If you find yourself in the Italian Riviera, you must take a day trip to the picturesque towns of Santa Margherita and Portofino to see how the other half lives. It’s a playground for the rich and famous where the well heeled pull in on their yachts for the upscale shopping, cafes and restaurants. It was one of our favorite stops and incredibly beautiful, just how you’d imagine a quaint, Italian seaside town. Check out the video of our day trip below, then continue to read about how it unfolded and how to make the trip yourself. At the bottom is a link to our picture gallery of Santa Margherita and Portofino.
How to get there:
We left from La Spezia in the Liguria region which was our base for visiting the Cinque Terre. Levanto is even closer and a good base but you could easily make a day trip if you left early from some of the popular cities of Piza, Lucca or Florence. Just map it out on Google.it/maps and search for train schedules on Trentitalia. From La Spezia it’s a short train trip of about an hour and well connected to the port town of Santa Margherita, on the way you’ll follow the Riviera coastline and some of the other popular beach towns if you choose to hop off. To get to Portofino from Santa Margherita you can take a water taxi in the summer, regular taxi (about $35 euros) or bus ($1.50 euro) but we would recommend walking along the seaside promenade. Its a panoramic and easy hike of about 1 ½ hours and then you can take the bus or splurge on a water taxi back to Santa Margherita.
You’ll miss lots of scenery if you don’t do the walk, along the way are some great coves and swimming spots although we were here in the quiet of winter. Even in December it was plus 16c and we were walking in shorts and t-shirts. We even watched an older couple rocking a bikini and Speedo for a swim in the Mediterranean, the water still seemed warm. This area stays warmer all year round with the temperate currents keeping the area warmer than the rest of Italy. Cooler weather-even snow can happen though in rare occasions, so be prepared in the off seasons-layers!
From the train station in Santa Margherita head straight down to the beach/waterfront and just start walking along the boardwalk and you’ll eventually reach Portofino. If you choose the bus, head to a tobacconist to purchase your tickets (biglietti per autobus) and ask for directions to the Portofino bus stop (Dove la fermata per Portofino?). The day we arrived we had planned to take the bus to Portofino and then walk back but the tobacconist told us there was a strike that day (sciopero-a word you should learn to recognize as you might encounter it often in Italy- means ‘strike’). This forced us to walk both ways and we were very tired at the end but we had thoroughly enjoyed our trek.
Along the walkway you’ll notice the sidewalk ends and then you’ll see a signed trail on the other side of the road that leads you up a paved path heading to Portofino and some great views higher up. If you miss it don’t worry, the road will take you the same way although a little treacherous with the traffic whizzing by on your heels.
The town of Portofino isn’t that big so it doesn’t take long to explore. We had a spectacular sunny day and it was like they had closed the town for a private showing for us, off-season was great but we imagine the people watching would be awesome in the busy summer months. We watched a few well-heeled Italians throwing around their fur coats as they strolled through town. A few joined us for lunch at a restaurant that had tables on a floating dock in the cove surrounded by Portofino, a restaurant visited by the likes of John Wayne and Sophia Loren as proved by the pictures on the walls. We sipped on Spritzer with an Octopus salad and Spaghetti with Clams while enjoying the ambiance.
After lunch I went up to pay the bill and as I headed to the bar one of the wealthy broads I mentioned got up ahead of me to chat up the cashier. Her pants fell down to her knees exposing her rear end which was pantie-less, only covered by sheer pantyhose. She didn’t seem to notice for a few minutes but thank god, just as I was about to pull her pants up for her she casually tucked herself back in. Money don’t buy class! I had to wait for her to finish chatting, she was obviously a regular with the wait staff. I paid the bill and we commenced our hike back to Santa Margherita and boarded a train for our return to La Spezia. And so it ended, an exceptional day and nice reprieve from the city and its crowds of holiday shoppers.
Should you be making this journey in the summer we would also recommend continuing to San Fruttuoso, a beach side Abbey in a small seaside village on a secluded section of beach, perfect for a swim at the end of a hot hike. We wanted to include this in our itinerary but it’s only accessible by water taxis which were not running during this time in the winter. You can also hike in and back but we had already done our limit with the bus strike going on and simply did not have enough time or energy. Either set aside a separate day for this or plan an early and full day to visit all three towns. I’d suggest taking transit then to Portofino, hiking to Fruttuoso and return by water taxi. Here is a link to another blogger that gives some good information or search Google. Hope you get to enjoy this piece of paradise! Click here to link to the photo gallery.