The ferry from Santa Margherita
disgorged about 150 of us onto the quay.
Another ferry was close behind.
At the top end of the tiny town, buses were unloading 50 tourists at a
time. We were not alone in making a day
trip to Portofino.
Every holiday brochure for the Italian Riviera shows a picture of Portofino.
Portofino is said to have permanent
population of just 450. There was five
times that number jamming its only street.
is a fake. Its appearance is fake; its
charm is fake. It is a celebrity of a
destination, famous for being famous because famous people have made it so. Its
buildings are painted in trompe-l’oeil to make them appear stone built with
elegant arches and folderol. The variation
in colours comes from a palette determined by the local commune drawing on some
Over a century ago, in the days
when it was an unspoiled fishing village, rich and famous people built gorgeous
villas above the town.
New generations of the rich and
famous discovered this rich man’s hideaway. They bought up or rented the villas
and moored their gigantic yachts in the little harbour.
And so, the day-trippers, me,
included come to see this celebrity enclave.
The town has developed to welcome us.
Restaurants line the streets and their tables surge out onto the town
square and the quay. In between there are smart shops; I spotted Dior and
Balenciaga. A few local clothes
boutiques offer classy summer wear at a price. Then there are cheap pizza
takeaways and tacky souvenir shops for the rest of us. There is still money on show. In the restaurants were high maintenance
people who would not look out of place at Henley
or in Sloane Square. If you had that sort of money, why would you
choose to eat your zuppa de pesce inches
from the great international public shuffling past your table gawping at you?
In the harbour were three
suspiciously picturesque fishing boats.
They would be entirely inadequate to supply the industrial quantities of
seafood consumed in Portofino’s
restaurants. There are only about
thirteen fish left in the grossly over-exploited Mediterranean
Sea. Italy imports 5.5 billion Euros
worth of fish each year. Portofino’s catch of the
day arrives in a lorry.
Finally, no visitor to Portofino should miss the
sad little sculpture park guarded by six nail-varnish pink meerkats.
One good reason for visiting Portofino is that there is
a boat from there to the Abbey of San Fruttuoso and its submerged statue, Christ
of the Abyss. I am told that this is well
worth a visit but on the day we were there, it was too rough for the boat to
make the trip, which probably added to the congestion in Portofino.
You can also reach the Abbey by boat from the charming and unspoilt town
of Camogli, a few kilometres north of Portofino and accessible
Camogli is a small town with a
small harbour. While not exactly off the tourist trail, it has a character of
its own, feels properly Italian and we spent a very good day there. There is a descent from the railway station
to this small town. If you take the steps,
you will find yourself at Camogli’s intriguing Maritime Museum.
It closes at midday on weekdays. Please
check the website for opening hours. Camogli Maritime Museum The museum looks as it has
had some money spent on it. It is fascinating for those of us with an interest
in ships and the sea and there is a lot to interest the more casual
visitor. I particularly liked the
portraits of ships. Some of the sailing
ship pictures had sails made in fabric that billowed in 3D. They have a digital
archive and they showed me a 19th century Lloyds of London insurance contract written in Italian.
I have seen plenty of ships in bottles but here they have an entire harbour
with ships in a bottle.
It doesn’t take long to walk to the
harbour and the main street of the town.
The street is lined with cafes and gelateria. The harbour itself has the shape of a crab’s
claw. The outer curved wall makes for a
nice walk and there are two whale tails made of blue metal netting that make
for a dramatic view.
In the town, there is a church that
is worth visiting. It was closed the day
we were there.
I also noticed a bookbinding and bookshop. It is closed on Thursday. That probably saved
me money as, peering through the window, I could see beautifully bound
notebooks and journals.
If I have given the impression of a
rather closed sort of place, that is wrong.
The town is quiet and unassuming but it is charming in a non-touristy
By the inner wall of the harbour is
the ticket office for boat trips to San Fruttuoso. I did not have time to make the trip that day
though with a bit of forward planning, I could have done. Camogli is a better place to embark on your
trip to the Abbey.
It was time for lunch. At the very
end of the inner wall of the harbour, we found a small café called I tre merli, the three blackbirds. We sat outside enjoying bruschetti and then
it seemed necessary to have gelati and then coffee and limoncello. An hour or so passed as we watched the
comings and goings in the harbour. A
perfect interlude. I tre merli looked and felt like a small family run place. They also offered a locanda or rooms to let.
But no ordinary rooms to let; the brochure shows that each room has a sensational
view of the harbour and there is a spa, whose delights have been translated
into English as “cuddle yourself in the SPA” and why not indeed?
There was a surprise on their
business card that came with a very modest bill. I tre
merli establishments can also be found in Genova and there are four in New York. It has quite a story that you can read n its website. I Tre Merli
The gloss of Portofino or the charm of Camogli? Camogli every time for me.