I first arrived in Porotfino aboard a private,
5-story yacht sailing from Monaco…
I ate at the finest restaurants in Portofino, played in one-thousand-Euro-a-day beach lounge, and popped champagne with celebrities. “Wouldn’t it be a dream to live here?” my travel companion
sighed, dreamily. “Yes it would.”
Today, I do live here, kind of. Down the road from Portofino, I live in a small flat. I get to Portofino by bike sharing, spend my days hiking and now, I splurge on 9 Euro Aperol Spritz apperitivo so I can get the free snacks. Truth be told, I came to Portofino as a tutor for a world-traveling European family. I lived the high life with them, enjoying a fairy tale tourist experience. Then I fell in love with my waiter, and returned after my tutoring gig was over. Today I enjoy more of a local, Italian lifestyle. Here’s a peek into the affordable side of this beautiful former fishing village, and the secret spots that both the posh and the proletariat frequent.
Take the large yacht, er, ferry, from nearby Cinque Terre, Rapallo, or Santa
Margherita. Grab a spot at the top deck, tie on your silk scarf, pop on the sunglasses, and watch the beautiful Tigullio coast from above the crystal blue waves. When you disembark at your destination, walk slowly off the ship, look out towards the village, and make a couple of princess waves for good measure. You can check ferry times and schedules at the dock of arrival and departure points, but do ensure you plan this before you depart so as not to find yourself actually needing to charter a private yacht.
Price: From €10-15 /person
Train + Bike:
From any of the 5 Cinque Terre villages, hop on the Tren Italia to the
Santa Margherita Ligure Portofino stop, about a 45 minutes ride. When you get off, walk
down the steps, cross the street towards the sea, and walk to the Tourist Center of
Santa Margherita, a small green hut by a parking lot near the central piazza.
From the Tourist Center, you can purchase a card to use the bike sharing* by the hour
or by the day. If you’d like a little workout, check out a blue bike, a standard, 3-gear
model. If not, try a white one—they’re electric! The winding road towards Portofino is in
The opposite direction of the train station, about a 20-minute ride, and one you’re
unlikely to forget! Pro tip: The road is as picturesque as it is narrow, so stick to the right,
use your bell and brakes when rounding a curb, and beware of the other traffic.
Taking the straight path until it ends will lead to directly into Portofino, where you can
park your bikes in the designated area with the scooters (a sign “Park&Bike” indicates
the area). Or, if you’d like to avoid paying for the bikes while they’re sitting in Portofino,
return the bikes in Paraggi, a little beach cove with the bike depot on the right.
Price: €5.60 for the train, 4 hours for €8, 8 hours for €12
Tip: Download the app “Locomotimes” for accurate timetables and pricing for
customized train routes (it’s for Italians so it’s in Italian, but it’s easy to navigate
*Note, this is a bike sharing system, so your bike isn’t guaranteed to be at the same
place when you come back. If you’d like a more traditional bike rental, check out
Train + Bus:
After arriving in Santa Margherita Ligure – Portofino from the train, walk
down to the Tourist Center and catch the bus to Portofino. The schedule to and from
Portofino is listed on the board by the building, and you can purchase your tickets from
the lean, silver machine on the side of the tourist center. This is one wild ride so those
who are motion-sensitive should be aware—the bus is usually quite full in the summer
and does an impressive job of rounding the sharp corners, though it’s not always
graceful. It is however, the quickest way to get to the village from Santa Margherita.
Price: €2.50 round-trip
BEST FANCY EATS
Enjoy your seaside table at Ristorante La Stella, right in front of the dock. Get the
scampi or calamari, look longingly out towards the sea, and watch the fishing and
tourists boats come and go. For dessert, grab a dark chocolate gelato from Gelateria Il
Molo, and go sit on the benches in front of the dock to watch the yachts and passersby
BEST AL FRESCO EATS
Grab some locally-made pesto, crackers and limonatta snacks from the small goods
store Niasca, off the beaten path behind the central piazza (follow the road up from the
bike parking past the pharmacy). Then, find a spot in the national park for a picnic.
There are hiking trails all around the town, but if you wander through the town center
from Niasca, walk until the dock ends after the yacht club, you can enjoy your feast in
the shade of the trees on some benches soon after the trail begins.
There is plenty of high-end shopping available to you, at least to look at. Stroll the central piazza and main side streets for small shops of the chicest European fashion
houses like Missoni, Dior, Prada, Hermes, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Louis Vuitton. For flouncy, lacy, and locally-made finds, head to the corner boutique Sartoria Antica, which sells blouses and dresses from €50, fit for the Riviera.
Ready for a hike with a limoncello and a view awaiting you at the end? If so, finish your snack on the benches and hike up, following signs for “El Faro,” and round the hills to the scenic tip of the coast. There’s a small bar with great limoncello and snacks. Get
your selfie stick ready!
For such a small little town, Portofino is well-endowed with 3 beautiful churches. It is
said that the church of San Giorgio brings love seekers romance to those who pray
inside (and truthfully, it did actually work for me and 2 of my friends). Enjoy the
incredible paintings and stained glass art in the simply chapel. Find San Giorgio to your
left off the main road, and walk down into the town from there. The second church is
nestled in between an art gallery and some shops, in the center of town. Its simplicity is
calming, and the marble interiors make it a nice place to cool off in the summer heat.
Walking up behind the village leads you to the best view of Portofino and the yellow
church Diva Martino that protects the town from above. To the left, the town, to the right,
the beautiful, crashing waves.
Kaitlin King truly did fall in love with and in Portofino. She is a human-centered designer, a career coach, and entrepreneur—her yoga retreat and education company, Yoga Soule, was founded after her move to Italy fun-ified her yoga practice. Yoga Soule shares the magic of Italy with fellow yogis and spurs yoga professionals to enliven and deepen their businesses.
Photos for this story by: Rachel Tobias and Kaitlin King
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