Portofino (Photo:haveseen/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Jana Jones
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Portofino

Portofino is so quintessentially Italian, so synonymous with the Italian Riviera, that it's hard to imagine that at one time it was actually part of France ... but it was! From 1805 to 1815 that feisty little self-proclaimed "Emperor" Napoleon Bonaparte decided to annex the entire region into his empire.

About Portofino


Pro

The surrounding waters are a diver's paradise and a great place to spot whales and dolphins

Con

The town tends to be packed with tourists in mid-summer

Bottom Line

Portofino is a quintessential Italian Riviera village with upscale boutiques, colorful houses and sweeping sea views


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Originally named Portus Delphini for the abundance of dolphins in the sea around it, Portofino had been under the rule of the Abbey at San Fruttuoso -- over the ridge of the promontory -- for over two centuries. Then it was annexed into the Republic of Genoa in the 12th century, followed pretty much the history of the Ligurian region, and then Napoleon got it for 10 years, then it went back to Italy. It was primarily a protected little fishing village until the 1950's, when one or two of the beautiful people found it, told their friends, who told their friends and so on. And then some friends told the paparazzi and the rich and famous moved to the hills and cliffs above the sea.

The town sits on a tiny bay within the Gulf of Tigullio; pastel-colored buildings rim the harbor while the verdant land surrounding it rises almost vertically. It's a naturally beautiful environment, so much so that the promontory to the north of the village has been designated a national park, complete with paths and trails for all to enjoy. The sea surrounding it has also been declared a national park and a diver's and snorkeler's haven, where red coral grows and flourishes. A bit further out at sea is the "Cetacean Sanctuary," where whales and dolphins congregate peacefully. It's La Dolce Vida for everyone: fish, fowl and Homo sapiens.

The yachts that line the harbor give one a sense of what the village has in store -- aside from the beautiful ancient buildings with their trompe l'oeil facades, the stunning backdrop of sapphire-colored water and scarlet bougainvilleas trailing down the mountainsides, the slight scent of pine and olives perfuming the air. There's Louis Vuitton! Ferragamo! Gucci! There's Cartier and Hermes! There's a cafe where for a cool $10 you can buy yourself a Coke or a cup of coffee! Oh, all of these and more are within view, but it's the natural beauty of the place that can make you breathless.

If you're in Portofino in mid-summer, you're likely to be shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other tourists. Do your exploring early and come back to the village in the afternoon when the crowds thin and you can actually see what all the hoopla is about. You'll be hooked.

Where You're Docked

Portofino is a tender port. Tenders arrive at the yacht moorage in the center of town. Editor's Note: Some larger ships visiting the area are required to tender off the coast of Santa Margherita, a little over two miles south, and are bussed into Portofino.

Good to Know

It isn't the pickpockets who can grab hold of your wallet; it's the shopkeepers and cafes. Portofino is expensive, from a fridge magnet souvenir to a little cup of coffee.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Currency in Italy is the euro. There are two ATM's near the main square. Banks won't exchange traveler's checks, so you have to go to the post office or to the change booth, located just off the main square near one of the ATM's. For up-to-the-minute exchange rates, be sure to check www.xe.com.

Language

Italian, but you're likely to hear English, French and German as well.

Shopping

Ordinarily we would have said to buy a bottle of the local olive oil or walnut oil that helps make the region famous, but with airline restrictions on carrying liquids, we have to change direction. Portofino is also well-known for its "macrame lace," which is created by women in the village and surrounding towns as taught by their mothers and grandmothers before them. And you can at least bring home a package of trofie, a handmade pasta that's a regional favorite.