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The lush hills, olive groves, cypress-clad slopes and pellucid waters of the Italian Riviera have been attracting visitors for centuries. Europe’s rich and famous gather in Portofino, a village where humble fishing boats have been replaced by superyachts, and street markets by high-end designer boutiques.

It's an undeniably glamorous place. If you prefer something less showy, Santa Margherita Ligure, just a few miles away, has cobbled streets flanked by medieval churches and intricately adorned Liberty (Art Nouveau) buildings. It's less ostentatious than Portofino and more affordable, with regular ferries linking the two towns.

Urbane Portofino is surprisingly petite. I like to sit on its waterfront, watching the fishing boats and luxury yachts alike. Nearby, Santa Margherita Ligure feels more lived-in and has shops that are more individualistic than Portofino’s designer offerings.
Italy specialist Lindsay

Things to see and do in Portofino and Santa Margherita

San Giorgio Church, Portofino

Church of San Giorgio, PortofinoCrowning a headland overlooking Portofino bay, the so-called ‘yellow church’ has had a turbulent past, being razed and rebuilt on numerous occasions. The church dates back to 1154 and is predominantly Romanesque in style, with more elaborate additions dating from the 17th century.

The church is said to contain the relics of Saint George, the village's patron saint, which were allegedly brought there by local sailors who’d fought in the Crusades. Outside, the small courtyard offers sweeping views over the Mediterranean, as well as over the town and the yachts bobbing in the bay.

San Fruttuoso Abbey

Accessible by ferry from both Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure but with no road access, San Fruttuoso is a tiny isolated spot, best known for its Benedictine monastery, which sits at the foot of a steep wooded slope by the sea. The village dates back to the 10th century and has been used as a pirate retreat, fishermen's home and the residence of the Princes of Doria, a major Italian noble family, over the centuries.

The main abbey houses a museum tracing the history of the building and its inhabitants, while nearby is a fortified watch tower built to protect the village from pirates.

Camogli

A rustic fishing village north of San Fruttuoso, Camogli clings to the steep hillside in a jumble of pastel-hued houses. The buildings that line its terraced streets are hand painted with trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye) artwork, which adds elaborate stonework, balconies and statues to the masonry.

The small, working port is filled with fishing boats, overlooked by the remains of a 13th-century fortress that once defended the village from pirates and invaders. During the second week of May each year, Camogli celebrates its maritime history in the Sagra del Pesche (Fish Festival), when fish are fried in giant pans all along the waterfront. Camogli is also easily reached from Portofino or Santa Margherita Ligure by ferry.

Santa Margherita d'Antiochia Church

Nestled in the heart of Santa Margherita Ligure, the Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia dominates the main square. Construction began in 1658, building a new Baroque church upon the remains of an earlier 13th-century chapel. It’s dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch, the town's patron saint, and is lavish in its decoration.

Although the church’s exterior is impressive, it doesn't prepare you for the exuberance and ostentation of the internal design. No surface is left unadorned, with stuccowork, gold leaf, vivid frescoes and elaborate carvings illuminated by the soft golden light of a series of large crystal chandeliers.

The frescoes depict the martyrdom of Saint Margaret as well as a variety of biblical scenes. Several private chapels built by the noble families of the area attempt to outdo each other in grandeur and ornamentation, but perhaps the most poignant of all is the modest little chapel dedicated to the town's fishermen.

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Audley Travel Specialist Natalie

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Map of Portofino and Santa Margherita

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Portofino and Santa Margherita

    Accommodation choices for Portofino and Santa Margherita

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Portofino and Santa Margherita. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    • Santa Margherita Palace, Santa Margherita Ligure

      Santa Margherita Palace

      First Class

      Santa Margherita Palace is a chic and luxurious boutique hotel that makes for an ideal base within the heart of Santa Margherita Ligure. Portofino is just a 15-minute ferry ride away and there are numerous shops and restaurants right on the doorstep.

    • Eight Hotel Portofino, Portofino

      Eight Hotel Portofino

      First Class

      A luxurious boutique property just at the back of Portofino piazza, the Eight Hotel is stylish and charming. The property is small and intimate, away from the main waterfront but within easy walking distance of the highlights of Portofino.

    • Eight Hotel Paraggi, Portofino

      Eight Hotel Paraggi

      First Class

      Positioned right on the water’s edge in the tiny inlet of Paraggi, the Eight Hotel Paraggi is a luxurious beachside stay, offering easy access to the heart of Portofino.

    • Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino

      Belmond Hotel Splendido

      Deluxe

      The elegant Belmond Hotel Splendido gracefully overlooks Portofino and offers the highest levels of service, impeccable elegance and plenty of luxury.