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 Europe’s rich and famous gather in Portofino, a village where humble fishing boats have been replaced by superyachts, and street markets by high-end designer boutiques.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
Crowning 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.
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 Pesce (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.
Map of Portofino and Santa Margherita
Places & hotels on the map
Places near Portofino and Santa Margherita
- Genoa 15 miles away
- Cinque Terre 30 miles away
- Porto Venere 36 miles away
- Forte dei Marmi 54 miles away
- Barbaresco 63 miles away
- Alba 65 miles away
- Parma 65 miles away
- Barolo 67 miles away
- Pisa 72 miles away
- Milan 81 miles away
- Modena 88 miles away
- Piedmont 89 miles away
- Turin 92 miles away
- Como 105 miles away
- Sirmione 106 miles away
- Blevio 107 miles away
- Bologna 107 miles away
- Torno 108 miles away
- San Gimignano 109 miles away
- Florence 109 miles away
- Laglio 110 miles away
- Gardone Riviera 113 miles away
- Lezzeno 114 miles away
- Lake Garda 114 miles away
- Stresa 115 miles away
- Bellagio 117 miles away
- Tremezzo 117 miles away
- Verbania 117 miles away
- Verona 118 miles away
- Lake Maggiore 121 miles away
- Lake Como 121 miles away
- Siena 126 miles away
- Ravenna 149 miles away
- Madonna di Campiglio 155 miles away
- Venice 173 miles away
- Perugia 180 miles away
- Orvieto 183 miles away
- Umbria 190 miles away
- Assisi 191 miles away
- Dolomites 194 miles away
- Alta Badia 205 miles away
- Costa Smeralda 221 miles away
- Rome 235 miles away
- Sardinia 290 miles away
Photos of Portofino and Santa Margherita
Accommodation choices for Portofino and Santa Margherita
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