From a lighthouse to an 8 course meal: Portofino & Genoa
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Coming off a relaxing week in Lake Como we were on a mission to see as much of the Ligurian coast as possible to discover if we could find a place we'd like to settle during our Quattro 90 Plan.
We didn't set out to actually spend too much time in Genoa, just our first day bopping about. After checking in to our hotel, we took a right on the sidewalk and were immediately in front of the Piazza de Ferrari.
It was a Saturday, and the city was packed with activity, so we parked ourselves at a restaurant in front of the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo for lunch and people watched (and loved this cute little Cinque Terre painted car).
Lo and behold, it was time for a religious procession! These are one of my favorite things to watch in Italy. The statue was so heavy that the men carrying it had to wear thick leather belts with platforms to hold it up and switch every few minutes to take a rest.
After getting some gelato to eat as we walked, we wandered to the port and took a ride on the Genovawheel La Ruota Panoramica di Genova (in plain terms, a ferris wheel) to see the city from the air - from that high up we could finally see how incredibly dense and hilly and expansive this port city is. Genoa gets sort of a bum rap in terms of Italian cities (compared to Rome, Florence, Milan), and it is more of a "work horse" location, but it was cool to see what a city that is more "real" and less "touristy" was like.
Before sunset we headed up lots of steps to Spianata Casteletto, the top of a hill that was supposed to be the ultimate spot to watch the sun fade into the sea. It was pretty sweet! We only wish we'd known to bring our own aperitivo to enjoy while we watched. We'd assumed that there would be a few places up there to eat but none of them had the view, so instead of sticking around we watched the sunset and headed back down into the city. Totally missed opportunity. Bummer.
We grabbed an aperitivo around Piazza de Ferrari kind of late, so that became our dinner and, after watching some live music on the street, we returned to the hotel to get ready for our big road trip the next day.
We started East of Genoa in the town of Sestri Levante just less than two hours away (very cute), and then stopped in Chiavari, Zoagli (so small!), Rapallo (pretty nice) and Santa Margherita Ligure, my personal favorite. Lovely shopping, awesome restaurants, and I even had one shop make bespoke sandals for me while we walked around the town. Score! We decided to head back again the next day, which would be our seven-year anniversary (seven years, no itch!).
On the morning of our anniversary, we set off again for Santa Margherita Ligure to catch a ferry to Portofino. Along the way we stopped in the tiny town of Camogli, which was adorable but didn't have much to keep our attention longer than our 2-hour visit. Joe had a cappuccino, and we were off to Santa Margherita Ligure.
We'd decided that arriving in Portofino by water, and enjoying the views along the way, would be a good call - and it was. The short (15 minute) ferry ride was gorgeous, we got up close and personal with a few mega-yachts anchored offshore, and arrival into the port of Portofino was exactly how you'd want to approach this tiny little town nestled in a cove.
Tiny? Yes. While lovely, we really can't imagine what you'd do here for more than one day (although relaxing in Portofino for days is probably better than "doing nothing" anywhere else). After a delicious pizza lunch in the harbor we set off up the stone steps toward the historic Castello Brown - and then walked right by it to follow the signs directing us to Al Faro di Portofino. We had no idea what it was, but they sure wanted us to find it!
After climbing along the twists and turns of cliffs looking down on the water below, and past the church of St. Giorgio, we emerged onto the terrace of Al Faro di Portofino at the base of Portofino's lighthouse - turns out it's a bar! And only reachable by foot. The view down the coast toward the Cinque Terre was endless, the cocktails were cold, and the music mingled with the warm air. A total find!!! This is a must do when in Portofino.
We wound our way back to Genoa in the car and then headed out for an anniversary dinner at Ristorante San Giorgi. This turned out to be way more of an experience than we anticipated. After walking from our hotel to the restaurant, up and down stone stairways over and under the city (in the process learning that Genoa is a city of multi-levels that doesn't necessarily translate well to Google maps when walking), we found this unassuming spot.
Once inside we quickly realized there was nothing unassuming about this place! It was readily apparent that this was a family jewel, with a portrait of the patriarch on the wall and the current generation working the dining room. After glancing at the menu (all in Italian), and failing to be able able to access wi-fi to get a QR code to see a digital version, we put our meal in the hands of the owner by saying in our best Italian/English: Tasting menu with wine?
See these yummy little balls of goodness? Joe and I lovingly called them the equivalent of pesto FreshenUp gum. As soon as you bit into them the yummy warm pesto oozed out, it was amazing. Everything was amazing, and each dish was a work of art.
And so began course after course after course of amazingness. My favorite? Carrot risotto with horseradish (there was also shrimp on it, which I ate, but I am not a big fan of shrimp in general). Joe's fav? Scallops in cashew crust, endive, pineapple and passion fruit. There was savory sorbet, pigeon breast, fish after fish, ravioli, linguini...it just never stopped. Add the sparkling and white wine and it was a gut buster - a very delicious gut buster. The service was impeccable, the owner was so attentive and very proud of his Wine Spectator award-winning wine list, and the presentation out of this world. All in all? A total anniversary win.
After our meal, Joe went into the kitchen to share with chef Graziano Caccioppoli how blown away we were by his creations. I stayed behind...I've never consumed eight courses before, and I pretty much couldn't move from my seat at that point.
Fortunately, a walk home past the Piazza della Vittoria (Victory square in Genoa with the arc of triumph) helped us work off some of our incredible meal, and we returned to the hotel for our last night before heading West of Genoa toward our next stop, Ligure Finale.
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