My delightful writer friend Barbara Athanassiadis allowed me to reproduce this lovely story about Portofino. After reading this, who wouldn’t want to pack their bag and go??
In Italy there are many beautiful places. Some, however, are not only beautiful, but unique, unforgettable. Among these is Portofino, the pearl of the Italian Riviera. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder mentions it under the name of Portus Delphini because of dolphins swimming off the bay. We do not know whether the first inhabitants were the Phoenicians, the Greeks or the Romans.
On the other hand, more than its story is the extraordinary beauty that characterizes it. Portofino is part of the baggage of my fondest memories that continues to enchant me. I stay for a couple of days, on the way from Rome to southern France, but this is where I most enjoy what the Italians call the sweet “far niente”. Thus, my only activity is gentle strolls, without getting tired, or without searching for hidden beauties, since they are offered to me openly.
The sea, of a colour ranging from dark green to cobalt blue, insinuates itself into the small bays enclosed by steep cliffs covered with pine, palm and cypress trees that hide villas of a particular architectural style, characteristic of northern Italy. I walk the paths immersed in vegetation and at every turn I see a spectacular landscape. But the secret of the charm of Portofino does not derive from its simplicity.
Each element is part of a harmonious whole, far from affectation. The houses overlooking the harbor adhere to one another with their green shutters and walls painted in ocher, yellow and red. Even here, in this place where Art does not have a place, the colours help to deceive us. The balconies, for example, seem to be real while, in fact, they are only paintings. Before nightfall, the fishermen drag in the little boats onto the shingle and only the larger boats are moored in the middle of the bay.
The sailing boats and yachts, however, are moored at the western bank of the port, at the foot of a wooded promontory dominated by Castle Brown, named after the British Consul of Genoa, who was the owner. Since the fifties, Portofino began to be frequented by actors and people of the jet-set: Rex Harrison bought a villa on the hills, while Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart came there for the filming of the movie “The Barefoot Contessa”. Today Portofino has no need of the legends of the cinema. Thanks to its simple charm, the owners of the exquisite homes on the hills are able to appreciate the beauty of the landscape. Dinner at Puny confirms it.
My hotel is called “Splendido”. Thanks to its panoramic position, I think it’s one of the most beautiful hotels in Italy. It is distinguished by its hanging gardens adorned with exotic and Mediterranean plants, a gardening style particularly appreciated by the gardeners of the Ligurian Riviera. The hotel is connected to the little port through a series of steps. It takes up to ten minutes and the walk culminates in a stone arch, probably medieval, where you reach the quay along which are the boutiques and bars for an apperitivo.
At sunset, when the tourists have gone, it is easy to come across some famous Italian tycoons intent on playing chess in a bar, or a queen who walks by with her children. Moments of relaxation for all. At night, while sitting on the terrace of my room overlooking the lit castle, I realize I have written only the good things. But it is not an exaggeration. In fact, this is a place to which nature has bestowed gifts lavishly, and beauty is not in the service of a dream, but of reality. A reality that Italians are able to value at its maximum.
Images: The Hotel Splendido with its spectacular view and San Giorgio print by John Galbo
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