The small Ligurian seaside village is a destination far from the crazy crowd, but near the great centers of the north: perfect location for moments to live between nature and the sea
It is one of places symbolic of Liguria, but most of all of elite tourism of the Mediterranean: Portofino, an antique seaside village built around a tiny, wild and spectacular bay, with high, colorful houses attached to the small port and the famous Piazzetta. A village famous throughout the world, not only in Italy, which has many things to do, from strong emotions and experiences of the perfect stay, even for those who want to discover new frontiers of Mice and of incentives. In a unique context, where the sea reflects the colors of the houses, of sky and of vegetation, and at the same time hosts yachts, motorboats and ferries that arrive and depart, all in perfect harmony.
A unique concentration of natural and historic beauty
In fact, every day Portofino can be reached in a spectacular way, via the sea, with boats that depart frequently from the sea walks of nearby touristic locations of Camogli and Santa Margherita Ligure, as well as by car from the main cities of northern Italy, such as Genoa, Milan, Turin, Bologna and Florence, and their national and international airports. Yes, because this small seaside village offers a concentration of natural and historic beauty, without comparison, that the entire world envies.
It suffices to say that one of the first to “discover” Portofino as an unequaled tourist destination was an English nobleman: it was 1870 when Sir Henry Herbert, fourth Count of Carnarvon, arrived in the magical cove by mule from the nearby Santa Margherita Ligure, on the Novarego path. He fell completely in love with the place, and began buying numerous properties and parcels of vineyards and olive groves along the crest of the promontory, while he built a splendid residence on a hill, which today is known as Villa Altachiara. From that moment, Portofino began to become a well known name around the world, synonymous with elegance and Italian “dolce vita”. Illustrious writers and artists, successful businessmen and international singers, movie stars and politicians have all come to its famous Piazzetta. Another of these precursors was the French writer Guy De Maupassant, who arrived in Portofino in 1889 aboard his sailboat “Bel ami”, and immediately dedicated a poem to the town: “And there, all of a sudden, to find oneself in a hidden cove, of olives and chestnuts. A small village, Portofino, spreads out like the crescent of the moon around this calm basin”.
But the “artistic” inspirations linked to the Ligurian village are many, even in more recent times: who doesn’t know, for example, that ubiquitous song “I found my love in Portofino”, which is simply one of the songs written by the mythic singer of the 1950s, Fred Buscaglione?
Between historic charm and glamour
In love or not, a stroll through the village, among the boutiques of the great brands, is a fun pedestrian route. From the Piazzetta facing the sea and the touristic port, one can also, for example, climb on foot towards Castello Brown, a fortress built in 1400 on the spot where a Roman lookout tower once stood, and its park immersed in green. From there, you can continue to the lighthouse – a point from which to enjoy an unforgettable panorama of the splendid bay.
Another interesting stop is that of the Church of San Giorgio: dating back to the XII century, and which is dedicated to the Patron Saint of Portofino, whose feast is held every year on April 23rd, with the traditional bonfire in the Piazzetta.
All in all, it is a small village where almost everything is a work of art, even when it’s made by Mother Nature: it’s worth mentioning that all of the territory around Portofino and Monte di Portofino is part of homonymous Regional National Park. It is in this carefully protected area, therefore, that one must to visit and discover the wild soul of the village, moving from the port, destination of some of the largest yachts in the world, towards the peak of Monte di Portofino, and beyond to discover the hidden and extraordinary corners. Among which, surely, is the ancient Abbey of San Fruttuoso, jewel embedded in green, rock and sea. Reachable most comfortably by sea, the splendid, thousand year old monastery is situated in Capodimonte, in a deep cove of the Portofino Park, halfway between the village and Camogli. Dubbed Punta Chiappa, from the sea, it is spectacular to see the cupola of the antique building that, founded as a Benedictine monastery, later became pirate’s hideout, then a humble home to fishermen, and finally, for centuries, the property of the Genoese Doria royal family. It is a unique place, facing the splendid bay with its small pebbled beach, three restaurants, a place that has been preserved through the centuries, and embraced by the thick Mediterranean vegetation. The architecture is truly beautiful, in the typical Ligurian Romanesque style, in white marble and slate from the surrounding valleys; guests may visit the Cloister, the Museum, the tomb of the Doria and Doria Tower. A curiosity: in front of the Abbey, in the water of the Protected Marine Area of Portofino, is the bronze statue of Christ of the Abyss, classic destination for those who love diving. And, by the way, it is in this special context that Outdoor Portofino, a sporting association that promotes, among other things, activities for environmental education linked to the Protected Marine Area of Portofino, operates.
The “door” to Portofino
If Portofino is synonymous with style, elegance, charm, but also magical nature and adventure behind every corner, beside the promontory that hosts Portofino are found other beautiful, famous and hospitable tourism locales, such as Santa Margherita Ligure. Just “Santa”, as it is called by many Milanese and Lombards, has, for decades, been chosen as their favorite seaside destination, summer and winter. Santa Margherita Ligure has always been one of the pearls of the Eastern Riviera, as well as the terrestrial “access port” to the isolated little paradise of Portofino. Here, too, tourism is synonymous with elegance, thanks to the yachts that are always anchored in its pretty touristic harbor, but most of all for the elegant buildings with their splendid trompe l’oeil that are admired throughout the historic center, closed within a delightful bay. Don’t forget that “Santa” is one of the culinary capitals, thanks to a natural gift – the red shrimps of Santa Margherita, offered in all the sea-walk locales. Staying within the “culinary” environment, the city is also famous – together with other towns of the Eastern Riviera, such as Recco, Camogli and Rapallo – for a much “humbler” food, which is just as tasty: focaccia. The classic is the simplest version, and for many, it is the best: white flour, extravirgin olive oil of the Ligurian Riviera, salt, yeast and water. The classic focaccia can be enriched with various ingredients that make it even better: thin cut potatoes arranged on the surface, or thinly sliced onions sprinkled over the dough before baking, with fragrant rosemary, sage or pitted olives. To find some of the best, here are two historic locations in “Santa”: Panificio Marengo, Corso Matteotti 32, in the pedestrian zone of the historic center, and is an obligatory stop in the maze of stores to visit. The other is Panificio Pinamonti, Via dell’Arco 23, famous for its soft, “oily” and tasty focaccia. Another old soul of the city is the welcoming of tourists: there are numerous high level hotels, ideal for leisure or business, and Mice.
In particular, to sleep in “Santa”, guests may choose the Imperiale Palace Hotel (via Pagana 19, tel. 0185.288991, www.imperialepalacehotel.it), a five star hotel near the center, but surrounded by a large old park. In the historic Liberty style building there are 89 rooms, which are all equipped with air conditioning, wi-fi connections, mini-bar, safe and telephone, and preserve their antique charm. In addition, the hotel features four well-equipped conference rooms, two restaurants and a Fitness Center with gym, Turkish bath, massage rooms and esthetic treatments.
Located on the top of a green promontory, Hotel Continental (via Pagana 8, tel. 0185.286512, www.hotel-continental.it), historic four star hotel, offers 69 rooms, some with terraces and others with balconies, a remodeled Wellness Area and two restaurants in which to taste typical dishes of Ligurian cuisine. There is also a large, modular meeting hall for conventions of up to 130 people, with ample windows facing the sea and green. Always set in a charming context, with marvelous views of the Gulf of Santa Margherita, there is Hotel Metropole (Via Pagana 2, tel. 0185. 286134; www.metropole.it), with 58 rooms, some of which are distributed in the panoramic Villa Porticciolo, typical Genoese architectural mansion of the 1800s, facing both the park and the sea. The beautiful rooms have frescoes, century old plasterwork and Carrara marble. For those who, however, choose Rapallo as their destination for a truly luxurious stay, the Excelsior Palace Hotel is of great note (Via S. Michele di Pagana 8, tel. 0185.230666; www.excelsiorpalace.it). It is in a privileged position, facing towards the east on Rapallo Bay, and to the west towards the coast of Portofino. It is the only 5 star Luxury Hotel of the Portofino Coast. Precious furnishings, artwork, spectacular views, excellent restaurants and relax, all masterfully laid out under the banner of exclusivity.
Team building in Portofino
Outdoor Portofino (www.outdoorportofino.com), the sports society, whose seat is in Niasca di Portofino, on the splendid Paraggi Bay, organizes, for different uses, marine and land-based activities to do in this unique context, perfect for incentivizing and post-conference activities. Among the main sports organized throughout the year are kayak excursions, stand-up paddling (SUP) and sailing, snorkeling tours, kayak and SUP schools, windsurfing and sailing schools, swimming courses, Nordic walking excursions and orienteering. Many of these activities are designed to provide intense team building experiences that can improve the cohesion of the group, work on trust-building, and improve team spirit. Here are some examples of the experiences organized around the marvels of Portofino:
“Marine Orienteering”: done with a canoe, paddles, map and compass. A route of sections to follow to arrive at the final destination in the least possible time, following a series of way-points. The group is divided into teams, and safety is guaranteed by the presence of a guide along the route.
“Land Orienteering”: done with the assistance of only a map and a compass; the competitors or teams must navigate an itinerary in the least possible time, identifying and reaching a certain number of points along the race course, until arriving at the finish line. Teamwork and cooperation are the winning keys to this experience. “Full immersion”: two days of adventure in the sea, in direct contact with nature and with trekking companions. Morning departure in kayaks, and return the following afternoon, after an overnight stay in a tent in the Portofino Park. Numerous activities to perform along the way, thanks to the fundamental collaboration within the group.
“Marine treasure hunt”: a team game above and beneath the water. Kayak, mask and fins to find the treasure hidden in caves, gorges and under water.
An elite hospitality
In such a special place, is it impossible to find spaces adapted to incentive trips or Mice? Certainly not: secret Portofino also offers luxury structures, from hospitality to cuisine, that are perfect for the organization of a complete events, and for a dream-stay.
Beginning from the Hotel Splendido (Via Roma 2, tel. 0185.267800; www.belmond.com/hotel-splendido-portofino), an enclave of refinement perched above the sea, and immersed in the green of the Mediterranean vegetation of rare plants, olive trees and bougainvillea. This ex monastery, now a luxury hotel, boasts sumptuous rooms and a gourmet restaurant.
One to add to your agenda is the Eight Hotel Portofino(Via del Fondaco 11, tel. 0185.26991, http://portofino.eighthotels.it), another elegant and luxurious structure standing just steps from the famous Piazzetta, but also immersed in magical quiet. In this refined and brand new location are 17 rooms and one suite, and a private garden that climbs up Monte Portofino, equipped with lounge chairs, hammocks, gazebo and free wi-fi service everywhere. It is perfect for high level business and private meetings, offering cutting edge tech and information technology services.
Finally, in the “twin” structure, not far away from the Eight Hotel Paraggi is the delightful space of Eight Restaurant (www.eightrestaurant.it), perfect either for organizing gala dinners on the shore of the sea or culinary events of the highest quality.
Eating in Portofino can often be a special experience, finding oneself elbow to elbow with international tycoons or movie stars. In the famous Piazzetta, for example, is Caffè Excelsior, (Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta 60, tel. 0185.269005 www.caffexcelsior.com), historic location opened in the village in 1924, and where it is possible to taste classic aperitivi, accompanied by a thousand variations of sought after appetizers, prepared with mastery by the chef, revisiting, in modern keys, the tastes and flavors of the territory, as well as organize a special culinary moment, a lunch or dinner, that exploits, with wise mastery, the most genuine flavors of the Ligurian territory. The local cuisine, which skillfully uses the vegetables, herbs, humble fish and classic shellfish which abound in and around the Gulf of Tigullio, expresses itself at the Excelsior through traditional trofie al pesto, homemade pansotti and the freshest calamari. In respect for tradition, there are always tasty and inviting dishes of salt cod, in a white sauce, or with a touch of tomato. The fish, the freshest, is personally chosen by the chef, and is interpreted in a simple and tasteful manner.
Camogli, the other “face” of Portofino
If Santa Margherita is the “access door” to Portofino, then Camogli is its “mirror”, but not in a negative way. The small city, famous for focaccia and the Fish Festival, is found practically at the end of the other extremity of Monte Portofino from the little village, and has, moreover, very different characteristics. Fishing and sailing port of very antique origins, Camogli is, in fact, much more than a simple tourism locale facing the Ligurian Riviera. Here, the sea is always the protagonist, always present in every activity and event. But the little city remains truly charming, for example, for the beauty of the pastel colored painted facades of the buildings that border the promenade to the sea and rise up towards the mountains. There’s no lack of beaches, even if they are equipped and in pebbles, which are also used to create the traditional “risseu” - local mosaics – in black and white in the church squares: just to mention, the risseu of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta is beautiful to see. Camogli also has a fortress: the Castello della Dragonara, an antique manor house on a peak overlooking the sea, built on the rock as a defense during the period of the Saracen invasions. Another attraction to visit in Camogli is the magnificent, wild and scenic Punta Chiappa, which is simply the farthest point of Monte di Portofino that closes the natural bay to the east, which protects the city. It’s reached by a lovely walk among the sea rocks, along which is the Tonnarella of Camogli: one of the oldest tuna fisheries in Italy, and also one of the last few still in operation.
And speaking of fish, not only is Camogli the homeland of the famous Fish Festival, where once a year the theme ingredient is fried in an enormous pan in the piazza, but it also hosts various other locales perfect for tasting seafood dishes, such as La Cucina di Nonna Nina (via Molfino 126, tel. 0185.773835), historic restaurant, found in suburb San Rocco di Camogli, which is famous for the seven dishes that comprise its appetizers of local fish, as well as for its stewed salt cod. Also particularly good are the zembi, pasta filled with pesto. In the same area, those who want to eat traditional Ligurian street food outdoors will enjoy Panificio Maccarini, Via San Rocco 46, which bakes focaccia, plain or with cheese, quiches, and the typical galletta del marinaio bread. For a stay of style, elegance and atmosphere, the hotel to remember is Cenobio dei Dogi (Via Nicolò Cuneo, 34, Camogli; tel. 0185 7241; www.cenobio.it), splendid hotel harmoniously set in a park of pine trees, with a breathtaking view of the gulf, which lends itself as the frame for exclusive events and meetings, thanks to its bright and multifunctional halls. There are two excellent restaurants, del Doge and La Playa, available for business lunches, typical lunches and gala dinners.