Alex and I signed up for a trip with Outdoor Recreation and had been looking forward to it for weeks. We were going to spend the day in Portofino, a tiny town near Genova on the Italian Riviera. I don’t know much about rivieras of any kind, so I decided to look up exactly what the Italian Riviera is. Apparently it’s the northernmost area of the western coast of Italy. It’s kind of crescent-shaped and it melds with the French Riviera once it hits the border.
Anyway, the bus trip was supposed to be 4 hours and I think we had to leave at 6 in the morning. As always happens, the trip took longer due to traffic and whatever else, so we didn’t actually get off the bus for a solid 5 hours. But it doesn’t matter, because the torture of a tour bus was completely worth it.
To get to Portofino, you must first go to Santa Margherita, and from there take a ferry. Santa Margherita is a beautiful town in itself, and much bigger and more bustling than Portofino. It’s full of fancy-looking hotels, high-end restaurants, and even some private beaches. There is a lovely public beach, however, just to left of your view in that picture. We had a lovely swim there in the middle of September. The water wasn’t too cold, and even in September the beach was crowded. It’s a rocky beach, but that didn’t stop people from sun-bathing on their blankets. There weren’t too many people in the water, luckily. It was probably the perfect time of year to go because tourist season was just about over.
As I said, from Santa Margherita you take a ferry. It’s a short trip, only about 15 minutes or so. Since our tickets were included in the cost of the trip, I’m not sure how much the ride is by itself. I don’t think it was too much, though; maybe around €10. It was a beautiful day and we thoroughly enjoyed the breeze and the view of Santa Margherita as we left it behind.
Before we knew it, we were rounding a craggy, wooded outcropping of land and wondering where the heck we were going. The thing about Portofino is that it sneaks up on you. You wouldn’t even know it was there because it’s tucked into a tiny harbor that lies back from the coastline. You begin to see boats moored and you figure there must be something worth seeing back here. Then you start seeing the buildings – they’re built right up on the harbor in vibrant colors. You can check out the pictures for yourself I think.
Here it is, the gem that is Portofino. A few short years ago, this town was nearly unknown to tourists. It’s bittersweet, because though it’s still terribly charming, you know that it’s changed to cater to the tourist crowd and might not be quite as authentic as it once was. At the same time, we probably never would have visited if it were still an unknown destination. From what I’ve heard, the same can be said of Cinque Terre (which we have yet to visit).
When you get off the ferry, you can pretty easily find a narrow, paved walking path that leads upward and to the right. If you follow it, it’ll bring you to a beautiful church and an even MORE beautiful view. You can stand in one place and look to left, where you’ll see the charming backdrop of Portofino (pictured right), while to the right you look out over the Ligurian Sea (part of the Mediterranean) toward France (picturedbelow). The land juts out in a skinny peninsula, which is why you can see water on either side of you but land straight ahead.
At the tip of the peninsula is a lighthouse, and the walking path will take you all the way to it. There is a tiny bar/cafe there where you can get a spritz, a coffee, or even a gelato. It’s more of a snack shack… it’s only manned by one person because you couldn’t fit anyone else inside, so you place your order and the person brings it to you.
The view from the lighthouse is pretty breath-taking and blue, blue, blue. You get to look out at unimpeded sea. Somewhere off to the left is France, and to your right you can see the coastline of the Italian Riviera trailing to the south.
Along the path to the lighthouse, there a couple interesting things you can check out. One is a mansion of some kind. Since we were on a budget, we decided to skip that one. You can’t miss it though, if you want to see it. The other attraction is a public beach, and I use the term “beach” here loosely. There are signs pointing toward it, so since it was a hot day and we’d been trudging along this path, we were ready to take a dip. The path you’re walking on is waaaaay up on a hill, so to get down to the water you have to go along a new path made entirely of stone steps at a 45-degree angle. On the way down we kept saying, “This had better be worth it because getting back up is going to be a bitch.” We finally got to the beach, and what we found was exceedingly disappointing. It was a dark, tiny, rocky area with brownish water. There were a few people there, but we weren’t about to join them. We turned around and made the hike all the way back to the top. It was miserable. So if you’re tempted to check out the beach, DON’T DO IT.
After checking out the lighthouse (I’d say it was about a 20-minute walk from town to the end of the path) and spending such a long time walking, we decided we had earned a good meal. We got back to town and walked around, checking out menu upon menu, looking for good food, but more importantly good prices. We finally settled on one set back from the harbor. The restaurants built right on the water were naturally the most expensive. The food was yummy and we were extremely satisfied with the day we’d had.
If we can ever go back, you can be sure we’ll jump at the chance. I’ll leave off with a few extra pictures that I couldn’t squeeze in anywhere else. Enjoy!