We had never imagined that we would be living only an hour and a half away from The Italian Riviera, one of the most beautiful coasts in Italy. More surprisingly, we would have never predicted that we would prefer it over the Amalfi Coast.
The Italian Riviera is a narrow coastal strip between the Ligurian Sea and the Maritime and Appennine Mountains. It borders the French Riviera and the fishing ports lining the coast have been a popular tourist destination or centuries. The most famous villages/towns are Portofino, Bordighera, Lerici, and Cinque Terre. For this weekend, we just took a leisurely drive north until we started seeing signs for Portofino. Portofino is all the way at the end of this particular coastal strip, which means you have to drive through Ravella and Santa Margherita Ligure in heavy traffic. Thankfully, we had booked our overnight stay in Santa Margherita, which was a lively and charming town a couple of miles from Portofino. This was a good choice, because it nearly saved an additional 45 driving in traffic to reach Portofino on a single-lane road, and the hotels are significantly cheaper. Santa Margherita Ligure is filled with restaurants and shopping streets along the main piazza. Although it is considered less upscale than Portofino, in some ways we preferred its liveliness and more casual atmosphere.
Since we were blessed with beautiful weather, we had the opportunity to enjoy the coastal walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino. Unlike the Amalfi Coast, the towns were connected by walkways along the road overlooking the ocean. We had JoJo with us, so it made for a great activity to wear him out. You also have the option of taking the boat to Portofino, but I thought the walk enabled you to appreciate the beauty of the area. As a warning to future travelers, this was a long walk. It probably took us about an hour and a half hours each way. However, the scenery is phenomenal and once you get closer to Portofino, you can enter the Park of Portofino through an entryway in the road. The walk then turns into a trail atop of a hill overlooking the water while being surrounded by a nature preserve. It was once of the best walks we took on our trip thus far in Italy.
The trail landed us near the main piazza in Portofino, a large area surrounded by small cafes and restaurants. What struck us is that Portofino is not very big (hence the hefty hotel prices), but it is nestled away at the end of the coastal strip and outside of the main streets/piazza, is actually very peaceful.
We had lunch at I Gemelli one of the highest rated restaurants on TripAdvisor in Portofino. We took the server’s recommendations and I ordered the Spaghetti Al Frutti di Mare and Ryan had the Lasagna Mandillia Pesto (pesto is a specialty of the region). Although my pasta was decent (I have had better), Ryan was disappointed in his dish. We had been expecting a filled lasagna, instead all we got were limp lasagna noodles smothered in average pesto sauce. The sauce was overpowering and the noodles were overcooked. It was the only disappointing part of our trip.
The trip back to Santa Margherita Ligure seemed faster than the first. We stopped by a small rocky beach underneath the walkway where we allowed JoJo to go swimming with a couple of other dogs. When we got back to the hotel, he dropped dead asleep.
Fortunately, dinner was much more successful than lunch. We ate at one of the renowned pizza restaurants in the city, Delfino, whose menu was so overwhelming we had to ask our waiter for help. We luckily made some good choice (Ryan with a simple sausage, me with a smorgasboard of toppings). The pizzas were enormous for one person. They barely fit on the plate. But they were so worth it.
The next day we left mid-morning. We knew we would be returning in the future with family and friends so thankfully we left many other sites to be explored along the coast.
I returned to Portofino with my Dad and his girlfriend, Judy, in late April. It was a beautiful spring day and we enjoyed the 15 minute ferry ride from Santa Margherita Ligure to the Portofino harbor. Because we did not walk 1.5 hours before arriving in Portofino (like our first visit), we had the energy to do the half hour hike to the Portofino lighthouse and the San Giorgio church. Unfortunately we did not have time to climb the lighthouse or get close enough of a view to get a good picture. Regardless, the path made for a peaceful, breathtaking stroll in the afternoon sun. See below for pictures of these gems I highly recommend for anyone to see when they are in Portofino!