There are some travel destinations (Rome, Paris, London, the Loire Valley, to name a few) where there is so much to see that you need to prepare for your visit as though you were mapping out a military invasion. Does the cathedral close for lunch? Is that museum open on a Monday? Do we need to purchase a special travel pass, so we can zip from one end of the city to the other without spending a fortune on transportation? How many chateaux can we visit before lunch? And then there are travel destinations where all you have to do is show up. Portofino belongs in the second classification.
Not only is Portofino one of the most famous seaside resorts in all of Italy, where every view looks like a picture postcard, but it also has a long reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Orson Wells and Aristotle Onassis have all vacationed there. And for decades, it has been used as a hideaway by famous couples wishing to get away from it all. Elizabeth Taylor famously escaped the glare of the paparazzi while staying there with Eddie Fisher. (Which she did again in 1963 with Richard Burton when their illicit romance became public during the filming of Cleopatra.)
Our day started with a charming 30-minute ferry ride from Rapallo. After a quick stop at the picturesque town of Santa Margherita, we continued pass the western part of the Gulf of Tigullio to Portofino. After disembarkation, we hiked up to Castello Brown, a 16th Century castle with a great view of the harbor. After a walk around the town and a quick look at the Chiesa San Martino, a 16th century church, we did what everyone does in Portofino: Sit outside by the harbor and people watch. We chose the outdoor cafe of Bar Morena for our observation point, where we had a light lunch and a bottle of local Ligurian wine. Basking in the warm late September sun, we watched the ebb and flow of tourists coming from and going to the ferry docks. As I enjoyed my Pigato and a Pizza Margherita, I felt sad for the poor souls who were rushing to catch a boat because they were on a fixed schedule. Fortunately, we were not on any particular schedule and had no deadlines. Our only priority was to relax with a glass of wine. And dream. Seeing the yachts in the harbor, we dreamed of owning one. Looking at all the expensive high-end boutiques, we dreamed of shopping there. Thinking about the Belmond Hotel Splendido, we dreamed about affording the €1,000 per night room rate. And most of all, as we slowly sipped a glass of Vermentino (by now we were on our second bottle), we dreamed about basking in the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
In the 1941 classic Humphrey Bogart Film Noir detective movie The Maltese Falcon, when asked by Detective Tom Polhaus about the falcon, Sam Spade famously responded that it was “The stuff that dreams are made of.” Bogie could have used the same response if asked to describe Portofino.