At Essential Sailing, we love the history, culture and cuisine of the places we visit almost as much as the sailing to get there. Our Captain’s Blog brings you a taste of what to expect from our luxury crewed sailing holidays around the French and Italian Riviera. In this blog we delight in the most picturesque harbour of Portofino.
Sit back and be inspired.
The tall colourful houses of Portofino curve around the bay in a cove that forms a perfect miniature harbour protected from behind by steep green hills. When Frederic Lees arrived here in 1912, Portofino was famous for fish and lacemaking. He found it ‘as snug and as sunny a little port as ever a mariner could desire, and so picturesque that I know not where you would find a prettier’. The charm of the place was to watch the women sitting on cushions under the porticoes with their bobbins clicking away.
Late Victorian writers gushed about the beauty of the village, not without reason and began a process that turned this sleepy little harbour into a celebrity Mecca. The woods behind are dotted with the villas of the rich and famous. That said, it is still one of the most picturesque spots in Liguria and best seen out of the main summer holiday season when streams of tourists descend on it during the day.
The Phoenicians recognized the importance of its beautiful and secure natural harbour as did the Romans, who called it Portus Delphini, the dolphin port. Portofino was discovered at the end of the 19th century by the British, who fell in love with it to such an extent that the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis built his own version, Portmeirion in north Wales between 1925 and 1975. (He denied that is was based specifically on Portofino, however.)
One of the reasons Portofino retains much of its charm is that since 1935 it has been a national park and thus protected from overdevelopment. At the end of World War II, Portofino narrowly escaped being blown sky high by the Germans. It was saved by Jeannie von Mumm, the Glaswegian wife of Baron von Mumm of the champagne family, who had a villa there. Over a long Ligurian lunch she persuaded the Nazi officer in charge that it was not such a bright idea. In the 1950s and 60s film stars and celebrities flocked to Portofino and still do, many of them marrying in the Castello Brown.