Long before Ibiza, Saint Tropez, the Hamptons, and, more recently, Mykonos, Portofino was the chosen – from the verb elect – destination of the happy few.
By Christos Zampounis
The first letter I ever received in my life had to do with… Portofino. It was signed by a famous lady who was in the news at the time, and she invited us, Elena Makri, editor of the magazine “Life & Style”, and the daily minimum to refrain in the future from any reference to her name, with facts that are far from the truth. What had happened? A dear friend had informed us that the lady in question had asked a well-known jeweller of the Italian resort to visit her in her “yacht” by sea to show her his “merchandise”, instead of, like ordinary mortals, going through his shop and selecting the jewels of her choice. To help the would-be Hercule Poirot wannabes a little, the boat was her husband’s, but due to the dynamic nature of the aforementioned, most people forgot who bought it. The custom of taking suppliers to the homes of nobility or wealth is particularly prevalent, from ancient times. Mixing with other customers, not only for snobbishness, but also for security reasons, is a process that the rich and famous of the world abhor. Especially the nouveaux riches, but they seem to be annoyed when this is made public. I am currently watching the TV series ‘Hotel Portofino’, which takes place in the 1920s on the Italian Riviera. It takes place in a luxury hotel opened after the First World War by an Englishwoman of high society. She is wonderfully played by Natasha Mc Elhone. Observant viewers of The Crown will remember her as Penelope Knatchbull in season five.
By sea. This is the best way to visit Portofino during the tourist season, although to moor in front of the marina you need to have the Pope in your car. The crowds of floaters – phew! – are reminiscent of Andreas Papandreou’s election rally at Syntagma in 1981. Hors saison access is possible by road either via Milan or Florence. Total travel time 5.30 hours. It is useful for drunken travellers to know that the village has only pavements, so any attempt to invade by car is not only unthinkable, but is severely punished. The same applies to Vespas. Hikers can therefore enjoy their walks without disturbance, although during the summer months the situation is similar to the crowded toll roads of Megara during the Athenian exits. As has happened in Venice, the local authorities are obliged to ban entry when the number of visitors exceeds the calculated number. For those who like crowds, the little village of just 500 inhabitants will be their paradise. On the contrary, those who are averse to it should prefer the winter months. Unbridled tourism is another feature of this otherwise beautiful destination on the Italian Riviera. Souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and hotels have taken over every square metre, with the permanent residents making a fortune from the exploitation of their properties.
It all started in the 19th century, when the high society of Europe felt the need to “warm up”. The Côte d’Azur in France and Liguria in Italy became sought after, first as a holiday destination and then as a permanent residence. Wonderful villas were built respecting the environment, and one of them is home to the “Splendido” hotel, which in itself was worth the move. Attention! Like everything, it is very expensive, but the experience of a negroni or a pasta on its terrace will be unforgettable. A few years ago, it acquired “a little brother”, the “Splendido Mare”, which, however, lacks the unsurpassed panoramic view of the first one. Of attractions, except for the Chiesa di San Marino with its fine stained glass windows, the church of San Giorgio, Castello Brown with a not so easy climb, and Faro, one should limit oneself to the Area Marina Protetta, which gathers the majority of tourists.
In general, Portofino is like an old-world carte postale, but specifically, modern-day globetrotters will choose it either by sea or in the off-season. No talk of sandy beaches and no relation of the waters to our own. However, the magic of the location as well as the mythology associated with its famous devotees will continue to impress most visitors. A series of films and series for those who are not able to see it in person will take them on a journey to Portofino. From “Femmes d’ un été” with Michelle Morgan to “The Wolf of Wall Street” with Leonardo di Caprio, and from “Barefoot Countess” with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, to… numerous episodes of “Daring and Charming.”