Portofino: What is there to do? What is there to see ?
In this article we reply to the two questions that are asked most often by those intending to come on holiday in Portofino or by those who need some advice. Here are my personal suggestions: what I would do if I had a few days of vacation in Liguria.
My guide to the 10 places that absolutely must be visited (and tips on how to visit them) for an experience just like that of a local.
Join us for a virtual tour of Portofino (Italian with english subtitles):
Portofino: where is it?
Before talking about what to see in Portofino and about my 10 favourite places, let me make a fundamental premise. For me the name Portofino represents a whole territory. Portofino Natural Park and the Protected Marine Area. A harmonious and perfect togetherness of nature, history, culture, traditions, gastronomy and amazing panoramas. So when I say Portofino, I don’t just intend the splendid village, but an entire promontory. Part of this is included in the towns of Santa Margherita Ligure, Camogli and the hamlet of San Fruttuoso, creating a blend of sea, villages and uncontaminated nature.
That said: where is Portofino?
- Portofino is in Liguria on the Eastern Riviera, at the extreme West of the Tigullio Gulf
- Portofino’s sea, which is it? The Mediterranean – Tyrrhenian – Ligurian Sea, inside the Sanctuary of the Cetaceans
- It is about 30 km East of Genoa and around 60 km West of the Cinque Terre
- The Park covers a total land area of 18 km², whilst the coastal portion covers 13 km².
Portofino, what about parking? The bicycle is the best means of transport!
My advice is that once you have reached the destination (preferably by train), use a bike for getting around. A bike allows you to have as much freedom as you like, without any traffic or parking problems. Furthermore it is suitable for everyone: with an e-bike, anyone can tackle uphill stretches without any effort.
In Liguria an electric bike is the best solution for having maximum liberty when moving around, whilst enjoying the view, the scents and a bit of sport at the same time!
What to see in Portofino (and what to do in Portofino):
Here is the list of the 10 places that you cannot miss during a holiday in the Portofino Promontory and my suggestions as to how to visit them (far from the classic tourist trails, and always with a spirit of outdoor adventure)!
What to see in Portofino – 1: Portofino village
A little inlet by the sea, sheltering between the green of the Mediterranean scrub and crystalline waters, where you can feel genuinely in contact with nature.
The picturesque village of Portofino is a tiny gem, nestled in the verdant setting of the regional Park which bears its name. Located at the Eastern tip of the promontory, Portofino is a place of great interest to visitors, with its tall and colorful houses facing the square and the tiny harbor in a semi-circle, protected by hills covered with olive groves. The whole perimeter of the park is characterized by rocky coastlines, tiny inlets, grottoes and solitary little beaches, mostly only reachable by sea.
Remembering our premise, that I consider Portofino to be an entire territory, Portofino itself represents the beating heart. An UNESCO heritage site, it was one of the first tourist spots in Italy and is a symbol of beauty and elegance throughout the world.
Portofino as I like it:
in kayak! Starting off from Paraggi (Niasca). A short paddle, suitable for everyone, that offers an intimate, suggestive and unusual prospective.
Portofino is connected to Santa Margherita by way of a provincial road (which collapsed in 2018 following a violent storm and was immediately rebuilt). I think that the best way to reach the area is to take a train (as far as Santa Margherita Ligure) and then continue by ferry or bike.
Here is some information on How to get to Portofino:
What to see in Portofino – 2: Portofino Lighthouse
Working since 1910, located 40m above the sea and with a range of 16 nautical miles, Portofino Lighthouse still represents a fundamental guide for seafarers. Positioned on the promontory of the same name, it symbolises a border between the Tigullio Gulf and the southern area of the Portofino Promontory, overlooking a place where cetaceans are often seen, including dolphins and sometimes even whales.
Needless to say, the view from here takes your breath away!
Portofino Lighthouse as I like it:
at sundown. Arriving by Sup (Stand Up Paddle Board) at the Olivetta beach (one of the few in Portofino), walking on with a brief trek (10 min) that leads to the Lighthouse, where we can sip a glass of wine (at the Lighthouse Bistrot), contemplating the view of the sea, looking out and hopefully seeing a fin or two!
What to see in Portofino – 3: Portofino beaches (and more): Niasca, Paraggi and Cannon Bay
Paraggi Bay is considered to be one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Liguria and is made up of two beaches:
- Paraggi, which is almost completely covered with beach resorts, ideal for those who prefer comfort, services and elegance.
- Niasca: a free beach, suitable for those who love Outdoor activities!! (and where our water sports centre is located)
The entire bay is off-limits to vessels. A safe place where you can swim, go snorkelling or simply have a dip.
A few hundred metres further along, just before you reach Portofino Bay, lies the public beach known as Cannon Bay.
The sea (in Niasca) as I like it:
with a mask, flippers and snorkel. Discovering the enormous biodiversity of the marine fauna and flora. Also thanks to the creation of the Portofino Protected Marine Area it will seem to you to be swimming in a natural aquarium! Or perhaps try a SUP Yoga session at dawn!
What to see in Portofino – 4: San Sebastiano and the trails on Portofino Mount
Let’s move a little further up, to the heart of Portofino’s Park. San Sebastiano is a jewel set in nature. A tiny Ligurian hamlet far from the usual tourist circuits, only accessible on foot or by bike. The microscopic church is spectacular, with its marine style coloured cobblestones called risseu (typical Ligurian stone paving).
This bucolic place, surrounded by centuries old olive trees, offers you a breath-taking view from up above, over Portofino.
San Sebastiano as I like it:
arriving by Mountain Bike (electric, e- mtb) departing from Santa Margherita Ligure. You take the road to Portofino and just before you reach the village take the deviation towards the Hotel Splendido and from there an uphill bridle path (a pretty steep one) leading to San Sebastiano. To complete the circuit (some ability with MTB riding is needed here) you can continue towards Mulino del Gassetta – Gave – Nozarego – Santa Margherita Ligure. Here are some other ideas for bikes and MTB itineraries in Liguria.
Hiking the “Mount” as I like it:
Hiking the trails of the Portofino Park is a real highpoint. The paths are panoramic, well signalled, offering a hike that is rich in flora, fauna and geological aspects. Try to stick to them, either planning a longer or shorter walk as you prefer. This so-called Outdoor Adventure is my favourite activity: it blends together trekking, plant recognition, Orienteering and Survival to ensure a fun and satisfying adventure.
Alternatively I adore doing what they call “trekking mangereccio”: a hike that takes in two of the Park’s eateries (Mulino del Gassetta and Agririfugio Molini, which can only be reached on foot) for a combo lunch + snack (or aperitif) with authentic Ligurian cooking.
What to see in Portofino – 5: Santa Margherita Ligure and Villa Durazzo
Situated in the internal portion of the splendid Tigullio Gulf and surrounded by the verdant Portofino Mountain, Santa Margherita Ligure is the ideal place to make your base for outdoor activities all year round.
Historically known as a fishing village, tourism has transformed Santa Margherita into an elegant seaside resort. Known today as “Tigullio’s Pearl”, Santa Margherita gracefully integrates its urban landscape and tourist harbour with the nature surrounding it.
Both the mild climate here and the easy access both to the sea and to the park’s trails make this place the ideal departure point for numerous outdoor activities.
Villa Durazzo is a treasure just waiting to be discovered. An Italian garden park, with a 17th century villa immerged in harmonious nature and the best view of “Santa”. What more could we ask for??
Villa Durazzo as I like it:
On a bike! We talk about it here…
What to see in Portofino – 6: Cinque Terre
Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore: five gems nestling between earth and sea, whose beauty will leave you lost for words.
Little towns with towers and alleys, Mediterranean scrub, agaves, limestone rocks with spectacular stratifications, grottoes and turquoise waters. The Cinque Terre, together the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, are a Unesco heritage site, a National Park site and Protected Marine Area.
A tip: visit by train (or by ferry)!
The Cinque Terre as I like them:
By sea: in kayak or by Sup. Why? It will get you away from the tourist crowds, you will see places that otherwise you would never see and … can you imagine how delightful it is to pull in at Vernazza after a lovely paddle and savour a delicious ice cream, without feeling at all guilty about it?
What to see in Portofino – 7: San Fruttuoso di Camogli
The minuscule hamlet of San Fruttuoso – dominated by the Church, with both an Abbey and Tower – is right in the heart of the Portofino Park.
Reachable only on foot or by sea, this magical place retains its intense charm thanks to the enormous natural beauty of the location, which includes a scattering of buildings. It is the tiny beach, the rocky coastline delimiting the inlet, the Mediterranean vegetation that clings to the steep hill, the intense blues of the sea and the almost total absence of noise that make San Fruttuoso a mystical and regenerating place.
What you absolutely must see in San Fruttuoso:
- Christ of the Abyss: a submerged bronze statue, in the SE corner of the San Fruttuoso bay, found at a depth of about 15 m.
- The Abbey of San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte: built in the 10th century.
- Doria Tower: erected in 1562 to defend the hamlet and its extremely precious water source from pirates.
How to get to San Fruttuoso:
You can reach San Fruttuoso mainly in two ways: either on foot or by sea.
How to reach San Fruttuoso on foot:
- From Portofino Kulm (Vetta): about 1 h 30″, almost all of which is downhill. Leave your car in the Kulm car park.
- From Camogli: around 4 h (a difficult trail) passing through San Rocco – Batterie – Passo del Bacio – Cala dell’Oro
- From Santa Margherita Ligure: around 3 h passing through Nozarego – Prato – Base 0
San Fruttuoso as I like it:
Arriving on foot from San Rocco, do watch out as it is a challenging trail. Or in Kayak or SUP (Paddle board) from Niasca (then jump in with your mask on to see the Christ of the Abyss). Possibly timing it well, so you arrive when the last tourist ferry has left and the village regains its authenticity.
What to see in Portofino – 8: San Rocco di Camogli
A village perched up above a sheer cliff over the sea. With an incredible view over all Liguria, where on a clear day you can see as far as France and the Maritime Alps. And one of the main access places for the trails of Portofino Mountain and the path to reach Punta Chiappa. This is how San Rocco presents itself to you, the home of the sea biscuit, the “galletta del marinaio” (and main ingredient of the Ligurian dish capponadda).
To get there, take the side road from Ruta, found along the road that connects Recco and Camogli with Santa Margherita and Rapallo, turning right just before the tunnel (when travelling West to East).
San Rocco as I like it:
Arriving at sundown by bike to enjoy one of the most romantic aperitifs in the entire Med (at Bar Muagetti, 200 m after San Rocco church, along the path towards Punta Chiappa).
What to see in Portofino – 9: Punta Chiappa
It marks the border between the Paradise Gulf and the southern side of the Portofino Protected Marine Area. Its microscopic harbour, Porto Pidocchio, is both the ferry stop and the place to approach for anyone arriving by sea (otherwise it can only be reached on foot from San Rocco).
From April to September, lying in wait in the blue depths a few hundred metres out to sea is the famous net for tuna fishing or the Tonnarella of Camogli, an ancient fishing method still used today.
Punta Chiappa as I like it:
If I really fancy a dip in the bluest waters…I go to Punta Chiappa. This is my absolute favourite place in the world for a splash or a proper swim. The water here is always perfectly clean and limpid and the sheer number of fish that you meet underwater here never disappoints!
What to do in Portofino – 10: Camogli
A village of seafarers and fishermen with pastel coloured houses, Camogli is amongst the most famous and best conserved seaside towns in Italy.
Situated on the Eastern coast of the Paradise Gulf, the municipality of Camogli is also part, together with Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, of Portofino Regional Park. A characteristic of the town is its traditional black and white risseu, typical mosaics made with the same rounded pebbles that you can also find on the wide beach.
Camogli as I like it:
arriving with an e-bike from Santa Margherita! We talk about that here.
So we have discussed what to see in Portofino and I have given you all my suggestions as to what to do in Portofino, but when is a good time to visit? Which is the best season in which to visit Liguria? Here is some useful info on the climate.
In Liguria the climate is Mediterranean: mild winters, not too humid summers and rains generally concentrated in the months of November and December.
Every season is perfect for planning a vacation in this area, with some activities being more suitable than others, depending on the period.
What to do in Portofino in the summer
What to do in Portofino in the autumn
September is my favourite month, but this season is magical in general. It’s perfect for getting on the water with your Kayak or Sup (Stand Up Paddle Board), vessels are scarce, the water is still warm and the air temperature is ideal. Excellent too for using your Bike and doing activities on Portofino Mountain.
What to do in Portofino in the winter
With very few people around, the nature is all ours. You just need to make sure that you are equipped properly and you can enjoy all sorts of Outdoor activities. March, when the days are already starting to become longer, guaranteeing us loads of hours of daylight, is just the perfect month!
What to do in Portofino in the spring
Blossoms, the reawakening of nature, the joyous song of the animals. Spring is an invitation to get outside and enjoy practising as many Outdoor activities as you can. It is my favourite season for passing time in Portofino Park, either hiking, orienteering, survival or pedalling around.
I hope that this very personal little guide on what to see in Portofino has been useful to you!
If you have any questions or suggestions, write your comment and I will be happy to answer.