A slender crescent of land hemmed in by mountains and the Mediterranean, Liguria has the mildest climate in all of northern Italy and the most exuberant vegetation: umbrella palms, olive groves, vineyards that produce grapes for the local Rossese and Vermentino wines, and fragrant gardens that yield the vegetables and herbs for specialties like pesto and torta verde, a chard and marjoram pie.
The region’s beach resorts have evolved from fishing villages discovered by Northern European travelers when they began wintering here in the 19th century, from Noli with its medieval walls to Portovenere, a den for the English Romantic poets. In Portofino, just down the coast from the regional capital of Genoa, the pastel-colored fisherfolks’ cottages that line the harborside piazza now gleam as designer boutiques. Walk through the scrub over the headland (or take a boat) to the secluded cove of San Fruttuoso, where a tenth-century Benedictine abbey presides over the water’s edge and just off the beach a giant bronze statue of Christ is submerged eight fathoms deep. But in and around Portofino, as in most of Liguria, history lurks just below the surface.
Spend a week here by renting one of these Portofino homes available only to PRIOR members.
In the ‘50s and ‘60s—when Portofino was a magnet for Hollywood royalty—this villa became a de facto social hub, where Slim Aarons could be found lying by (and no doubt photographing) the pool. The secluded residence has its own discreet entrance: Right off the boutique and restaurant-lined piazzetta—the cobblestoned heart of Portofino—a 650-foot tunnel leads to a private lift, which hoists visitors up to a garden path to the 12-acre estate.
In the three-floor, five-bedroom home previously owned by an aristocratic British family, you’ll find yawning fireplaces, traditional wood-beam ceilings, and large windows overlooking the Gulf of Genoa. Meals are set out under the vaulted ceilings of the main dining room, or in one of four outdoor areas, including a vine-shaded gazebo with views of the colorful gozzi, or fishing boats, which bob in the harbor.
With its creamsicle yellow exteriors punctuated by green shutters, this seven-bedroom villa, owned by the Italian industrialist Pirelli family, is a stroll from the cliffside San Giorgio church and Castello Brown, an ancient military fortress. Connected to Portofino’s main square through a tunnel carved out of the bedrock, the house is the best kind of time machine, with winding staircases leading to light-filled rooms polished up with black-and-white floor tiles, many of them featuring wood-paneled ceilings, carved marble fireplaces and vintage maps. Still, try staying indoors when a grapevine-shaded stone walkway leads out to a seaside pool and a garden in full bloom.
For guests in either house, we can arrange a sunset dinner outdoors at the whitewashed Portofino Lighthouse, operational since 1912, featuring seafood caught that morning and uninterrupted views of the Ligurian coastline; organize a private visit to a nearby farm for a hands-on pesto making session; or book a day trip to Zoagli, a Ligurian town famous for its handmade silk and velvet crafts tradition.
HOUSE CALLS: PRIOR’s Bespoke team can design a trip for your group based at any one of these houses, safely helping you explore the surroundings when you are ready to travel again. Inquire at email@example.com.
The PRIOR editorial team, overseen by David Prior, works together to write and produce stories that inspire curiosity about, and the desire to connect to, places and people across the world.