You can only travel from Santa Margherita along this often precipitous road. By car if you don’t want to see anything or on foot if you do. It is a leisurely one hour walk where you must keep one eye on the spectacular coastline and the other on fast moving sports cars in a hurry to somewhere very glamourous no doubt.
On the way you can see some pretty impressive houses too and wonder who could possibly afford to live in these majestically luxurious domestic castles. The one above, for instance, is owned by the odious former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
You can also get there by boat – either in one of the regular ferries or, if you are rich enough to live here at all, in your own rather elegant yacht.
More beautiful, I thought, than the grandiose mansions, was the landscape that they look out on – always made more delightful by the bejeweled contrast between the turquoise blue and the emerald green of the foliage.
There is a wonderful contrast of colours too where the simple mix of nasturtiums and what I guess is a variety of blue Morning Glory tumble over the rocks in a vividly hued tangle apparently untrained by any gardener’s hands. Above them stand olive and lemon trees and beyond that one of those lush Mediterranean gardens where, it seems, anything will grow.
I kept seeing this vivid yellow and orange climbing plant on my travels and would love to think I could grow it in England but I have no idea what it is called.
Maybe someone will identify it for me one day. Here on the walk to Portofino, it grows in abundance.
Before you get to Portofino, you reach the tiny village of Parraggi with its splendid beach reached after a rather steep descent from the road. Some say that this is the best swimming beach in these parts and I was sorely tempted to break my journey here exchanging the dusty road for the pleasantly warm seawater but I persevered and finally got to Portofino itself. Not before I found myself having to make way for a bus that couldn’t pass until I crossed the road to stand amongst the bad-tempered soft-top car drivers held up in one of the most expensive traffic jams you will ever see.
Then there it was, this fabled place, since the 1950’s, one of the World’s most glamourous locations.
It is, of course, very beautiful, a small fishing village with little fishermen’s houses decorated in the vivid Ligurian style, a mix of paints from a natural artist’s palette. Beautiful, charming but, if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t guess when you first walk down the little main street that this is millionaire row.
I know those faces – isn’t that the guy from Lost? and the one in front, he was in Grey’s Academy I think and the other bloke’s a footballer. They were making a glossy film ad here not long ago but the look is from Portofino’s golden days.
This is where Elizabeth Taylor brought all four of her husbands – at different times naturally. Here she is with Eddie Fisher…
Another Portofino fan was Orson Welles who brought his little dog along for a good time. Then there was Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Greta Garbo, Marlon Brando and, below, the young Sophia Loren.
Nowadays, how times change, you can see the singer Rihanna sucking on an icecream…
… or Madonna strutting her very different style when she came here to celebrate her 51st birthday.
For the occasion she hired an entire floor at Portofino’s most exclusive hotel, the Hotel Splendido up there on the hill above the village.
It has always been exclusive, glamourous and expensive and almost anyone who has been anyone glitsy, has stayed here
The beds are comfy and you get nice sea views apparently so let’s not knock it. Certainly the new generation of Hollywood celebrities have learnt to enjoy themselves here. Jennifer Lopes even brought her husband along for a little romance by the sea.
I’m told though that to be really cool you don’t stay at the Splendido, you only come to Portofino if you’re invited to stay with Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana who have the classiest villa in the village – I always thought Eva Mendes was cool.
When you know about all of this showbiz stuff the shops in Portofino come as less of a surprize. For a fishing village, it sure has some fancy clothes shops.
Not everyone though is quite as glamourous but then all great stars need an audience – even if it has just come in on the latest ferry. It is not difficult to see why they visit, if it isn’t to see the odd, or very odd, celebrity, surely it must be for those lovely little port side houses with their trompe d’oeil exteriors….
..and then, of course, there’s the intoxicating mix of the sea and the tree-lined hillside. It is truly a wonderful place in spite of its A list celebrities.
It is difficult to stand in the little harbour and look up without wanting to go up the hill to the building at its summit, the exotically named Castello Brown once owned by an Englishman, Mr Montague Yeats Brown, the retired English consul from Genoa who turned the 16th Century fortification into his very own 19th Century des res now umbrella’d by two pine trees one planted on his wedding day, the other dedicated to his wife. Moreover, he succeeded in taking possession of the place where the English navy failed. The British navy attacked Portofino in the days of Napoleon Bonaparte because of its prominent position on this Mediterranean peninsula.
It’s worth climbing that hill just to look back down to appreciate the loveliness of those Ligurian houses forming their own manmade cliff face.
Now the only conquering here is mind-over-matter as you make your way up the steep hill above the village for a view worth a bit of sweat and bother.
Up here you can see to the other side of the Portofino Peninsular to where the Mediterranean Sea looks positively oceanic. Also making the long haul up to the top means you can find some welcome cool inside the medieval pastiche that is Consul Brown’s contribution to Anglo-Italian relations.
He kept the rooms at a very manageable size and resisted the temptation, alla Berlusconi, of making everything too grand.
All you need are the windows when you have one of the best views in Europe…
..and a terraced Italian garden to die for.
The Brown family lived here until 1949 and then some other lucky sods bought it until it was sold to Portofino council and became available for us ordinary folks to visit and for millionaires to stage their second or third marriages here.
If it were up for grabs then I wouldn’t turn it down but then Castello Wolfie might not have the same cachet. Hats off to Mr Montague Yeats Brown who defied convention and was unembarrassed to turn a 16th Century Italian fortress into a pleasant English villa.
If you remained unimpressed by the beauty of Portofino when you were down there in the village, you would have to change your mind when you saw it from Mr Brown’s terrace.
No wonder everyone wants to come here and, you know, it might just be possible that all those rich Hollywood stars actually had rather good taste. Now there’s a thought.
Well everyone can dream – that’s why Martini ads. pick up on our attraction to the Italian Riviera:
Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love
The Fib Review
Every Day Poets Magazine