I just got back from France and had a chance (and spare time) to drive to Portofino in Italy.
I honestly had this destination in mind for quite a while, and after being there for a short moment, my expectations were not met.
But why? Why would a place like this keep you on appetite? Or maybe it’s not the place itself? Ahh!
Portofino is a very well known little village located in the upper west coast of Italy. It’s only a couple hours by car from the French border. I heard about it for a couple months now and decided to give it a try. After all, I’m always interested in knowing more about small villages, and especially from a photographic perspective. Now, there are so many small villages along the shore, why Portofino? Simply because I heard about it from trusty people and looking at pictures on the web brought a desire to “be there” and look for myself. I had time to imagine what it was all about, the history, the architecture, the people and the quietness of the area. There’s a romantic aspect to it that can’t be neglected. Sail boat in the port, fishermen hard at work and tuning their equipment for the next fishing trip. Silence. Waves on the rocky shore. A blue lagoon!
So what’s the problem with all this? Reading this should help you make the decision Portofino is your next destination, isn’t it? Well, that’s fine. And to be honest with you, it’s as beautiful as the pictures show. The glitch here is YOU! Yes, the tourist that you are.. or more specifically the number of you’s rushing there. And I was one of them that day. Not your fault. That’s the way it is with highly touristic area. The problem comes from the fact that the village can only be access by a small road. One lane, both directions. The police will stop you a few kilometers before and manage the flow of traffic from and to Portofino. It took me close to one hour to be allowed to reach the village, and here is what was there for me: more police directing you to an underground parking (in Portofino??) where everybody wants the rare spots left. And at a cost. Leaving the car you end up in the administrative area (police, town hall, etc.) and more parking lots (and full, of course). The quantity of scooters you see there is awesome. Everywhere. Heading towards the sea will have you go through many brand store. Clothing mostly. The big names are there. I was shocked to find this kind of business in there. Not exactly the old man’s pizzeria, or quiet espresso café I imagined for months. And then you realize your stock in a huge crow of people, all there to see the same thing you wanted to see.
But don’t get me wrong. As I said in the first part of the article, everything the pictures show is there and it’s beautiful. But underground parking, fashion shops and over crowded streets is not aligned with the beauty of this place. Portofino is a beautiful place. But how shocking it is to find out quietness made place for noise and crowd.
But can this be avoided? Yes, absolutely! There’s a few things to know. You go there early in the morning, not during vacation periods, holidays, etc., and don’t use the car to reach Portofino. You should park in a bay earlier on the road (Via Paraggi a Monte, Santa Margherita Liguria) and take the small boat that brings you straight in the port. That will save you a lot of time, and entering the port from the sea is much better than the parking lot.
One portion of this area that you might you to visit is the extreme south section, the cape. There is a path that goes there and is usually less crowdy. Oh yeah, spots that require a bit of work are more quiet, that’s how it is. Anyways, the view is spectacular and offers another perspective of Portofino. Keep in mind there is a lot of history there. Its name appears in documents as far as 986. and it was founded by the Romans who named it Port Of The Dolphin (Portus Delphini) because of the large quantity of dolphins found in the gulf.
In 1954, a statue was sent to the port’s sea bed at 17 meters. “Christ Of The Abyss” (its name) was placed there to protect divers and fishermen.
There is also a castle at the top of the hill, “Castello Brown”, and it was built and used as harbor defense as early as the 15th century. The picture below gives you a good idea of what it is.
Now, would I go back there? I think I should. But at the right time/period of the year, by boat and only after a bit of research for historical event. For those of you who read the articles on this site, you know I always want to know more about a village. I knew nothing at all about Portofino, beside its natural beauty and location. I think it pays off to learn a bit before going somewhere like that, because it gives dimension, perspective, understanding, and makes the trip worthwhile. If you think of it, it’s like judging someone only by looking at him/her. Unfair! Portofino deserves a second chance, no doubt about it.
© Normand Primeau