TRIED & TESTED: The Perfect Riviera Itinerary
You know exactly the sort of mini break you’re after. It involves enormous hats, a few dozen Aperol Spritz and lots of sunshine. Nothing smacks of sparkling sea and sunset aperitivo more than The Riviera, but you have no idea where to start.
Don’t follow everybody else to the Cinque Terre (though it is lovely), follow this itinerary for the ultimate relaxing riviera mini break. I promise it will spice up your instagram feed.
Part One: Camogli (1-3 days)
Loathed as I am to spill a damn good secret, Camogli is the perfect spot to base yourself for slice of the sweet life. The colourful Ligurian fishing port boasts a soft grey pebble beach lined with sea front osteria, artisan shops, bars and cafes, houses painted in varying shades of pastel and a seriously robust culinary culture - it is probably the hardest place to hate in Italy.
Head to one of the cafes on the sea front for a typical Ligurian breakfast with a view - focaccia (which the Genoese invented) and cappuccino. Or, grab a coffee at the bar and pick up a slice of focaccia from Focacceria Revello, where the focaccia is served hot and thick, with a crusty dimpled surface filled with puddles of oil and salt.
Get to the beach early for some R&R, particularly if you’re visiting between July and August, when the population of Camogli practically doubles thanks to an influx of in-the-know Milanese on a weekend break. Visit in May or June and you’ll practically have it all to yourself.
True, it isn’t white sand, but the pebbles are large and soft (fear not, nothing here remotely resembles a shingle). Sunbathe, swim, snorkle, shop and snoop on the contents of returning fishermen’s boats for dinner inspiration.
If you’re here on a Wednesday, take the narrow steps leading to Via XX Septembre, which hosts a charming market from 8am-12pm.
For lunch, try another Ligurian specialty - pesto (I know, we have much to thank the Ligurians for). Basil, salt, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, pine nuts and grana cheese are pounded together to create a gloriously fresh green sludgy salsa fresca which is traditionally served with trofie or trofenette pasta, with green beans and tiny cubes of potato, or tossed in gnocchi.
For a really unique treat, head to Pasta Fresca Fiorella on the beach front at lunch time. They will whip you up a bowl of fresh pasta and pesto for less than €5, which you can take away on a little plastic plate to enjoy on the beach front.
Once you’ve had enough of the beach (no Italian would dream of committing to significant bouts movement until they’ve digested), explore Camogli’s two historic sites - the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta and the Dragonara Castle, which both sit on a rock overlooking the peninsula. Or, if you fancy limbering up before dinner, take the trail up to San Rocco; the trail will see you stamping across olives and figs, through vineyards and past charming villas, culminating in a sweaty 350 step crawl to the top. The route begins on Via Boschetto, close to the carabiniere. Follow the signs featuring two red dots and a red circle.
There’s little to see in San Rocco bar a picturesque church but the views are worth the hike. Head to Bar Dai Mugetti for an aperitivo at dusk; it overlooks the entire sweep from Golfo Paridisso to Genoa, and you might even get a glimpse of Corsica on a clear day.
For dinner, try Da Paolo, a small family run business tucked away in an alley behind the harbour. Highlights include seafood risotto, squid ink linguine and wide variety of fish according to daily market offerings, cooked choice and served on a platter. Try the daily special in salt crust.
Head to La Cremeria del Paradiso for a post-dinner gelato and a stroll along the promenade
Part Two: Punta Chiappa - San Frutuoso (1-2 days)
This is an exciting day for your pedometer. There’s a hefty amount of walking involved, yes, but you’ll enjoy it (it’s very unlike me to associate the words fun with anything with requires surplus movement so please do trust me).
After breakfast - try an apricot jam filled brioche this time- head back up to through the olive groves and past the colourful villas to the same spot in San Rocco. Take in the early morning views at the top but this time, instead of ambling back down, continue along Via Mortola and follow the signs to Punta Chiapa, marked by two solid red squares.
From here it’s around a 35 minute descent across the Portofino Veta woodland to Punta Chiappa, a Neverland-like rocky promontory which bulges out into turquoise waters. En-route, take a peek at the pretty church of San Nicolo di Capodimonte, built by the monks of St Rufus.
Punta Chiappa has remained largely off the radar, which makes it all the more appealing. There isn’t much to do here besides swim and laze about on the rocks for some secluded sunbathing but take note if you are a keen snorkeler - the waters here are home to some of the most diverse and stunning marine sights in the area.
By now you’re probably hungry so make sure you book ahead for a table at Trattoria do Spadin, you’ll thank your former self as you feast on roasted octopus, fried fish and fresh seafood overlooking the bay.
From here you can either take the boat if you’re short on time, or, embark salty haired on the one and a half hour hike through woods of oak and pine to what is surely one of the most picturesque monasteries in the country - San Fruttuoso.
Totally isolated and accessible only by foot or boat, this Benedictine Abbey was built in the 10th Century as the final resting place for Bishop St Fracas of Tarragona. Legend has it that in the third century San Fruttuoso’s followers were shipwrecked here and protected by three white lions. Today, a large white abbey sits on a small pebble beach where visitors can sunbathe on deckchairs packed tightly together, Italian style, enjoy a meal or a drink with a view from one of the few bars on beach, or explore the Abbey.
It is also the site of ‘Christ of the Abyss’ a larger than life size bronze statue of Christ which was buried fifty feet below sea level offshore. in 1954. Or if you don’t ‘do’ diving, take a tiny glass bottom boat out to see this spectacle.
Catch the last boat back at around 5.45pm (timetable here) and sail past colourful houses and tiny hamlets buried in the Capodimonte mountains in time for an aperitivo on the sea front in Camogli or a glass of local wine and plate of locally cured meats at Cavali Wine Bar.
Pick up a pizza from Osteria delle 7 Pance and take it porta via (take-away) to eat on the beach with a beer or settle down at Ristorante la Piazetta for regional specialities including lasagne al forno con pesto (no calamari) and fresh calamari). It is the single most romantic meal I have ever enjoyed.
Part Three: Camogli - Portofino - Sante Margherite (1-3 days)
Fear not, film stars, fashionistas and fancy yachts aside, there is room for you too in Portofino.
After a leisurely breakfast, head to the harbour to pick up a boat to Portofino (£8). You could hike there, but it’s an additional 2 hours from San Frutuoso, so to call it hefty would be a colossal understatement. Plus, taking the ferry involves you sitting back on the deck, face poised in the sun whilst you sail through turquoise waters and past villages flanked with colourful buildings and rugged mountains, dolce vita style.
You’ll arrive into Piazza Martiri Dell'Olivetta, the heart of Portofino. This is turbo-stylish riviera land.
Explore the tangle of streets behind the harbour - ogle the likes of Hermes and Louis Vuitton, artisan craft shops and keep your eyes peeled for elderly women nimbly stitching lace on the streets. If you’re hungry, snack on Focaccia di Recco at Panificio Canale - a paper thin iteration of focaccia, which consists of two layers of unleavened dough, filled with heaps of soft, fresh crescent cheese - made only in Reco, Sori, Camogli and Avegno.
Walk off the cheese with a hike up a hill - past the super yachts and the pink meerkats which line the Museo del Parco, up a winding path to the church of Portofino’s patron saint San Giorgio, which contains relics brought back from the crusades.
Continue further up the hill to the Castello Brown, a 15th century fortress which is surrounded by superb gardens and pergolas. For €5 you can enter the museum. Take the path further still, which winds past luxury villas above terraced gardens to Il Faro (lighthouse) for spectacular views which stretches from Punta Manara in Sestri Levante to Capo Noli.
Pop into the Museo del Parco, a mad open-air sculpture museum open between June and September, on your way down.
For lunch, head to one of the many restaurants spilling on to the harbour. You’ll pay a premium for the view, but there are few greater joys in Portofino than watching the comings and goings of its visitors.
After lunch, take a trip to the infamous Hotel Splendido which has hosted everyone from the Winston Churchill to George Clooney via Humphrey Bogart. In fact, it was here that Burton proposed to Elizabeth Taylor (the first time).
If you plan to stay in Portofino for the day, save your trip to the Hotel Splendido until after 7pm when you can enjoy and aperitivo on the deck and wander the grounds. It’s pure unadulterated glamour.
If not, take the direct winding path which wraps around the Tigello coast to Santa Margherita Ligure, an old fashioned seaside resort. Stop for a dip en-route - you can either pay for one of the several lidos in Pariggi or join those in-the-know who jump straight into the deep end (the rocks are usually adorned with several snorkelers so it isn't difficult to spot).
Post-dip, head into the town centre for a glass (or several carafes) of Giancu de Purtufin, a local wine, or for an aperitivo from one of the many bars which line the sea front.
Stay for dinner at La Paranza for piles of fried baby sardines in oil, followed by shrimps and tiramisu.
Take the train directly from Santa Margherita Ligure-Portofino train station home to Camogli, for a well deserved night-cap