Travel tips — August 29, 2016 at 11:35 pm

Getting Away: Off Season in Santa Margherita and Portofino, Italy

Next in our new “Getting Away” series, a collection of vacation ideas that go beyond the norm. This month, we visit the dramatic sea views of the Italian Riviera!


The short train ride from Nice offers dramatic sea views on your way to Santa Margherita, an ideal off-season Italian Riviera town that’s literally walking distance to trendy Portofino on the Ligurian Sea. Bars, cafes, restaurants and gelaterie are scattered along the seafront of this pedestrian friendly town at the edge of the Gulf of Tigullio. As with Nice, the weather is mild in winter, hotels on the water are reasonable and, best of all, you’ll have the place to yourself. Be grateful because this area gets slammed with beachgoers in high season. A stroll through town will net you some lovely examples of art nouveau architecture and trompe l’oeil. This is still a fishing village, so don’t miss the afternoon ritual when the fishermen row toward shore in their brightly painted wooden boats to unload their catch amid eager restaurant owners and locals.

Around the bend lies Portofino. With its gaily colored, multi-tiered villas resembling birthday cakes clutching the verdant hillsides, the tiny harbor village looks as precious as a movie set. It’s not surprising since, for decades, this miniature fishing village has hosted its share of celebs, especially in the summer when the yachts pull into the petite harbor and drop anchor. Portofino is ideal for an afternoon of meandering through ancient gardens, sharing a glass of wine near the beach while people watching, and getting in a little high-priced shopping. It’s worth the ridiculous price tag when you get to say to your friends, “Oh, that old thing? It’s just a little ditty I bought in Portofino.” You can walk the curvy road that hugs the sea to get to Portofino from Santa Margherita, but it’s much quicker, and safer, to hop on a ferry or take the 15-minute bus ride.

Don’t miss a visit to San Fruttuoso if you appreciate an experience out of the norm. You can’t drive in, instead you can make the nearly three-hour hike over the hills if you have a rugged constitution, or you can relax on a 30-minute ferry ride from Santa Margherita. San Fruttuoso occupies a thumbprint of a cove beneath a mountainous bit of coastline. The isolated place has an eerie feel in the winter, which is part of its charm. It’s home to an ancient Benedictine monastery — a blend of Romanesque and medieval architecture — which sits at the water’s edge. The monastery still holds the burial vaults of the Doria family, leading aristocrats of Genoa. Another popular site in San Fruttuoso is the original bronze statue of Christ of the Abyss. However, you’ll have to get into your diving gear because it’s submerged offshore about 50 feet deep.