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Secret Portofino : Superyacht chic & slow travel on the Italian Riviera

The Italian Riviera is north-western Italy’s coastal showcase, a place where the Ligurian Alps meet the Apennines with a dash of la dolce vita and a well-deserved reputation alluring yachts to one of the most popular yachting hotspots in the Mediterranean, Portofino.

Decades of tourism have ensured that the beauty of the Cinque Terre and Portofino rank highly on places you need to visit and the entire coastline has bewitched royalty, writers and celebrities who have been drawn to the Mediterranean climate, beautiful towns and the blend of old and new.

Waterfront villas in Portofino, Italy

There’s no denying the appeal of Portofino, tucked into a sheltered inlet surrounded by colourful buildings and olive-clad terraces it has been grabbing headlines and attracting the international jet set for decades.

In the height of peak season, the town morphs into Italy’s version of Saint-Tropez, however if you’re looking for Champagne-spraying nightclubs and hedonistic beach clubs you’ve come to the wrong place.

Panorama of Portofino, Italy

Many visitors to Portofino don’t venture beyond the harbour and Piazzetta (small square), but renting a yacht on the Italian Riviera will introduce you to places of quiet beauty – especially in spring or autumn, ornate villas hidden amongst the trees and gorgeous scenery with romantic restaurants sandwiched between the mountains and sea.

Portofino is not off-the-beaten path, however it’s possible to escape the crowds of day trippers and celebrities who visit Portofino for one day.

Read our guide to discover the best things to see and do while on a Portofino yacht charter, where you can discover some of the celebrated highlights and the charter spots less visited amidst the surrounding attractions of the Gulf of Tigullio.

Amazing evening sky in Portofino, Italy

Where to eat and drink in Portofino

When you’re not savouring the bespoke menus onboard your Portofino yacht charter, indulge in some Ligurian cuisine rich with fish, shellfish, pesto Genovese, tomatoes, porcini or regional pasta.

Restaurant in Portofino, Italy

Here are some of our suggestions of where to eat when you visit Portofino on a yacht charter:

  • Skip super-popular Ristorante Puny and head to Ristorante Stella instead for great harbourside views and fish dishes. Reservations are highly recommended.
  • Make a reservation at Chuflay Bar Restaurant at Splendido Mare with a terrace facing the Piazzetta – enjoy local flavours with sea bass or seasonal grilled vegetables drizzled in extra virgin olive oil.
  • La Taverna del Marinaio has a 1950’s nautical décor but serves excellent fish dishes.
  • Finish with a gelato from Gelateria Gepi Portofino, they have a shaded terrace area to sit and relax with an ice-cream. The dark chocolate or cremino Portofino (flavoured with nut and orange peel) are particularly good!
  • For something a bit different and far off-the-beaten track for the yachting set, U Pin is an agriturismo set on the hills above Portofino. The owners serve home-made food and the view from the rustic terrace over the olive groves and sea is lovely. Book in advance because they aren’t open daily.
  • For seaside dining away from the tourist crowds in Portofino, try The Eight (the Eight Hotel’s seafront restaurant) at nearby Paraggi Bay, or just around the corner reserve a waterside table at Capo Nord restaurant/bar.

Portofino boat sign

Visit Faro di Portofino, located on the promontory past the Church of San Giorgio and Castello Brown. Follow the signs for ‘Al Faro’ out to the lighthouse and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views at a small bar overlooking the sea where Antonio serves a vibrant Aperol Spritz or a refreshing limoncello on a summers day! Or, head to San Rocco between Portofino and Camogli where the tiny cliffside bar, Bar Dai Muagetti, is a fantastic spot to enjoy the sea view with a chilled cocktail.

Hotel Splendido in Portofino, Italy

Soak up the view from the terrace at Belmond Hotel Splendido, it’s included in every luxury travel guide for Portofino, a bucket list spot for day trippers and the food and drinks have a price tag to match.

Enjoy a tasting session with a glass or two of Ligurian wine from any of the wine producers who tend to their vineyards on the steep terraces in the region. You’ll be suitably persuaded to linger ashore by grapes grown in soils that are no stranger to wild herbs or crisp sea breezes. Try a glass of Nostralino, Pigato, Vermentino or the sweet Sciacchetrà that pairs well with crisp biscotti – where better to buy a bottle to enjoy back on your charter yacht?

Things to see and do in Portofino

Enjoy an aperitivo in the Piazzetta which is the heart of Portofino and watch the world go by.

Walk up the pedestrian street beside Trattoria Tripoli (on the south side of the harbour) to the Church of San Giorgio and a few minutes later Castello Brown for superb views over Portofino town and the visiting superyachts.

Luxury shops in Portofino, Italy

Go shopping in Portofino! For a small town, Portofino has plenty of high-end boutiques including Prada, Loro Piana, Missoni, Gucci, Dior, Giorgio Armani, Luca Jewellers and Louis Vuitton. For the luxury brands, head to Molo Umberto I, Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta, Via Roma or Calata Marconi. Mingo Portofino is well-known for custom footwear especially sandals, or take a half-day trip to the town of Chiavari to browse their large antiques market, Mercatino dell’Antiquariato, where you can buy everything from antique furniture to vintage Italian fashion and artworks.

Much of the Ligurian coastline is best seen from the sea, however there are lots of walkways between towns if charter guests want to go ashore for a leisurely amble or a more strenuous hike. Did you know about the crêuze de mä? These are literally ‘paths on the sea’, the Ligurian cobblestoned walkways. You can walk from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino in just over one hour, follow the red carpet walkway and signs saying ‘Pedonale per Portofino’.

Dolphins off bow of yacht

Explore underwater or the great outdoors – the Protected Marine Reserve of Portofino is perfect for using your yacht toys, go swimming around the rocks at Punta Chiappa or try diving at Grotta dei Gamberi or Punta Vessinaro. Portofino falls in the protected zone for the Pelagos Sanctuary, therefore it’s a wonderful opportunity to appreciate marine wildlife viewing of whales and dolphins. Portofino Regional Natural Park has many walking paths that follow ancient pilgrim trails through wild thyme, holm oak and pine forests. You can visit the park website here for more information about walking trails.

Museo del Parco di Portofino is situated at the edge of Portofino harbour and has a collection of outdoor sculptures. Open in summer, the sculpture park also hosts meetings, events and cultural gatherings. 

Book a tour to the 14th century La Cervara Abbey, positioned on a cliff between Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure with elegant gardens overlooking the sea including a wisteria courtyard. You can visit the first or third Sunday of the month between April and October. 

Beyond Portofino

There is more to visiting Portofino than simply soaking up the view from the sun deck on your luxury yacht! Portofino is a good base to visit other areas and having your own private charter yacht is advantageous because you are not bound by local boat excursion times or staying in one location.

Bespoke Yacht Charter can arrange extended yacht charters that enhance your time along the Ligurian coastline and show you the best of Italy’s culture, architecture, cuisine and scenery.

Some of our Italian Riviera yacht charter suggestions include:

  • Adding Genoa to your itinerary. It’s a feisty city with a vast maritime heritage, lots of historical buildings and age-old caféterias that bristle with life.

Old town of Genoa, Italy

  • Visiting charming Camogli, a fishing town sprinkled with brightly coloured houses and a few attractions such as Castello Della Dragonara. Foodies will no doubt head ashore to Revello Focacceria for the best foccacia in town! Camogli also hosts two famous traditional festivals – Sagra del Pesce is a fish festival that celebrates the bounty of the sea and is held on the second Sunday every May, and the Festa della Stella Maris takes place in August giving yacht charter guests a visual spectacle with parades, boat processions and candles floating in the sea.
  • Drop anchor at San Fruttuoso, located between Camogli and Portofino. It’s best reached by sea (though a visit is also possible on foot; we suggest you follow the 1.5-hour Portofino Mare trail which is less challenging than the trail starting at Portofino Vetta). The bay is dominated by San Fruttuoso Abbey and the Torre dei Doria. The clear, greenish-blue sea holds the Christ of the Abyss statue 12-metres down on the sea bed, popular for diving excursions. San Fruttuoso is a lovely place at twilight when the tourist boat shuttles have returned to the coastal resorts and it’s much quieter to enjoy the scenery from the comfort of your private charter yacht.
  • Go to Rapallo when on a yacht charter to the Italian Riviera. You can stroll along the seafront promenade that was frequented by creatives Ernest Hemingway, D.H Lawrence and Ezra Pound, admire the frescoes on the town buildings, ride on the funivia (funicular) to the 16th century Sanctuary of Our Lady Montallegro or swim in the bays at pretty San Michele di Pagana.
  • Centred on a peninsula split by two bays, Sestri Levante has all the charm and natural beauty of Portofino, yet outside of summer you’ll barely hear an accent other than Italian. Shops on Via XXV Aprile range from pasticceria selling creamy pastries to pint-sized souvenir stores devoted to lemon soaps and ceramics. The town  remains an understated attraction for luxury yacht charters to northern Italy, with particular mention to a yearly festival dedicated to Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and the sandy beach at Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence) giving an unsung gem for families on yacht charters.
  • Explore Moneglia which is a small seaside town that’s ideal if you have an aversion to yacht charter hotspots. Moneglia is not a ‘bells-and-whistles’ yacht charter destination – you may be surprised to find any information on it other than its proximity to the Cinque Terre. If you prefer the authenticity of local culture and a place the Italians have kept to themselves, Moneglia is for you. Visit the Santa Croce church, swim in the clear sea then finish with a meal at Assirto which is worth the visit alone.
  • Discovering the five villages of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cinque Terre by boat. Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore have distinct charm and are surrounded by postcard perfect coastline, pretty churches, citrus orchards and walking trails. Our top pick is booking a sea view table at Ristorante Belforte in Vernazza, a stunning location for a hearty plate of squid ink tagliatelle in between town-hopping on your yacht charter.

Cinque Terre, Italy

  • Portovenere is popular for day trips from La Spezia and is eye-catching when arriving by boat as you approach the colourful waterside Palazzata case-fortezza (fortress houses). Located on the Gulf of the Poets, the town got its name from the Latin ‘Portus Veneris‘ – don’t miss visiting the Church of San Pietro located at the site of a former church dedicated to the Temple to Venus. Yacht charter guests can ocean gaze from Byron’s Grotto, follow the caruggi up to the medieval Castello Doria for panoramic views or cruise to Isola Palmária to go hiking or admire the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Cave).
  • Lerici and Tellaro are picturesque towns on the eastern side of the Gulf of Poets, opposite to Portovenere. They have many of the same attractions as the villages of the Cinque Terre with less crowds – colourful buildings, quaint fishing boats, medieval castles and pleasant walking trails.

Written by Rebecca Whitlocke on behalf of Bespoke Yacht Charter.

Portofino and the Riviera di Levante towns are easily reachable by day cruise from Monaco, Cannes or other Cote d’Azur yacht charter destinations. As well, they offer a wonderful gateway for yacht charters to Corsica and Sardinia.

Bespoke Yacht Charter is available to advise you on a yacht to suit your needs for your next Italian Riviera luxury yacht charter:

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