We arrived to Portofino by boat from Santa Margherita Ligure just a few miles down the Ligurian coastline. Passing by castles, resorts, super yachts and lines of colourful houses, all beginning to become invisible due to the influx of cruise ship passengers that had just disembarked and descended on the small village.
I felt somewhat lost for words as I stared up at the lush green hills and looked down into the sparkling crystalline water, and as I walked the cobbled streets, bending as they do around the water, I couldn’t help but admire the tiny jewellery box harbour – more deserving of the name than any other. Lost in its backstreets are numerous boutiques – both Italian & French, while displayed on its waterfront are bars and restaurants where people cling to the theatrical glamour of the 1950’s, hoping that Fellini’s Paparazzo from La Dolce Vita is about to lead an army of paparazzi into the harbour.
They look almost disappointed as, alas, it is only me.
We walked in unison with a crowd but did our all to escape the clicks of heels on the guidebook map. We took a pathway with a sharp incline that most people avoided and found the backstreets of the town. En route, we passed stylish visitors, and those that hoped to be, as they attempted to blend in, mixing with the few locals that put heel to stone. Many people barely make it past the harbour side in Portofino, instead they sip wine and champagne in the restaurants, dining al fresco, while others shop in Hermès. They leave with bags that they could easily buy in Milan or Paris, Florence or Rome, passing old men that used to be fishermen but now make their money by letting their flats and boats to tourists that want to be a part of this Italian enchantment.
The backstreets in Portofino are surprisingly empty, and the route to the old San Giorgio Cemetery, while full at first, becomes empty once past the threshold of interest for the average tourist. The narrow and rickety old paths here are dressed in summer flowers and come complete with unobstructed views of the Ligurian sea and beyond. We took numerous paths as we walked, passing homes, a church, a lighthouse, a castle and climbing rocky cliffsides to steal a private place of our own with the most perfect, serene and beautiful view of the tranquil sea.
The quiet places one can find scattered in Portofino’s more hard to reach corners are perhaps the last vestiges of Portofino from before the times of its celebrity status. Before Rex Harrison ‘discovered’ it and Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Audrey Hepburn became its part-time denizens. Luckily, it seems that these quiet places may even stay that way. For a little while at least.
As we walked back towards the town, passing bees and butterflies, we began to pass a brave few who had ventured from the safety of numbers. The first of these few appeared to be a mother and her son. A few minutes later, they passed back past us once again, now going towards town, and eventually meeting a father and young daughter that they’d left behind.
“Is there anything that way?” the father asked.
“No, nothing.” the exasperated, red faced, and apparently blind, lady said.
So this will be our secret.