The city became popular in the 60s of the 20th century, when the most famous figures of the so-called "DOLCE VITA", actors, musical stars and wealthy aristocrats began to frequent Portofino, attracted by its refined events and breathtaking views.
At the time, newspaper articles were filled with stories of parties and love stories, making the city associated worldwide with luxury living: "DOLCE VITA".
Portofino in Liguria is one of the most romantic places to spend a holiday in that part of Italy. You'll be surprised by the dual personality of the small fishing village.
What makes this city unique?
On the one hand, it's a super-chic town frequented by the rich and famous, and on the other, there are nature parks, hidden beaches, monuments and plenty of hiking trails overlooking the Gulf of Tuguiglio.
What attracts the rich and not-so-rich are the pastel-coloured houses that fringe the sheltered harbour with its dark blue water and the alleys and squares that make the town such a pleasant place to walk.
Fishing is no longer the main source of income, it's now tourism, but traditional wooden boats still exist and can be taken for trips. Abbeys and churches, medieval castles, terraced gardens and an underwater statue of Christ of the Abyss are just some many sights you'll want to explore.
Plus Portofino's famous pizza and pasta and the local white wine Nostralino. Below we invite you to discover the top 11 attractions in the city.
#1. Explore the old village of the town
Portofino's symbol is the old, tall and narrow houses lined up along the narrow strip between the sea and the mountains along the port. Step away from the central Piazzetta, and you'll notice they're all painted in pastel colours. It's a local tradition that houses can't be painted white.
Take a stroll here for some unique souvenir shopping. Again, the dual identity of the city is evident. The most luxurious designer brands and their boutiques, such as Armani, Hermes or Vuitton, are juxtaposed with quaint artisan shops selling local goods such as shoes, embroidery or lace.
Stop at one of the many cafes to watch the world go by while you enjoy an espresso or a glass of the local white wine, Nostralino.
#2. Portofino Marina
Portofino Bay, often called the most famous port in the world, is the entrance to the Gulf of Tigullio and the marina for Portofino yachts. See the yachts anchored off the docks, all not far from Piazzetta because the village is so small.
Take a look at the Marina Club and feel like a celebrity and enjoy the view over the water as well as the dark green forests and hills that rise steeply above the port.
#3. Climb up to Brown's Castle
The road leads from the jetty to Brown's Castle at the top of the promontory. Despite the uphill climb, it's an easy walk because it's dotted with lots of benches to rest on and leads under pergolas of climbing plants, through rose gardens and lawns. The 15th century castle has an interesting history. Originally built to protect against pirates and Venetians, it was bought in 1867 by the English Consul Montague Yates Brown.
Hence, the name. He turned it into a magnificent private villa. In 1949 another English couple became caretaker of the castle and carried out important restoration work, before selling it back to the city of Portofino 30 years later. Enjoy city and sea views, carefully manicured gardens with partial terraces and original furnishings in the rooms. It is often a romantic setting at weddings.
#4. See the church of San Martino
In the centre of the city is Portofino's oldest and largest church: San Martino. It dates back to the 10th century and has undergone many changes in style over the centuries.
On the outside it is rather austere, with bands of yellow-grey sandstone and dominated by a square bell tower with a tiled dome under which there is a clock. Marble columns connected by arches, golden ornaments and brightly coloured valuable paintings adorn every inch. In the niche stands the most famous: the Madonna del Rosario. Take your time to admire them all.
#5. Meet the lighthouse keeper
Whether coming from the city centre or the marina, it's easy to walk up to the promontory where Portofino Lighthouse is located. The lighthouse is 12 feet high (about 3 m and 65 cm).
It is a fully operational lighthouse, built in 1917. Today it is fully automated, but the keeper's house is at the base, and he still lives there. So take advantage of the rare opportunity to talk to the real lighthouse keeper.
#6. An open-air museum for modern art lovers
On the marina you will find a very special museum: the Museum Park. It is an open-air museum set in gardens full of natural vegetation and decorated with sculptures of contemporary art by famous Italian artists.
It combines magnificent views, Mediterranean bushes and plants with impressive metal sculptures. Not to be missed, even if you're not a big fan of modern art.
#7. Scuba dive to see the Christ of the Abyss
Christ of the Abyss is another artistic experience. At a depth of 17 metres stands a 243-sanimetre bronze statue of Christ with his face up and his arms outstretched.
Created by Guido Galetti, it was erected here on 17 April 1950 in memory of Italy's first scuba diver, Dario Gonzetti, who died here in 1950. For this and other adventures in Portofino you can hire boats and instructors. If you are not a diver you can see a replica of the statue in the nearby Abbey of San Fruttuoso.
#8. Visit San Fruttuoso Abbey
In a small cove at the foot of a steep wooded hill is the Abbey of San Fruttuoso with its colourful history. Because of its secluded location, it can only be reached by boat or by hiking trail through Portofino National Park.
Founded by the Order of St Benedict between the 10th and 11th centuries, it was a monastery, a defensive structure, a pirate's den and the home of the Princess Doria. Behind the abbey rises the Doria Tower, guarded against pirates. The noble Genoese Doria family played a major role in the abbey's history and several Doria graves can be seen inside.
This is also the point of your plunge into the Christ of the Abyss. There is a narrow pebble beach in front of the abbey, and you can even spend the night there in a small guest house if you wish.
#9. Relax on Paraggi beach
Between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino you will find Paraggi beach, the only sandy beach in the area. It is known for its crystal clear blue waters and is a snorkeller's dream because of the red corals of the seabed.
The beach is public and therefore free. But if you want some comfort, head to the beach club where you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas and enjoy showers, bars and restaurants.
#10. Hiking in Portofino Nature Park
Mount Portofino Nature Regional Park stretches along both sides of the Portofino promontory, combining sea views with forests, wildlife, a wide variety of native plants and some historic buildings such as the Fruttuoso Abbey and old watchtowers.
There are several hiking trails of different lengths and levels. You don't need good hiking skills, but you do need good footwear and the route is not suitable for wheelchairs or wheelchair users.
#11. The best restaurants in Portofino
Liguria is considered the birthplace of pesto, so naturally you'll find all kinds of pasta with pesto sauce. Since it's a seaport, fish is widely represented on the menu. The best local fish is called Besugno. It's cooked and baked in a thick, salty crust, so it stays juicy. Intermediate snack: focaccia tortilla topped with herbs, cheese, or salami.
The best place to eat lunch is on the seafront. The most popular restaurant in town is Da Puny. The speciality: Besugo fish in a salted crust.
Another popular restaurant: Taverna del Marinaio in Sanat Margherita, just a few minutes from Portofino. The tavern has indoor and outdoor seating and the pesto pasta is amazing.
Where to stay in Portofino?
If you're planning to stay in a hotel and spend a few days swimming in the sea, you can choose the SPLENDIDO, a romantic 5-star hotel located a 5-minute walk from Portofino. The hotel has a gorgeous seawater pool.
Spot one of the most romantic places to spend a holiday in that part of Italy!
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