Daydream Destination: Portofino

This week, a winter storm passed through most of the North American east coast and, like every winter for the past 8 years (conveniently the number of years I've lived in Canada), I employed my coping method of swearing followed by visualization. It goes something like this: "It is definitely not snowing outside. I am certainly sunbathing on my yacht in Portofino. There is chilled prosecco in a tiny Kleen Kanteen--you know, for portability and because the steel helps keep it cold. Later I will go shopping at Pucci and Missoni." See? It's easy. I find it keeps me from completely breaking with reality and trying to melt the snow with my hair dryer.

So if you're stuck in snow up to your eyeballs and don't like it, I dedicate this week's Daydream Destination to you. If you're not snowed in somewhere, you're still welcome to join me in Portofino, a sun-drenched Mediterranean port on the Italian Riviera.

It's hard not to just rave about Portofino with endless adjectives for "beautiful." I'm having trouble even writing about it because my mind keeps taking me there and I'd just like to stay. It is truly a stunning place. The only thing I can find "wrong" with it is that it caters to the wealthy, but that isn't actually a flaw. You don't have to shell out money to oogle people's yachts, or look around in the fancy stores, or stroll the paths that lead to a yellow church that watches over the port and the cliffs overlooking the shimmering azure sea.

Chiesa San Giorgio, built in the 12th century

It is the most glamorous sleepy fishing village. You're not going to find glittering casinos, pulsating clubs, or miles of sandy beaches here but that's what is so lovely about it. It feels like the place for people who aren't interested in partying in the other big name Riviera towns.

Hotel Splendido is the most famous and luxurious hotel in the area. It's also the place where the celebrities apparently stay when, presumably, they aren't on a yacht. There are a few other hotels in the area, but when my family and I visited in 2004 we stayed at a hotel just below Splendido, Domina Home Piccolo.

Domina Home Piccolo

It is on a blind curve on the narrow main road to town. There was no sidewalk or shoulder so it felt treacherous trying to park and walk to the hotel, but it was worth it for the location. The hotel had a breathtaking private pebble beach in a little cove just across the main road.

Hotel Piccolo and its private beach

Piccolo's pebbly beach

The area to the left of the beach. Where do I sign up to rent that place?

Parking in town is very limited to a tiny and tight garage. This isn't a huge problem because it keeps traffic down and encourages people to use some of the other great ways to get to town. There are gorgeous, protected walking paths built into the cliffs from both the area we stayed in and the larger neighboring town, Santa Margherita Ligure, to Portofino. It was a very pleasant ten minute walk from our hotel to town. Imagine taking in the scented flowers cascading over the walls after you stroll back from a dinner of fresh seafood and wine.

Portofino Pathway

Or take a hike up to Castello Brown or to the lighthouse at the point of the promontory. Be on the lookout for dolphins playing.

Castello Brown, originally called Castello San Giorgio and was built in 1425 to defend Portofino

On our first night in Portofino, my dad walked back down after dinner for a night-cap. As he walked into the square, he saw all of these amazing classic cars, like Bugatti and Ferrari, parked there. Everyone was inside relaxing, so he sat down on the patio with a scotch to enjoy the breeze and the marvels of motoring. That experience sums up Portofino pretty nicely. You don't have to be rolling in dough to go there and experience the richness of the place.

If you're interested in going and don't necessarily want to stay in Portofino, a nice alternative is Santa Margherita Ligure. Walking from Santa Margherita along the paths is about 4 miles, but there are also a number of boats that go between the two towns for a reasonable price if you would prefer to kick back and enjoy the sea. There is also a better variety of options for food, shopping, and hotels.

That being said, I think I would personally rather stay in Portofino for a shorter period of time if I could afford it. It is a magical place that makes it easy to slow down, relax, and enjoy la dolce far niente--the sweetness of doing nothing.