In Portofino, it’s la dolce vita for everyone—not just celebrities.
Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker knew what they were doing when they decided to marry in a lavish yet laid-back ceremony in Portofino, Italy, a few months ago. Like many others (Beyoncé, Jay-Z Rihanna, Steven Spielberg, and myself, for example) who found themselves equally swept away by its quaint and quiet charms, this town has seen its share of mega-watt celebrities. But don’t let the media mislead you. Portofino exists for everyone despite what you may—or may not—have heard about it. And though it might seem like a visit is out of reach, there are ways to enjoy its wonders without keeping up with a Kardashian.
Getting to Portofino by Land and Sea
What draws people to its location on the coast southeast of Genoa could be one of many things. Perhaps it’s the vistas, calm waters, hiking, or that one can escape and enjoy this small village that stands seemingly far-removed. This is a place where there is one road in and one road out, where two oncoming cars from neighboring Santa Margherita Ligure can barely fit through the two-lane street. One has to brake and carefully maneuver the bends and curves, not to mention the pedestrians walking along the edge of the route. Once here, it’s almost as if visitors are rewarded for their efforts—the post-adventure travel feels glamorous, like you’re an extra on the set of The Talented Mr. Ripley or some other Hollywood film centered on an Italian holiday.
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Or you could arrive by water and take in the magic of the harbor area, punctuated by the orange, red, pink, and yellow hues of buildings that line the coast with the sun shining brightly, reflecting its postcard-perfect scene, not to mention the sweeping views of the cliffs from the sea. It’s the dramatic entrance of many the glitterati—or boats coming from nearby Cinque Terre and Genoa.
Yet, Portofino is still known as a “fishing village” where tourism has been its primary source of revenue since the 1950s. History has demonstrated that this enclave has passed through many hands, so before Hollywood showed up, the Romans, the Spanish, the English, the Austrians, and the French were all ahead of Grace Kelly, Humphrey Bogart, and the Kardashians. Everyone seems to want a piece of Portofino to themselves.
Related: 22 Gorgeous Seaside Towns in Italy
Forget the Fancy Footwear
Bring comfortable shoes for the sometimes rough and jagged cobblestone streets and go the distance: with the lighthouse (Faro di Portofino) being the last point of interest. Start with the compact Church of San Giorgio (Chiesa di San Giorgio) with its magnificent Baroque architecture and its faded-yellow facade. While on the way there, don’t forget to look forwards and backward. On this hike, you’ll take in some of the most breathtaking landscapes and seascapes of Portofino and the Ligurian coast.
Castello Brown stands at the middle point en route to the lighthouse. This Roman fortress dates back to 400 AD, and with its prime setting overlooking Portofino and the water, it’s also used for special weddings, like that of Kourtney and Travis. With a five euro entrance fee, it’s an affordable option compared to the relatively high prices in Portofino.
Where to Sleep, Eat, and Shop in Town
For splurge-worthy accommodations, consider the two dominant hotels in town with some of the best real estate: the Splendido Mare right in the center and minutes from the Piazzetta (small square) or the Splendido up in the hills with spectacular viewpoints. Even if you’re not staying at the Splendido, it doesn’t cost a thing to walk up there and take it all in. Look for the steep stairs from town that cut through the hills. More affordable accommodation options exist in Santa Margherita Ligure, the next town over. The same applies to a broader array of eats.
Last but not least, it’s worth noting Portofino does have a glam side replete with European luxury boutiques dotting the main walkways. Despite Portofino being a fancy jewel, its humble roots remain intact. I was curious and walked in and out of shops with hefty price points; however, the salespeople consistently greeted me with genuinely friendly service. It also goes without saying: the budget-friendly souvenir shops wedged between the high-end ones were all welcoming, too. Want an “Italian” scarf for 10 euros? You got it. But maybe you want another scarf for 180 euros? You can also get it.
When to Go
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, the shoulder seasons are the best time to visit. September and October can still present decent temperatures, warm enough to plunge yourself in a pool or dip your toes in the sea. The compact, public Paraggi Beach in between Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure remains relatively empty, with some people fishing in its translucent waters.
This is all to say: forget the elitist, exclusive spin the press likes to broadcast about Portus Delphini (Portofino’s old Roman name). Instead, embrace it for what it is, what it was, and how Portofino can work for you.