contemporary, Ligurian cuisine.
Where to stay: the Grand Hotel Miramare with a panoramic pool and gardens, the Villa Gelsomino Seaside Luxury House set within a 19th century palazzo with gorgeous terrace or BluDiTe if you appreciate curated, boho accommodations.