Traipsing down the flower-lined path of the hillside fortress Castello Brown, it’s easy to see why the harbour village of Portofino has been a hotspot for luminaries since the 1950s.
Pastel houses stand like an oil painting bordering the Piazza Martiri dell’ Olivetta, mimicking a scene from a glamorous film from yesteryear. The gentle jingle of boats bobbing in the harbour drifts through the busy alfresco tables where nowadays, the 50s film stars have been swapped for linen-clad Instagram babes and local holidaymakers drinking wine in the sun.
It’s a prime place for a weekend away but there’s so much more to Portofino and its neighbouring gems than you might see on social media. Here’s the highlight reel in itinerary form…
Day One, 3pm
On arrival to the charming seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure, check into the Grand Hotel Miramare AKA the ‘grande dame’ of the Italian Riviera.
The Art Nouveau building carries an atmosphere from a bygone era paired with the contemporary luxuries you’d expect from a Leading Hotels of the World property.
Drop your car with the valet and head straight to one of the beautifully refurbished suites for a glass of wine on the panoramic balcony overlooking the Golfo del Tigullio.
After a quick swim in sea water swimming pool, stop for a photo opp in the lush landscaped garden of potted colour and century old cedar of Lebanon - an essential snap for social media bragging rights.
A summer afternoon in Italy wouldn’t be complete without an aperitivo. Head to Bar Le Colonne for a negroni and bar snacks of juicy olives, local salumi and traditional homemade focaccia (famously originating from the nearby town of Recco).
As the sun sets, walk down the coast to the town of Santa Margherita for a huge helping of mussels or grilled swordfish from Osteria Numero 7. Walk along the port and pick out your dream boat while sampling some of the fine local gelato.
Day two, 8am
Seize the day with an early start at Grand Hotel Miramare’s buffet breakfast in the luxurious Vistamare Restaurant. Fall-at-your-feet waiters take your coffee order and hand you the daily paper from your state of origin to read while boats float by in the distance.
Meet your skipper Andre from Portofino Taxi Boat at the wharf across from Grand Hotel Miramare for one of the best priced and personable boat trips in town.
Cruise past picturesque Portofino and the sweeping estates of Dolce and Gabbana before anchoring and snorkeling around the Christ of the Abyss, a golden statue of Jesus 15 meters under water.
The replica is a nod to Italy’s first scuba diver Dario Gonzatti, who died during a dive in 1947.
Swim up to the beach at San Fruttuoso and explore the gorgeous Abbey of San Fruttuoso which houses the remains of martyr bishop Fruttuoso.
Legend has it, the bishop appeared in the dreams of five monks to tell them to bury him at this church.
Since San Fruttuoso di Camogli is only accessible by foot or boat there is a boutique vibe at the beach and only five restaurants, all brimming with fresh seafood options. La Cantina is right on the shore and has legacy since the 70s. Order a plate Spaghetti Vongole and take in the clear blue views of the Ligurian Sea.
As Andre cruises into postcard-perfect Portofino, make sure to take plenty of snaps of the harbour suspended in time.
Stroll leftwards along Molo Umberto I and follow the signs up the stone staircase to Castello Brown. Meander the glorious landscaped path right to the top for the best views of the Portofino peninsula.
There’s a €5 entry free to cover museum costs, a small price to discover a site dating back to the third century AD.
Jump on the 82 bus from the main Piazza and head back to the hotel for happy hour.
Have the Grand Hotel Miramare concierge arrange a dinner reservation at one of the most iconic properties in Portofino, Hotel Belmond Splendido. Taxis in the area usually charge a €30 flat rate from Santa Margherita or the bus runs until late.
Asked to be dropped at Piazza della Libertà and take some time to explore the cobblestoned back streets of the village, dropping into fancy shops like Gucci before winding up the flower-lined path to Belmond Splendido.
As scent of jasmine clings to the restored 16th century monastery, you can almost see Elizabeth Taylor waltzing past the lemon trees and into the glossy wooden bar for Aperitivo hour. Is there a better pair than a dirty martini and the Piano Man’s Love in Portofino before dinner?
While quite pricey, the La Terraza food is good but the view and glamour are the real showstoppers. Executive Chef Corrado Corti specialises in rich dishes like the double yolk taglierini pasta, with summer black truffle and parmesan cream.
After another Grand Hotel Miramare breakfast, walk into Santa Margherita Ligure for a proper explore. Having booked, head to LHP Hotel Santa Margherita Palace & SPA for a massage and heat spa experience.
Although it’s time to say goodbye to the Grand Hotel Miramare, ask the hotel to hold your bags for the rest of the day. From here, take the bus towards the famous Baya Paraggi and hire a daybed at the swish new Eight Hotel.
Dine at Fusion Restaurant for some of the best sushi and Japanese plates in Italy. From here, Genoa Airport is less than an hour away via train or car.
While Italy offers a bottomless list of port towns to Spritz away the summer days, Portofino ticks all the boxes for a perfecto weekend away on the riviera and is a must-do for the bucket list.