Where we Stayed
Portofino, Santa Margherita, and Rapallo are all within walking distance of each other so Cody and I chose to stay in a small village called San Michele just a 15 minute hike from Santa Margherita and Rapallo. Our apartment here was probably our favorite of the whole trip. The place has a private beach and all the amenities you could need. Plus, the host is adorable. She barely speaks english but did everything she could to make us feel welcome from drawing a congratulatory sign to providing a champagne toast. She translated for us through an app on her phone and made all sorts of jokes and innuendos, it was a perfect way to start our stay.
What we Saw
Our first night in the Gulf of Tigullio, a genoese portion of the Italian Riviera, was spent in Rapallo, the largest of the towns. We explored the shops and outdoor markets before enjoying dinner and cocktails on the water. The whole setting was quite romantic, we sat under a canopy as it rained all around us until it was late into the night. Cody purchased an umbrella for 5 euros off a street vendor and we scurried home for to a glass of wine.
Our second day we walked 15 minutes north to Santa Margherita where we snacked on pastries and sipped on cappuccinos. We strolled around the promenade for a while and admired the trompe l’oeil, optical illusions painted on to the buildings intended to look like ornate Baroque styled window boxes, shutters, and pediments. These paintings look so 3 dimensional, that if you were not looking for them you would likely be fooled (see pic above). After I learned about this style of art in Santa Margherita I was shocked to see it displayed in many of the other Italian cities we visited, and left wondering if we had been tricked by them in previous destinations.
After ogling at the artwork, shops and churches we started back up on the red carpet hike to Portofino. This section of the “hike” spans 2.5 miles of the coastline and boasts ocean views the whole way. Cody and I stopped off at one of the beaches and went for a swim to cool off mid hike, so bring your swimsuits! Before hitting Portofino you will see La Cervara Abbey, and then turn a corner to Parragi, in my opinion the most wonderful stretch of the hike. It is a small beach that looks like it popped right off a movie screen, and as you reach the Portofino side you can look through the trees across the blue watered beach to a colorful array of buildings.
When we finally reached Portofino we stopped for a well deserved cocktail while admiring the many yachts docked at the port. That’s about all we could afford to do there so we headed home to the private beach at our apartment in the much more affordable San Michele. We swam for a a few hours and sipped on champagne until the sun went down. We walked back into Santa Margarita for aperitivos and dinner. If you are on a budget you could definitely make a meal out of the aperitivos in this area. When you order a cocktail you are also served olives, chips, nuts, bread, vegetables, and more depending on the restaurant you choose.
What we Ate
Our best meal in the Gulf of Tigullio was definitely at Hostaria Vecchia Rapallo. Cody and I started with a mushroom and potato saute before getting to the real stars of the show, the fresh pastas. We had genoa style pesto “lasagna” which is a far cry from the layered, cheesy lasagna we typically see in America. Instead it is fresh made large, flat, lasagna style noodles drenched in pesto and folded over each other. This was the pesto dish I had been waiting for our whole trip. We also ordered a pear ravioli with a gorgonzola cheese sauce and a balsamic reduction which was so unique. The dish was perfectly decadent and not too sweet. The restaurant itself is romantic, resembling cavernous wine cellar, and the service was some of the best we had on our trip. I would highly recommend you give this place a visit!
Lessons we Learned
1) If you are traveling to the Gulf of Tigullio on a budget, stay and eat in Rapallo or Santa Margherita. Although Portofino may be the more instagram worthy bougie place, Rapallo and Santa Margherita are more affordable and have more to offer. If you are staying in either of these places you can take the beautiful red carpet hike to Portofino or take a bus there for 2 euros.
2) Bring your own umbrella. Before the trip, our research had told us not to bring our own umbrella because if you needed one, vendors would just start popping out of nowhere trying to sell them to you. This is true (the hustle is real there) BUT in hindsight, we should have brought a higher quality, wind resistant umbrella with us because the umbrella we purchased there got torn to shreds later in the trip when the wind became more aggressive.
3) If you are on a budget make a meal out of the aperitivos. There is plenty of affordable food worth trying in this area, but if you are trying to save some money, or you splurged on a fancy lunch in Portofino do some research and find the restaurants that offer a large variety of aperitivos. At many places when you order a cocktail you are also served olives, chips, nuts, bread, vegetables, and more.