Italy in a week (Part 2): Santa Margherita Ligure & Portofino (Liguria region)
A few weeks ago I posted about the first part of this wonderful road trip across Italy, you can read it here: Verona & Venice (Road trip, Part 1). If you haven’t read it already, start with Part 1 first as you will get an idea of our full 7-day itinerary. After 2 days of walks around the romantic streets of Verona and Venice, we moved on to our next destination – the Italian Riviera, which was a completely different experience! The riviera is located between the south of France and Tuscany (our next destination). The region is extremely beautiful with many small colourful resorts, located on cliffs that overlook the beautiful Ligurian sea. The two most popular places in the region are the stylish resorts Santa Margherita Ligure & Portofino. They are located right next to each other and the drive between them is about 10 minutes. This was the more relaxing part of our trip as we managed to enjoy an afternoon at the beach as well. :)
Santa Margherita Ligure
Santa Margherita Ligure is the perfect destination for a sunny and relaxing holiday. However the Italian riviera feels different to a holiday in other sunny destinations in Europe like Spain or in Greece for example. These resorts feel somehow classier and they have a certain style. They reminded me of the resorts in the French riviera, which are also very picturesque, but not as charming. If you are after a clubbing resort like Ibiza, then this is not the place for you, but if you just want to relax and enjoy life by the beach and delicious, fresh seafood, then Santa Margherita will agree with you.
Hotel Continental – Santa Margherita Ligure
One of the things you will notice there is that there are no famous hotel chains, most hotels are run by Italian family chains. We had the pleasure of staying at Hotel Continental, which is located on a beautiful hillside park and has an amazing view of the sea and the Santa Margherita beach. The hotel is run by the Ciana family, who manage a few other hotels in the area as well. We had access to the hotel’s private beach, which isn’t sandy, but it was extremely peaceful and the water was crystal clear. The hotel of course provides the sunbeds and towels so you don’t need to worry about that. Some of the other facilities at the Continental are two restaurants overlooking the sea and a modern gym that also has a great view. The hotel is surrounded by beautiful gardens and if your room is located on the ground floor (like ours) then you will have direct access to the gardens and a stunning view of the sea. The rest of the rooms boost with a private balcony.
Having breakfast in the sun, with this stunning view was just magical. Besides pastries and delicious fresh foods, there was champagne at the breakfast buffet! Yes, champagne for breakfast! Now that’s what I call a holiday!
Things to do in Santa Margherita Ligure
Santa Margherita Ligure has a small rocky beach, located in the centre of the resort, accessible directly from the main road. You will definitely pass by the beach even if you don’t intend to go there. It’s not the most impressive beach, but it was clean and the water was clear and calm. We preferred to stay at our hotel’s private beach though as there we had the comfort of having an easy access to our room and the hotel’s bar, as well as sunbeds.
Definitely go to the area around the Santa Margherita d’Antiochia church, which is a lovely small church, surrounded by tiny pedestrian streets with many restaurants and shops. Nearby this church are the two restaurants described below.
We visited restaurants No #1 and #2 on trivago for Santa Margherita Ligure. We could possibly find some good places on our own, but we were there for two days only, so I didn’t want to take any risks with food. I wanted the best and we got it!
The first night we had dinner at Angolo 48. They are located on a lovely pedestrian street – Largo Giovanni Amendola. There is a small square right in front of their restaurant and it’s the perfect setting for an Italian dinner outdoors, on a warm summer evening. The food, the wine, the place, everything was just great. I love Burrata, so I ordered a Caprese salad with Burrata. My other half had an indulging lasagna and my main was this classic spaghetti Pomodoro. The pasta was delicious, but later I realised (looking at what other people were ordering), that their specialty is the Frutti di Mare (seafood) pasta, which looked incredible.
The second night we wanted to go back to Angolo, but sadly it was all booked so we had to go to restaurant No 2, which was just a 5 minute walk from there. Antonio’s is an equally good restaurant, where we had the best mussels from our 7-day trip. The service was a bit slow, but we were on a holiday so there was no rush. We had dinner outside, in their lovely small garden. Besides the mussles, we had some more pasta, of course. One was a seafood pasta and the other one was an interesting traditional pasta with basil pesto, potatoes and green beans. Santa Margherita Ligure is famous for its local pesto, so I had to try it! The restaurant offered a great selection of fresh fish as well.
I think we ate too much pasta, but after all, we were in Italy so we couldn’t get enough!
Portofino is a very small and incredibly beautiful fishing village. However don’t expect just an ordinary fishing village. This is an expensive and stylish resort, with a Luis Vuiton shop next to the fishing boats. It’s also known as the the Italian Riviera’s celebrity village. However Portofino, is not just about glamour, the nature and the beautiful harbour are an incredible sight that you simply must visit!
We went to Portofino twice during the two days we were in the Italian Riviera, it’s just a 5-10 minute drive from Santa Margherita Ligure. The first time we went with our car. There are no free parking areas around the harbour so you need to pay for an underground parking, which was quite expensive even for a short stay, so be prepared for this if you decide to go with your car. The second time we went there with a boat from Santa Margherita Ligure and it was a wonderful trip, which allowed us to see some beautiful views of the riviera. There are large boats connecting all the nearby resorts and they run every 30 minutes. The tickets were not expensive and it was better to pay for the lovely boat trip, rather than a parking spot.
When you get to the harbour you will notice that it’s actually quite small. It’s surrounded by lovely cafes, restaurants and some small boutique shops. We didn’t have a meal there as we read that the restaurants are quite overpriced and most of them are not worth the money. However we did enjoy an Apperol Spritz (my favourite cocktail, an Italian classic) by the harbour and some antipasti.
Park of Portofino
The second time we visited the village, we went for a walk in the famous Portofino park. It’s a large forest hill with a few paths that will allow you to see some spectacular views of the harbour and the sea. You will find the perfect spot for a picture of the harbour, like the one above. Some people call it “hiking”, but I don’t think you need any special clothes or shoes to go there, just make sure you are wearing something comfortable. The park is truly beautiful and very peaceful. You will of course see other tourists walking around, but overall it’s very quiet. The park is known to have one of the largest floristic concentrations in the Mediterranean area, which contribute to its incredibly beauty. Definitely a place you have to visit if you go to Portofino.
The Riviera offers a completely different Italian experience. We had two very peaceful days, closer to the beautiful nature of Italy, and the delicious seafood as well. You can enjoy some beach time, go for a walk in the very green park of Portofino and end the day with a cocktail in your hand as the sun sets. We didn’t want to leave, but at the same time we were excited to go to our next destination – Pisa, followed by Florence and finally Rome! Part 3 will be about these 3 magnificent cities (coming soon).