Situated at the end of a narrow and treacherously winding road just 5km south of Santa Margherita, there’s no denying the appeal of PORTOFINO, tucked into a protected inlet surrounded by lush cypress- and olive-clad slopes. It’s an A-list resort that has been attracting high-flying bankers, celebs and their hangers-on for years, as evidenced by the flotillas of giant yachts usually anchored just outside. It’s a tiny place that manages to be both attractive and off-putting at the same time, with a quota of fancy shops, bars and restaurants that would suit a place twice its size. For those wanting to stay, accommodation is unsurprisingly expensive: luxury is really the point of Portofino.
Northwest from the village, steeply stepped paths head through vineyards and orchards to Olmi and on to San Fruttuoso, while the best sandy beach is the sparkling cove at Paraggi, 2km back towards Santa Margherita on the coast road (buses will stop on request) – not exactly remote, but less formal than Portofino and with a small stretch of pebbly sand and a couple of bars set back from the water.
To get a sense of Portofino’s idyllic setting follow the footpath which heads south from the harbour up onto the headland. Five minutes from the village is the church of San Giorgio, said to contain relics of St George, and a further ten minutes up is the spectacularly located Castello Brown (daily: summer 10am–7pm; winter 10am–5pm; €4; w castellobrown.it), from whose terrace there are breathtaking views of a pint-sized Portofino. The castle, which dates back to the Roman period and now frequently hosts art and photography exhibitions, is named after its former owner, British Consul Montague Yeats Brown, who bought it in 1867 and set about transforming it. In 1870 he planted two pines on the main terrace for his wedding – one for him and one for his wife, Agnes Bellingham – and they are still a prominent feature today. The scenic path continues for a kilometre or so, down to the Faro (lighthouse) on the very tip of the promontory. The only way back is up the same path.