Ever since I’ve seen the gorgeous pictures of Portofino, I knew I wanted to visit Portofino some day. Luckily, the Italian Riviera was really easy to combine with the South of France, so we expanded our road trip in France to Italy. It turned out to be really difficult to find affordable accommodation in Portofino, so we decided to stay in Rapallo. Rapallo is the perfect hub for the Italian coast, as it is situated in the middle of Portofino and Cinque Terre. Read on about our experience at the Italian Riviera.
Usually there is a 30 minute ferry leaving from Rapallo to Portofino, however as there had been a storm during our first night, the sea was too rough to go to Portofino by ferry. Portofino is located very secluded by hills and the sea, so there are no trains going into Portofino, so that left us with the option of going by train to Santa Margherita Ligure and taking the bus from there (€ 4 one way). The bus drives over roads really close to the coastline, so by taking the bus you already get to breathe in beautiful views. The full journey to Portofino took about 40 minutes. You can also drive to Portofino but parking is very limited and super expensive and to be honest I wouldn’t like to be driving on the coastline as the roads are super narrow.
With the bus you also arrive directly into town and we directly went for lunch. Portofino is a coastal town, which features a little harbor where some expensive boats are docked. Because the harbor is too small for cruise ships, it never gets too crowded in Portofino so you can enjoy this beautiful town in a really relaxed way. Portofino only has a few shops and they are all upscale (a.o. Missoni, Dior and Louis Vuitton), so it is not hard to imagine what kind of people come to Portofino. I loved sitting on the terrace enjoying all the well-dressed people walking by. Portofino is by no means a budget destination, but you don’t necessarily have to splurge while visiting. We had a pasta lunch for € 10 each, with a glass of wine costing a whopping € 9, but we were sitting front row at the harbor.
When you want to get a little more active you can take a small hike to Castello Brown, which is at the opposite side of the harbor. I didn’t wear the right shoes for this, as the pathway is pretty slippery, but still managed to find my way up. In front of the Castle there is a public park, which you can enter for free to get amazing views of Portofino harbor and its colorful buildings. As Portofino is very small, spending just one day should be enough to spy on the lives of the rich and the famous 😉
Many of my friends have traveled to Cinque Terre years ago, but somehow I never go to visit it. From Rapallo there is a direct train to Monterosso al Mare (€ 8 one way), the first of the five towns which comprise Cinque Terre. We decided not to buy the Cinque Terre card (unlimited access to the pathways and trains of Cinque Terre for € 20), but buy individual train tickets instead (€ 4 and valid for 90 minutes). We would not visit all “Terres” and would not do the hike (€ 8 for access), so it didn’t make sense to spend € 20. The downside to this approach is that you sometimes have to queue up at the ticket machines, which I would advise against on extremely busy days.
I was warned by several people that Cinque Terre would be very crowded, but I hoped that it wouldn’t be this bad as it was September already. You can kind of guess what’s coming next, but it was still very crowded in September.. We decided to travel by train from town to town, and each time a train arrived you would walk in a conga line from the station to get into town. To be honest this felt a little unsettling. Luckily there are some good ways to enjoy Cinque Terre:
Have lunch at Nessun Dorma: Nessun Dorma is the Instagram hit restaurant with amazing views of Manarola. You cannot make reservations for this restaurant, so make sure to be there are 12 in the morning when it opens to get the best seats, directly facing Manarola. Nessun Dorma also serves delicious plates, so you do not go there just for the views. We ordered a cheese and meat plate for € 30 for two persons and found it way too much for lunch. The Limoncello cocktails are € 8 and are delicious and a good deal. I found the other restaurants in Manarola town super touristy, the people sat really cramped on the terraces and tourists standing on the main square were blocking the views of the people on the terraces.
When visiting Nessun Dorma you will get plenty of twirling or photo opportunities:
Plan a beach day at Monterosso al Mare: I didn’t hear a lot of buzz about Monterosso al Mare, but we really liked the vibe of this place. Monterosso al Mare is the beachside town of Cinque Terre and the whole beach is full of colorful umbrellas. If you don’t go to Nessun Dorma, I would recommend to hire a beach chair for the day and have lunch at one of the beach clubs at Monterosso al Mare. As the trains will drive until late, this will still give you plenty of opportunity to visit some towns in the late afternoon, when it is less crowded and hot.
Do a boat trip: The trains get really crowded during the day, so another way to transport from town to town is taking a boat trip. This will give you the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful towns from the water.
Visit the less popular towns: I unfortunately suffer from an extreme case of FOMO, so I decided to visit the most popular towns of Cinque Terre: Manarola and Riomaggiore. I thought Manarola was absolutely worth a visit, because you can hike beyond the Nessun Dorma restaurant and enjoy views of it afar in a relative quietness. Riomaggiore is more narrow, so I found it less enjoyable during the heat and with crowds running into every picture. Corniglia and Vernazza are two of the other towns that complete Cinque Terre and are less popular and still gorgeous.
Rapallo was the perfect hub for us to explore the area. When we visited, the town was decorated with hanging umbrellas, which added some extra charm to this colorful town! Rapallo has a nice boulevard and also has beach clubs for a beach day. The restaurants at the boulevard were very touristy, but also affordable. Hostaria Vecchia is a good restaurant, located in one of the charming alleyways of Rapallo, where we ate several times. We loved the delicious bread, olive oil, truffle pasta and tiramisu!