VOGUE, AUSTRALIA - "The Ultimate guide to Portofino, Italy" - laportofinese
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VOGUE, AUSTRALIA – “The Ultimate guide to Portofino, Italy”

VOGUE, AUSTRALIA – “The Ultimate guide to Portofino, Italy”

Gennaio 2020 – “The ultimate guide to Portofino, Italy” – Australia, 2020 – VOGUE, AUSTRALIA

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The pastel-hued fishing village of Portofino, nestled between Tuscany and France’s Cote d’Azur, is the most exclusive stretch of the Ligurian coastline. Geographically blessed, Portofino is set in a sheltered cove with crystal-clear waters and verdant hills swathed in Mediterranean pine trees.

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This picturesque pocket of the Italian Riviera, famed for its colourful houses and yacht-filled harbour, has long been a playground of the rich and famous. During the mid-19th century, the ‘hidden inlet’ described by French author, Guy de Maupassant, became a popular destination for British and European aristocrats. In the 1950s and 1960s, the coveted cove evolved into a hotspot for the who’s who of Hollywood.

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Nowadays, it remains a firm favourite with the international jet-set and the exclusive enclave still attracts a rarefied crowd. Domenico Dolce, Stefano Gabbana and Giorgio Armani all own holiday villas here and 100-ft superyachts drop anchor every summer in search of la dolce vita.

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There’s not too much to do in Portofino – and that’s pretty much the point. Soak up the naturally exquisite surrounds, wine and dine at ritzy waterfront restaurants and live the sweet life at one of Italy’s most fabled hotels. If you decide to look beyond the glitz and glamour, there’s more to Portofino waiting to be uncovered.

STAY

Belmond Hotel Splendido

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Recreate the halcyon days of the 1950s with a stay at the Belmond Hotel Splendido, one of Italy’s grand dames. The former 16th century monastery, perched high above the bay of Portofino, was converted into a hotel in 1901.

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The very first signature in the legendary visitor book belonged to the Duke of Windsor, and was soon followed by an illustrious list of guests. During the golden age of Hollywood, Hotel Splendido was frequented by stars of the silver screen, the likes of Elizabeth Taylor (who honeymooned here with more than one of her husbands), Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, and Princess Grace of Monaco.

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There are 67 rooms and suites, many with private terraces framed by flower boxes brimming with geraniums. Once you’re happily ensconced in your swoon-worthy suite, meander the terraced gardens blossoming with wisteria, peonies and bougainvillea. If you have the afternoon free, settle into a chaise lounge by the saltwater infinity pool. It’s a slice of paradise.

Piccolo Hotel Portofino

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Piccolo Hotel Portofino is a bijou 23-room villa, complete with characteristic Ligurian green shutters. The interiors are awash in white and neutral tones that set the mood for a breezy summer holiday. The boutique hotel’s privileged position is hard to beat, a mere five minutes’ stroll from the main square.

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Piccolo Hotel also boasts easy access to a private rocky beach (pictured above), which happens to be one of Portofino’s best-kept secrets. An early morning swim here is a heavenly start to the day.

EAT

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Chuflay
Dining al fresco at the marina is a quintessential Portofino experience. In prime position of the piazzetta, Chuflay is the place to see and be seen. Book ahead to secure a table on the idyllic outdoor patio, a swish setting for a languorous seafood lunch. Portofino is at its most dreamy at dusk when the day-trippers have finally dispersed. An intimate, candle-lit dinner at Chuflay is about as romantic as it gets.

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Gelateria Bar San Giorgio
This gelateria certainly claims the prettiest façade in town. It also arguably serves the best gelato too, with a small selection of flavours like wild strawberry or hazelnut. But who can look past a scoop of lemon sorbet on a sun-drenched summer day?

Panificio Canale
Panificio Canale is renowned for one thing – la focaccia Genovese. For more than 100 years, this rustic little bakery down a street that leads away from the quay has been making some of the best focaccia (flat oven-baked bread) on the Riviera.

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Taverna del Marinaio
Those in search of pesto perfection should look no further than Taverna del Marinaio. They make a noteworthy pesto alla Genovese, tossed through handmade trofie pasta. A quick glance at the menu reveals a host of Ligurian specialities. The owner, Paolo, a fourth-generation restaurateur in Portofino, uses his grandmother’s old recipes. That might explain why this is where the locals love to eat.

DRINK

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Al Faro di Portofino
Venture beyond the quayside for an aperitivo and make a beeline for the century-old lighthouse dramatically perched on the edge of the headland. The small cocktail bar’s unique location at the very tip of Portofino means it can only be accessed via a scenic pathway through a pine forest. Arrive just in time for breathtaking sunset views over the Golfo di Tigullio, best enjoyed with an Aperol spritz. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of a pod of dolphins in the azure waters off the coast.

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Winterose Portofino
This gorgeous little wine bar is easily missed. Located in a quiet spot right by the water, here you can sit back and admire the boats bobbing on the harbour. Winterose Portofino is owned and run by a sommelier, so don’t be fooled by the bar’s tiny size – it’s very well stocked. Expect an excellent selection of Italian wines, as well as a beautifully presented cheese and charcuterie boards to linger over well into the evening.

SEE

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Castello Brown
Those wanting to explore a little further, mosey on up to Castello Brown, a 16th-century fortress with gorgeous hanging gardens and commanding views over Portofino Bay. It’s a pleasant 10-minute walk along the promontory.

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To get there, turn left at Chiesa di San Giorgio, the 12th century canary-yellow Catholic church (it’s impossible to miss). Then follow the narrow, rose-scented path to the castle, whose foundations are said to date back to Roman times.

to date back to Roman times.

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Day trip to Cinque Terre
Portofino is a natural springboard for discovering other parts of the region. You can take a day trip to Cinque Terre with regular ferries running to and from Portofino, or charter a private speedboat. Each of the five villages of Cinque Terre, strung along the craggy coastline of the Italian Riviera, offers its own unique charm.

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Hike the rocky coastal trail that weaves between the villages, lined with sunlit vineyards and silvery olive groves. Hit the beach at Monterosso al Mare or stumble upon the postcard perfect views of Manarola.

DO

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Picnic with La Portofinese
Many day-trippers wander the cobblestoned streets of Portofino, happy to spend their time strolling around the little village. Meanwhile, those in-the-know head for the hills. La Portofinese can arrange a guided tour of their hilltop eco-farm, where they produce wildflower honey, cold-pressed olive oil, wine and craft beer in the land that folds between the mountains and the sea. You can visit the vineyard, olive grove and even the on-site apiary, where the resident beekeeper arranges the hives based on the traditional methods of Benedictine monks. Stop for a gourmet picnic of locally grown produce (the Pecorino drizzled in wildflower honey is divine) and savour a glass of crisp white wine. As La Portofinese’s delicious Vermentino is in limited production, it’s a treat saved for those who visit the vineyard-strewn slopes.

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Exploring by boat
Hop on board a traditional Ligurian boat to explore the spectacular ribbon of coastline. If you’re fortunate enough to have the charming owner of Portofino Taxi Boat, Andrea, as your skipper, he will happily reveal some of the most stunning spots around the peninsula. Due to the nature of his job (namely, showing people around one of the most beautiful places in Italy), it’s fair to say he’s witnessed more marriage proposals than most.

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The highlight of a day out on the water? Arriving at the magical San Fruttuoso, a small pebbly beach with the backdrop of a Benedictine abbey fringed by emerald hills. You can reach this hidden jewel via a two-hour hike through the Portofino National Park, or, effortlessly arrive in style by boat (with a glass of champagne in hand). If you peer into the crystal-clear water you can catch a glimpse of the Christ of the Abyss statue submerged 15 metres under the sea. Oh, and be sure to stop for a dip when the water looks particularly inviting.

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Shopping around la piazzetta
Well heeled A-listers need only step off their superyachts to find themselves surrounded by boutiques and high-end fashion stores. European fashion designers with prime real estate in Portofino include Dior, Emilio Pucci, Missoni, Salvatore Ferragamo and Balenciaga. Looking for a sophisticated souvenir? Try a luxurious stole by Loro Piana, or perhaps something special from the King of Cashmere, Brunello Cucinelli. On Via Roma, swing by Spazio Maltempi, a chic boutique with a carefully curated selection of designer brands, stocking beautiful pieces from Bottega Veneta to Bvlgari.