• Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Visit Portofino

Portofino - Italian Adventures
May 18, 2011
By , Founder and Editor-in-chief
View of Portofino

Your adventure to the Italian Riviera begins in the Liguria region, which features one of the most scenic drives in Italy. It seems to defy logic that a place like this exists outside of the everyday world of skyscrapers and subways. As you follow the road, every hair-raising twist and turn reveals drop-off cliffs and vistas more stunning than the last.

This is quintessential Italian Riviera – glamorous but traditional, with historic villages, cobblestone streets and rugged cliffs, all surrounded by the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. Portofino is the queenof the Italian Riviera – and the Hotel Splendido is her crown. You know you’re approaching something spectacular when every car you see on the winding roads leading up to the hotel is a Rolls Royce. Splendido is set in an old monastery that has been converted into one of the world’s top hotels. The lavish spread is perched in the hills with sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea and Portofino lagoon — both of which seem to appear in every postcard of Portofino.

While heart-stoppingly expensive, Splendido is the most justifiably ridiculous money you’ll probably ever spend on a hotel. The service is impeccable and there’s beautyeverywhere you turn. The rooms, though European-sized, are perfectly decorated and appointed. The integrity of the old monastery is beautifully maintained in the décor, even as it conceals your flat-screen TV. A balcony in your room is a must, allowing you to indulge simultaneously in an afternoon Prosecco and the intoxicating smell of flowers and the sea. 

For a stay that’s ever-so-slightly more gentle on the wallet, Splendido has a sister hotel right in town, Splendido Mare, which allows you to use all of the main hotel facilities. Splendido offers a frequent shuttle that makes the five-minute journey back and forth from the center of town to the hotel.

Trying to adjust to the magnificence of Splendido builds up an appetite: Head into town and lunch at Ristorante Taverna del Marinaio.  Pesto is a Ligurian specialty and will rival  anything you’ve  previously had, particularly when paired with troife, a traditional local pasta. Fresh fish, and especially Mediterranean mussels, prepared simply in a traditional white wine sauce are also a regional favorite. 

For those who cannot do without Hermes for a weekend, you can still get your fix, but such high-end stores are curiously located amidst shops that sell Portofino magnets, key chains and other kitsch. Surprisingly absent are the charming antique shops and quality artisan crafts that you would expect from a luxury destination.

The one thing to buy is Limoncello and flavored liqueurs. Although you likely won’t imbibe the Amaretto Stone Sours reminiscent of your underage drinking, it’s a bit more justifiable to break out a liqueur at a dinner party at home when it’s actually from Portofino.

Overall, the town of Portofino is about experiencing a beautiful seaside town, with the stores just a mild diversion. Other activities include a leisurely hike up to Castello Brown, a 16th-century fort with stunning views.

The rest of the afternoon is best spent sipping Prosecco and frolicking in Splendido’s pool – a saltwater infinity pool overlooking the Portofino lagoon. You may never look at sitting poolside the same way again. Even the most jaded jetsetter is often overheard raving about just how insanely beautiful Splendido is.

For dinner, the Splendido restaurant has top- notch dining that’s not typical of your average hotel. Anything on the menu is going to be a winner, including the simple minestrone soup. Afterwards, make your way back into town for post-dinner drinks at the outdoor cafés.  Alternatively – since you are paying an arm and a leg to stay here – check out the Splendido Cocktail and Piano Bar. The scene includes the affluent from all over the world, honeymooners and those who have been saving their pennies for a lifetime. Inevitably, you’ll also spy a drunken Brit or two in their Splendido bathrobes listening to tunes from a lounge singer who has been entertaining here since the 1990s. 

For your last day in the Riviera, take off on an adventurous hike in Cinque Terre. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive from Portofino or a one-hour train ride from neighboring Santa Margherita. Cinque Terre is in the Levante area of the Italian Riviera, and includes five small villages — Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore — all of which are connected by hiking paths along the Mediterranean Sea. For those who choose not to go trekking, Santa Margherita is ideal for a quiet day of wandering the shops, visiting outdoor markets and cafés and taking in the seaside views. It’s charming enough to almost make a die-hard red wine drinker want to have a glass of Pinot Grigio. Almost. 

You can also look into chartering a boat in Portofino, as that’s how the real hitters roll. If you ask nicely, Jay-Z and Beyonce may even invite you aboard their yacht. Portofino also has some of the best diving spots in the region. 

To embark on your adventure in the Cinque Terre (and it certainly is during certain points of the hike), start in the town of Monterosso al Mare and take the train to the last town of Riomaggiore. The total hike is approximately 12 miles, often through very challenging terrain. Still feeling a bit jet-lagged? Kick back and take the old-school train from town to town. The easiest section of the hike –  and some of the most beautiful views  – are between Riomaggiore and Manarola, along the Via dell’Amore path. The towns themselves are quaint, but save your energy for Vernazza, which is the most interesting of the towns. From Manarola to Corniglia the hike starts to get a bit more difficult, ending in a steep stair-climb that only takes about 30 minutes but seems like an eternity. At Corniglia, you’re at a crossroads: Either take the train to Vernazza, or commit to a two-hour challenging hike that is at times quite difficult, but ultimately rewarding in its views of the Italian Riviera. 

By the time you get to Vernazza, you will have earned your lunch.  The town is an oasis for good food and drink, and the best restaurant by far is Trattoria Gianni Franzi on the main square.  After lunch, pick up a few local specialties: Sciaterra, sweet fortified wine; pesto; and lemon preserve.  You can hike the last part of the Cinque Terre from Vernaza back to Monterossa al Mare, which is about 1.5 hours, or continue to enjoy the visual experience of the Mediterranean by taking a ferry back to Monterossa al Mare. 

On your last night in Portofino, dine at Da Puny, a local institution in the center of town where you can sample the perfect Ligurian cuisine of fresh seafood and pesto pasta. Al fresco is the only way to go, as you soak in the scene, scents and sounds of the Mediterranean one last time before returning to reality.