I long ago dreamed up a list of places in Italy I simply had to visit at least once. Venice of course and Rome which merited more than the brief visit I had paid to it years ago. Florence, Verona, Naples and Capri as well as Stromboli, of these last three all researched for my novel, I had only passed through Naples on my way to an organized visit to Pompeii , that in itself a story. Verona I have also yet to visit, however I have tasted the delight of waking to the red- tiled rooftops of Florence and lingered sentimentally along the banks of the Arno reliving the emotions of my numerous readings of EM Fosters most beloved book. Although this was inspirational enough in itself, it only served as a foretaste, making me realize I needed to return to Florence one day for a longer stay. One other place on my list was Portofino.
Instantly charmed by the trompe l’oeil facades of neighbouring Santa Margherita and its delightful port, it wasn’t until the third or fourth day of my stay that I set out on my own early one morning to take the bus to Portofino. The road is narrow, winding beneath sheer rock face and the sea at certain points, fabulous villas the occasional elegant hotel at others. Overtaking or even passing oncoming vehicles impossible at certain points, an Italian disregard for this fact evidenced by both the bus’ and the choice of Ferrari’s and the larger luxury cars rather than the Cinquecento. Deep bays and inlets, small secluded beaches, glimpses of emerald depths reached by stairways in the rock, ladders descending vertically to a narrow strip of beach, breath-taking seascapes dotted with elegant yachts, tree covered promontories tumbling to indigo depths, all conspire to set the scene; you are in one of the most exclusive and elegant regions of the Liguria Coast. It’s the height of the summer season and everything you imagined and more, is true. Even I had not envisaged the idyllic perfection that is Portofino.
The bus stops at the end of the road that widens into a sort of Piazza before it narrows into one pedestrian path climbing towards the cottages and villas tucked amidst the flowering accents of the cliffs behind the port. A few of us spill out of the bus and I stroll in this direction first, not wanting to follow the trail these tourists will take automatically following one another down the one street leading to the town. I knew I needed to feel alone to truly savour my first glimpses, to give each new sight time to reveal itself, to notice ancient tiled floors and decorative archways, to evoke the feelings that lay I imagined, behind the half closed shutters of the old villas, the peacocks painted above a doorway faded by sunlight the slow path to the sea before arriving at the first tourist gift shop all be it their wares delight and tempted, I wanted to be an observer, to capture my first impressions before merging fully into the scene.
Nothing disappoints, nothing mars the perfect symmetry of beauty, just as nothing mars the limpid viridian and crystal blue of the clear waters of the port and the sparkling vista of the sea beyond. The café tables made of polished wood varnished like the decks of luxury ships or covered in gay cloths, the stroll along the quays the small fishing boats with names like Lucia and Gabbiano, the water lapping the slip reflecting purple lights, red and yellow flags fluttering in a light breeze. Then there was the surprise of finding small boutiques like Pucci and Dior, jewelled sandals and handbags, works of art at to me of course vastly unaffordable prices, but of no less delight for all that. In Dolce and Gabbana a leopard fur coat with huge ruby decorative buttons, a sharp intake of breath for design for its own sake however undesirable in the heat of summer, simply that it was there in this setting.
Later, my walk above the port seated on a stone bench in the shade, a gelato served as my lunch, there were other walks to take, to see the Brown Palazzo, the walk to the lighthouse, watching the crew of The Albatross bring ashore its catch of sardines because this is after all still a working fishing port, but maybe in all my memories of this day it was the promise of discovery that still lay before me as I sat before all this exploration to savour the perfect breakfast in Portofino.