Exploring Portofino and the surrounding area by boat is an absolute must while visiting the Italian Riviera.
Away from the crowds, the wonders of Liguria’s secluded bays, steep cliffs and lush vegetation can only be fully appreciated from a boat – be it a motorboat or a sailboat – surrounded by the blue of our beautiful Ligurian Sea.
This area, called the “Golfo del Tigullio” (Tigullio Gulf), includes several towns and bays: San Fruttuoso, Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Chiavari, Lavagna and Sestri Levante, the first three being considered as the most “exclusive” ones with trendy nightlife, great shopping, beautiful landscapes, luxury villas and resorts.
Tourists from Italy and abroad flock here all year long but especially during the summer, thanks to the beautiful sea and beaches, the enjoyable weather – never too hot, always airy – and the super photogenic colourful villages.
Portofino is probably the most famous town in the area, thanks to its typical, tall and colourful sailor houses all pushed together, a glamorous reputation and its unique location, in a natural harbour overlooked by Mount Portofino and its woods.
Here, you can feel like a superstar walking around the port with its mega yachts, shopping in worldwide famous boutiques and often sipping a drink side by side with international celebrities.
Just a few people know that the name “Portofino” most probably comes from “Portus Delphini” in latin, meaning “Port of Dolphins”. Even if it’s still not 100% sure that this is the actual origin of the name, there is no doubt that the Marine Park of Portofino, as well as the whole Ligurian Sea, are home to a great variety of cetaceans, so encountering dolphins and their bigger relatives is not rare at all when you are out at sea.
If you fancy walking, why not climbing up to the San Giorgio church and Castello Brown (Brown Castle), where you can see Portofino from above and make travel memories that will last forever. A short walk further down the same path and you will reach the lighthouse of Portofino, which can only be reached on foot. A very isolated, romantic place where you can enjoy an aperitif at a brand new, one of a kind lounge bar.
Lastly, on Mount Portofino, endless hiking paths connecting secluded villages and coves are awaiting. Walk through the woods and find out how wild and pristine nature is, in this Regional Natural Park.
Even if all this sounds like heaven already, keep in mind that, not far from Portofino, there are other unmissable locations that you must add to your itinerary, such as San Fruttuoso, Punta Chiappa and Camogli.
You simply cannot leave the area without visiting them, too.
San Fruttuoso (full name being “San Fruttuoso di Camogli”), also known as Capodimonte, is a cove that cannot be reached by car. It is only possible to get to San Fruttuoso by boat or walking across the mountain. Among the few houses – mostly still owned by sailors – and typical restaurants, is the famous Abbazia di San Fruttuoso (San Fruttuoso Abbey), a unique monastery that dates back to year 1000.
This ancient Abbey is right on the beach and its interiors and museum can be visited by tourists. Of course, it stays closed when the sea is rough and boats can’t dock.
The sea of San Fruttuoso is crystal clear and reserves a breathtaking surprise – or better, a treasure – for snorkelers and divers: just a few meters from the shore is the “Cristo degli Abissi” (Christ of the Abysses), a 2,50 meters tall statue standing on the seabed, at a depth of about 17 meters, with open arms pointed towards the surface, as a sign of peace.
Imagine how exciting it is to swim towards this monument and finally see it, its eyes looking up, lit by the sunlight and immersed in the blue.
Remarkably, the beach of San Fruttuoso has been mentioned as one of Italy’s 19 best beaches by The Telegraph in 2018. A visit and a swim here simply can’t be missed.
Punta Chiappa, just after San Fruttuoso di Camogli to the west, is a small and pointy, rocky and steep promontory. Like San Fruttuoso, Punta Chiappa can only be reached by boat or walking, and is home to a few renowned restaurants and sailors’ houses scattered around the hill.
Thanks to the cliffs and the Mediterranean scrub you can truly feel in contact with nature; the place never gets too crowded; the views of the open sea right in front, and of beautiful Camogli to the side, make Punta Chiappa incredibly romantic too.
Proceeding westwards, just outside of the Tigullio Gulf but still within the Portofino Regional Natural Park, is the town of Camogli. Once again, you will be welcomed by multi-coloured houses facing the water, a small harbour with fishing boats, typical restaurants and a beautiful beach of pebbles.
Here, you will find a few really good bars with incredible views of the open sea, ideal for an aperitivo, or ice-cream shops and bakeries if you want to have a snack with typical street food such as focaccia.
It is believed that, throughout the area, the different colours of the houses were supposed to help the fishermen coming back to their villages finding their way back, and to recognise their own home from a distance.