A Budget Guide to Portofino

Portofino is the jewel of the Italian Riviera. The town has long since abandoned all pretences of being a fishing village and affluent tourists have flocked to its picture perfect shores since the mid 1800s. Synonymous with style and infinite glamour, it’s where Richard Burton first proposed to Elizabeth Taylor. Today, it’s a hot spot for the wealthy and glamorous; the town is dominated by luxury boutiques, high-end hotels and well heeled yachtsman. 

Whilst it might reek of refined luxury, it is still possible for those on even a shoe-string budget to enjoy the sights. Here’s my guide on how: 

1. Don’t try to stay in Portofino

It doesn't take much research to realise that most of the hotels here cater to a decidedly heavier pocket. The Hotel Splendido has a long history of renowned clientele including Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and the Duke of Windsor, and an eye-watering price-per-night to match. Even the ‘budget’ hotels and hostels in the region are comparatively pricey. Why pay more for a below par, substandard night's sleep?

Try finding a hotel in pretty neighbouring villages such as Santa Margherita or Camogli (you can read my guide to this unsung Riviera hotspot here). From Santa Margherita Portofino is a short twenty minute walk, whilst from Camogli you can take the bus or arrive by boat. If you’re really keen to save money, find an apartment in Rapallo, a pretty seaside town, a half an hour walk or bus ride into the Port. 

2. Dont try to park here. 

It will cost you €6 an hour. No one wants a whistle-stop tour of Portofino that short 

3. Suck it up and buy a drink on the harbour

...but linger over it for as long as you can. It will cost you double the price of any drink you'll buy elsewhere, but it will enable you to enjoy a true Portofino pastime, people-watching. Portofino draws a diverse set of clientele to its harbour, from sailors to keen hikers. The piazza is lined with cafes and bars and, on a sunny day, you could easily pass a few hours watching a diverse assortment of people and yachts pass by.  Alternatively, buy a Spritz or Beer and take refuge in the knowledge that, whilst you might have spent €10 on an Aperol, you are making the most of all those tiny pastries and peanuts they bring you as a free accompaniment. 

4. Take a passeagiata. 

Portofino is only a tiny town and, besides the luxury boutiques and small souvenir shops, there is not a huge amount to see. Wander around the small lanes, take in the smell of freshly fried fish and salivate over some of the shop windows. After that, take a passeggiata along the harbour, past the pink meerkats lining the sculpture park, up to Castello Brown and Il Faro (the lighthouse) for some spectacular views over the gulf. 

5. Take a hike. 

By virtue of being located on the Portofino Peninsula, there are some spectacular walks and hikes to be taken from the town. The walk from Portofino to Santa Margherita offers some spectacular seaside views, whilst the walk from Portofino to San Fruttuoso, a small Benedictine monastery located on a small secluded beach, accessible only by foot or boat, is just as rewarding as any of those walks of the Cinque Terre. 

6. Head out to dinner

Whilst there are some tremendous restaurants of international renown in Portofino (Da Puny), they are not for the penny-shy. If you'd prefer to save some money, head North to Santa Margherite. Prices are still dearer than those in neighbouring villages, but there's a wider assortment of restaurants than in Portofino. Try L’Altro Eden or Trattoria dei Pescatoria for fresh fish and seafood. If you're desperate to stay in Portofino, Ristorante-Pizzeria da Emilio and Taverna del Marinaio offer a more wallet friendly menu. 

* The sleepy town of Santa Margherita wakes up in the evening and becomes a hotspot for young Italians taking aperitivo before going out to neighbouring clubs like The Cove. If you fancy joining them you'll need to start late, they won't start drinking until around 11pm.  

Heart set on the Riviera? Read my guides to Camogli - the perfect Riviera destination, Genoa and Chiavari.