Stories > The five reasons we absolutely love Portofino
The five reasons we absolutely love Portofino

The five reasons we absolutely love Portofino

Published 2021-02-09 by Peter Ternström

Until the beginning of the 20th century, Portofino was an ordinary fishing village. The situation changed significantly when tourism exploded during the first 20 years of the century. Portofino became known for its amazingly beautiful harbour and the clean water. The village quickly became popular as an exclusive resort for Europe's richest people. Many noblemen and other notable families built summer residences here. These residences still exist today but have in many cases been transformed into fashionable boutique hotels.

During the jet-set era, which began in the late 50s, Portofino's popularity exploded. The entire world's socio-economic elite would spend their summers here. For about 30 years, between 1960 and the mid-90s, Portofino was the summertime centre for the entire world's upper classes.

Anyone who was someone would absolutely have their superyacht parked outside the harbour. The parties lasted until the morning at restaurants and nightclubs in the harbour. Then the party continued on one of the billionaires' yachts.

During Portofino's heyday, the term "paparazzi" was invented. Photographers, who documented the lives of the rich and famous with cameras and super long lenses.

In the mid-1990s, however, there was a major change in Portofino's status as the epicentre of decadence and summer residence for the wealthiest. No one really knows why it happened. Perhaps it was the economic crisis that spread in the world. Or, the locals got sick and tired of everything. Anyway, the billionaires moved their superyachts and champagne-fuelled parties to the then quite unknown village of Saint-Tropez in France.

1. The Harbour and Via Roma

Portofino harbour and little Piazzetta (square) is extremely pretty. Probably the prettiest harbour in the world. This is a wonderful place to visit both day and night time. During the day for lunch or an afternoon coffee with ice cream in any of the restaurants and bars. In the evening, dinner usually starts at 20 or even 21. The restaurants usually don't open until 19:30.

Having dinner in the Portofino harbour is a great experience. Our favourite restaurant is Chuflay, located on the bottom floor of Hotel Splendido Mare. A reservation is necessary during the summer.

Strange name, Chuflay? Very. According to the legend, it was American tourists in the 1950s that invented it. Shoo-Fly - as in waving with your hand to make an insect fly away. This was picked up by a waiter who thought it meant something completely different.

Via Roma is the main street in Portofino, connecting the harbour with Piazza della Liberta where the buses and taxis stop. This very picturesque narrow street has many luxury brand shops, cafés and ice cream parlours. You will also find plenty of souvenir stands.

2. The beach in Paraggi

There is an extremely beautiful beach in the direct vicinity of Portofino. It is famous for its absolutely clear (and cold) water. To reach it, walk towards Santa Margherita. After a few hundred meters you will reach the bay of Paraggi. You can't miss it. There is also a parking lot behind the beach.

3. That famous church San Giorgo

The Church of San Giorgio is a small Catholic church in Portofino, located on an elevated position, enjoying a panoramic view of the Marina di Portofino. The church was built in 1154. If you have time and two legs in working order, there is a beautiful trail from the harbour up to the church.

4. Hotel Splendido Portofino

Our favourite hotel is (Belmond) Splendido Portofino. It is located on a hill overlooking the harbour. This is one of the five top hotels in the world. A room with sea view and balcony costs about 2 000 euros per night during high season. Absolutely no problem to park your Ferrari in the hotel garage, or just outside the main entrance.

We stay at this hotel a few times per year, for our supercar driving tours Gran Turismo Riviera and sometimes Gran Turismo Italia. A Ferrari or Lamborghini of your choice is included.

Worth noting is that there is a second hotel in Portofino called Splendido: Splendido Mare, and it is located in the harbour. It belongs to the Belmond group and is also a great hotel. We prefer Hotel Splendido on the hill, though. The parking for a supercar is better, too.

5. The elegant cool

Now to the best thing with Portofino. The most important reason we love it so much. While the champagne-spraying partying has moved to Saint-Tropez, Portofino has become the calmer and much classier choice.

The Riviera and the Cote d'Azur can be divided into three distinct parts. Saint-Tropez is sexy and has the wildest parties. Monaco is an absurd Disneyland for the rich.

Portofino is all about class. Of all the popular spots on the Riviera and Cote d'Azur, Portofino is the most elegant one.

Bucket list item

To visit Portofino is an important item on everyone's bucket list. However, there are some things to keep in mind. The prices are high. Not like in Venice, but still more expensive than usual in Italy. Coffee in the harbour can cost five euros. A great hotel room in Portofino costs from 700 euros and upwards per night, during high season. Budget alternatives start from about 200 euros.

Parking

Be careful bringing your supercar to Portofino unless you have a reservation at a hotel that also guarantees a parking space. Park your car at your hotel, and then walk down to the harbour. There is a small garage on Piazza della Liberta called Garage Portofino. The competition for places in the garage is fierce and I recommend that you call ahead and reserve a spot. (+39 0185 269 039)

Santa Margherita

Want to experience Portofino without spending a fortune? Then I recommend you stay in Santa Margherita instead. It is located about five kilometres from Portofino. Here you will find lots of good hotels at a reasonable price. Then you can take the bus or a taxi to Portofino and enjoy the vibe in the harbour at a fraction of the price. In addition, it is much easier to find parking for your car in Santa Margherita.

One last thing

Are you ready to learn something new today? The name Portofino. It does actually not mean "the fine/pretty harbour". No. The name Portofino comes from the Roman Imperial name for the village two thousand years ago - Portus Delphini.

Peter Ternström
Peter Ternström
peter@granturismo.org

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Locations mentioned in the story

Splendido Portofino
One of the ten top hotels in the world, on a hill directly above Portofino harbour.
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