Have you heard of Portofino?
Portofino is a lovely little town on the Italian Riviera – just south of Genova – Genoa and with only 500 inhabitants. The bay, or rather cove surrounded by mountain/hills all around it makes it a very pretty setting for a day trip or even a romantic weekend.
Here are my Top 5 tips for enjoying your trip to Portofino.
1. Beware of the Low / End of Season
If you’re thinking of visiting Portofino in low/end season (end of November, March), beware that you might save money but you’ll miss out a little on the Portofino experience and find a bit of a ghost town. On one hand, the bay won’t be clogged with yachts anchored away in concentric half-circles, but on the other hand, many local (and high fashion) stores will be closed so shopping and buying necessities will be more difficult.
At the end of November we stayed in a hotel which was literally closing for the season (reopening in March) the day we checked out. A visit to Portofino when most of the inhabitants are gone is not impossible, but finding services like hotels and restaurants becomes difficult.
2. Don’t miss the Golden Hour at the St. George’s Church
If you’re thinking about climbing up to the Chiesa di San Giorgio (St. George’s Church) I strongly suggest going during the “Golden Hour” that is, the hour right before sunset as it really lights up the yellow church and provides a great place to take some potraits or play with silhouettes as the sun goes down.
The church itself is a small structure that you can peek your head into, but explore the grounds around and in front of it for those picture-perfect opportunities.
With the church at your back, there’s a little terrace on the left that gets the last remaining rays of the day, long after darkness has fallen on the Portofino bay.
There’s a telescope if you fancy having a lookout.
But above all, have fun with the setting sun and ask some friends or some strangers to model for you and snap away!
3. Take the climb to Castello / Castle Brown
Portofino is a tiny town, so after you’ve seen the church, you should also make sure you see the Castello (Castle) Brown. It’s a healthy climb that winds through the hilltop neighborhood that is fun to take, and the grounds directly underneath the castle can be explored even without paying for the entrance fee to go into the castle. I recommend taking the path from the San Giorgio church to the Castle, and then winding down around the grounds back down to the bay. You’ll get a great shot of the bay this way, too!
4. Eat at your own Risk, and your Wallet’s
Food in Italy is fantastic, delicious, and simple. But not always a guarantee.
I have to say one of the worst culinary experiences I’ve ever had was while I was in Portofino. It wasn’t just the cost (which was astronomical) but the quality was terrible and when compounded with the price, it just twisted the knife even more. Is there anything worse than a terrible AND expensive meal? I think much worse than a cheap, terrible meal.
This particular restaurant (again, I’m sure it was getting ready to close for the season) served us the worst plate of pasta I’ve ever eaten – and it was just pesto! Pesto is pretty difficult to mess up – it’s just basil, olive oil, cheese and pine nuts. The pasta must have been cooked in cups of salt as it was extremely salty to the point of being inedible, and we ate just enough to get us through the evening and left the rest. To top it off, drinks were not listed on the menu and when a few in our party ordered cans of Coke, at the end of the evening they paid the hefty price of 7.50euro (USD$10!!!) for a simple coke. Not even a slice of lemon in sight. We paid the bill, on the edge of violence, and decided to leave and never look back, and not ruin the rest of our time in the city.
So, my story is a caveat for eating in Portofino, and I know not everyone will have this experience. But eating in Portofino will be expensive (the restaurants that we saw all had similar, expensive menus) and it might not even be good. I suggest really investigating and getting some suggestions from someone who’s been there (but not me). Otherwise, I strongly recommend spending your mealtimes outside Portofino, perhaps limiting yourself to an aperitivo and heading to Santa Margherita Ligure on the bus for dinner, especially in those low season times.
5. Skip the taxi, take the bus from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino
Bus schedules are pretty regular, and you can get easily to Portofino from the Santa Margherita Ligure train station with a local bus that will cost you a Euro or so for the trip. Buy a few extra tickets while you’re at it so that way you can make the trip back to Santa Margherita without having to search for an open ticket stand. If you prefer taxis, there’s a taxi stand just outside the train station.
Make sure you get back in plenty of time to make your train! Maybe you’ll even have time for a nap while you think about all the memories you’ve just made in Portofino.
Have you been to Portofino? Leave your own tips and tricks in the comments!