Three Peals of Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino

As our day broke, it certainly looked like it would be a rainy day in Portofino - it was a grey and cloudy day as Azamara Journey neared the coast of the Italian Riviera. The ship’s arrival was scheduled for 8:00am and we were still slowly heading towards Portofino as we made our way to Windows Café for breakfast at 7:00am. The restaurant was quite busy this morning but we found a table and enjoyed a hearty breakfast in preparation for a day of touring on the picturesque Italian coast.

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    Portofino was one of the locations that our original tour plans had been cancelled. Our on board revised choice was to take a tour of “The Three Pearls” of Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino.

    After a pitstop back at our room following breakfast we made our way to the Cabaret Lounge for our tour. We didn't need to wait too long before the tour was called and we made our way to the tender accessed from a gangway on Deck 3. The sea was quite rough as we made our way from the gangway to the tender, with the distance between the two in a constant state of flux - both in distance and elevation. This was the first time we’d ever experienced any measure of rough conditions entering one of the ship’s tenders. It made it tough to pick the moment to step from the gangway to the tender, even with the help of two crew members. Inside the tender one had the feeling of a pinball being directed this way and that in the attempt to walk to find a seat on the bouncing boat. That was interesting.

    Once the tender was full it set off towards Portofino, and the sensation changed from pinball to roller coaster as the tender rode the waves towards the shore. It highlighted the power of the sea...to just look at the sea from the ship one wouldn’t consider it too rough, yet any small craft on the water gave clear evidence to the contrary.

    The conditions improved as the tender reached the shallower water closer to the dock and getting off the tender was significantly easier than getting in it. We were only on terra firma for a few minutes before heading back into another small craft to make our way to Rapallo.

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  • Rapallo

    The route taken was fairly close to the shore, so the water wasn’t too rough this time. Our boat docked in Rapallo close to Castello sul Mare (Castle-on-the-Sea) - fortification built on the coast of Rapallo to defend the city against pirate attacks. The construction was started in 1550 after the city suffered major looting in 1549. Beyond material possessions taken, this attack from Turkish pirates also included the kidnapping and enslaving of over 100 women and children. The fortification was finished in 1551 and a chapel was later added in 1688.

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      We toured the small waterfront area of Rapallo and then made our way to Gran Caffè Rapallo for a coffee and pastry. Once refreshed, we made a walking tour of the pretty municipality. We only could imagine how the town would look in brilliant sunshine on this day that was grey and cloudy, but even in the weather’s gloom Rapallo looked pretty. Once the guided tour in Rapallo was finished, we had the ability to do some exploring on our own. It was interesting to wander through the town’s small market and peer in the impressive looking pasta shops. The line ups in those shops were a testament to the quality of many different types of pasta that we would have loved to sample. It was also interesting to see the extensive use of faux marble painting on the facades of the buildings in Rapallo. From a distance, some of it looked quite impressive - quite real until getting closer to the painted buildings made to look like stonework.

      On our own meandering tour of Rapallo we passed a small wine shop called Vincanto. Shaun was attracted by a sign offering two bottles of his beloved limoncello for only €11.00. He, of course, had to make the purchase. The shop was cute, almost like a hole in the wall as it were. If you look carefully at the photo of the shop on the right you can see a small flag indicating the nationality of the shop’s owner - Australian. As we continued walking around Rapallo, something else we found fascinating was the ornate decoration on the rectangular manhole covers in the city.

      At the appointed time and location we met up with our tour group and waited a few minutes for tour a bus to arrive that would take us to our next destination of Santa Margherita Ligure. The name for us conjured up pleasant memories of a couple of nice Italian wines sold under the Santa Margherita brand, but as it turned out that the winery is actually located northeast of Venice - not really that close to the town that also bears the name of the wine. The weather conditions hadn’t changed much as the day progressed, but that wasn’t all bad news because it hadn’t gotten any worse as well as not getting any better. The good news in all that was it wasn’t raining even though it certainly looked like it would.

  • Santa Margherita Ligure

    The history of Santa Margherita Ligure is somewhat entwined with that of its neighbouring community of Rapallo, in fact as we started our tour of the municipality we were close to a castle build here at around the same time as the one in Rapallo for the same reason of protection against pirates. It was also designed by the same architect.

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      Near the bay of Santa Margherita Ligure where we started stand a couple of statues - one of Christopher Columbus and the other of Vittorio Emanuele II. Columbus was known to be born in Genoa and the local belief is that he was raised in Santa Margherita. The significance of Vittorio Emanuele II comes from 1863 and his royal decree of the Kingdom of Italy that officially set the name that the municipality has had ever since.

      Prior to 1863, its name had flopped around based on whoever was the conquering power. One interesting name it had through its history was “City of Port Napoleon” from 1812 to 1814 under the famous Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The first thing that seemed apparent to us about Santa Margherita Ligure was that it wasn’t as touristy as Rapallo, and definitely nothing like the tourist mecca of Portofino that we had briefly seen earlier in the morning. Close by to those other spots, yet seemingly more natural as nice town on the Italian Rivera. The port seemed to be a nice mixture of a working fishing industry and beach area. It looked authentic, if that makes sense. From the bay we walked to Basilica di Santa Margherita, with the church in its current configuration in the baroque style dating back to 1658, yet it was built on the ruins of a church from the 13th century. However, not all of the building dated back to the 1600s, the bell towers now on the building were added in 1750 and 1927. The church inside was lavishly decorated with art from the 1600s through to the 1800s. In churches of this nature, we always seem to reach a point where it all blurs together - the images of Biblical stories, or artistic scenes depicting the life or death of a post-biblical saint. It is a lot to absorb, and so easy to gloss over details nearer the end of the visit. Once we left the church we congregated as a group in Piazza Caprera directly outside the churches main entrance.

      The remainder of our time in Santa Magherita would be on our own, which was nice. Before leaving the Piazza we witnessed one of the most annoying street “performers” we had seen on our travels - a man dressed in silver with matching silver face paint walking around holding a basket for money and holding a hidden whistle in his mouth. He would sneak up on people and blow the strange whirring whistle as if he was speaking. The whistle wasn’t too loud but it could disconcert if caught unaware. He would get right in the face of people, and it was amazing how effective it was with some of the older tourists he accosted who would hastily reach for some money to give him. He reacted rudely when Gary waived him off; granted it wasn’t the most pleasant of wave offs. For the remainder of our time in Santa Margherita Ligure we toured on our own - enjoying the quaint narrow streets with a myriad of painted buildings in this very pretty town. Before meeting back up with our tour group we decided to take a closer look at the 16th century castle that we had seen briefly on arrival to Santa Margherita Ligure. On one of the walls of the castle we saw a plaque of Guglielmo Marconi, but there was nothing around to clearly explain the significance. Looking it up later we found out that Marconi spent a lot of time in both Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, and his famous yacht Electra (where he realized many of his experiments) was generally moored in the latter. Marconi installed the world’s first parabolic antennae mid-way between Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure. We reconnected with the tour group by the statue of Christopher Columbus as planned and then headed to the small boat for the ride back to Portofino.

  • Portofino

    Arrival in Portofino was the end of the formal tour but we didn’t need to return to the ship right way. Before leaving us, the guide gave as a basic chat on the things to see in Portofino and with that we made our plan for our own tour. The town was quite busy, and clearly more tourist-based than the other two spots we toured earlier in the day. Having said that, Portofino still paled in comparison to other places we had visited on the Mediterranean on the “touristy” scale.

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      Nona, Linda & Gary decided to make the trek up to Castello Brown while Shaun opted to drink in some of the ambiance of Portofino. The path up to the castle was mostly a gentle grade slope up, increasing in slope closer to the top. The name seems misplaced in Italy, but the castle is named after Montague Yeats Brown who English Consul in Genoa from 1876 to 1949 and who purchased the castle in 1867. The castle was subsequently held by some other private owners until it was eventually sold to the city of Portofino in 1961. The castle itself dates back to Roman times, well they know that the foundation stones date back to the Romans, but the first clear historical records of the castle come from the 1400s. Once at the top, one is provided with a wonderful view of Portofino below. It was really unfortunate that the day was not bathed in sunlight, but there was no mistaking the beauty of Portofino and Castello Brown provide a great location from which to view it. From the side away form Portofino we also were rewarded with another view - the more open water of the Mediterranean Sea with the waves crashing against the rocks below us. Also at the top of this fortified hill sits Chiesa di San Giorgio a Portofino - one more church on our travels named in honour of St George, who we subsequently found out was the patron saint of Portofino. The church is simple and was built in the Romanesque style starting in 1154. There is, though, evidence of previous church construction that the archeologist say dates back before the 6th century. On this day, we shared the look at the church with a cute group of young school children and their minders. We took a different route back down to sea level, and with that got a nice changing view of the harbour as we descended the hill.

      We met back up with Shaun in the harbour and then set out to tour around Portofino. There isn’t too much to see in Portofino, it is just a very quaint and pretty town on the Mediterranean. It is a feel good place to be. Our guide earlier in the day had shared an interesting tidbit of information that we considered as we looked around at some of the properties in the town - that information was that Portofino has the most expensive property values in all of Italy - with the average ringing in at €30,000 per square metre. Pricey, indeed. That would put a small 1000 sq ft (approx 93 sq m) property at just under €3 million. We saw properties listed for €7 million to €12 million - and for that, you most likely won’t even get road access to your pretty little villa nestled on the hills around Portofino - our guide had told us that parking would be near sea level and you’d need to walk up to the house. Makes one wonder how furniture and other large items are delivered to these properties. But what a view one would get, no doubt. After we walked around a while we returned to the harbour area and decided to go for some gelato. We hadn’t had lunch, but weren’t really interested in taking the time to do so - but gelato was a must. We had a few choices in and around the harbour and ended up going with the placed named after the patron saint - Gelateria Bar San Giorgio. It was a good choice, but then maybe any choice here would have been good - gelato in Italy really is a good thing.

Back to Azamara Journey and dinner at Aqualina

We made our way back to Azamara Journey in the mid-afternoon once we had felt we had seen and done all of what we had intended to do while in port. The sky was slightly clearer than it had been earlier, but still mostly cloudy and dull. We anticipated that it was going to be another bumpy ride back to the ship, and we were spot on with that prediction.

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Beyond the turbulent travel to the ship, the more disconcerting moments were once the tender reached the ship. The tender pilot worked hard to manoeuvre the tender along side Azamara Journey, but then had to keep working the controls to keep the tender next to the ship. It didn’t look easy. It also wasn’t so easy to actually step off the tender - the distance between ship and tender kept changing as did the elevation of the tender as it rode the waves. Each person would need to wait momentarily at the door for a good moment to be helped by two crew members to make the step over the flexible gap. Anyone with physical difficulties would have had a very tough time. It did feel good to be back on Azamara Journey after the short tender trip that felt anything but short.

Back onboard, we decided to grab a light bite to eat and made our way to the Pool Grill on Deck 9. We had a dinner reservation at 8:00pm at Aqualina so we weren’t going to eat much, but it was nice to grab something near the pool and then finish it off with coffees and treats at Mosaic Café on Deck 5. Following that we went back to the open Deck 10 to enjoy the views of the pretty Italian Riviera coast. It was interesting how much the ship was moving around - so we were getting changing views of Portofino, Santa Margeherita Ligure and Rapallo. It was nice to see the places we had been earlier as the ship moved and turned slowly on the Mediterranean Sea. Azamara Journey set sail from Portofino at 6:30pm and by then we had returned to our room to rest and freshen up before dinner, so it was from our balcony that we watched the departure. It was interesting how quickly the sky began to clear as the ship moved away from land. It reminded us of our departure from cloudy Copenhagen to clearing skies out in the open water on our last cruise in 2010. The ship, though, was still rolling a fair bit on its way to Saint-Tropez. We met back up with Shaun & Nona ahead of our dinner reservation intending to take a walk out on the open deck, but it was too windy to do so. Even walking in a straight line on the ship was a bit difficult this evening with the roll. Dinner at Aqualina was indeed lovely, and more than lived up to our expectations based on previous dinners at this restaurant. It was unfortunate that we weren’t able to get reservations at both of signature dining rooms on board Azamara Journey, but if it was only going to be one it would always be Aqualina for us. It was a good experience all around once again as we had now come to expect at Aqualina. We opted to skip the evening’s entertainment on offer after dinner and with that made our way back to our room for a bit of photo backup before bedtime. We could still feel the ship moving as it sailed towards Saint-Tropez. As normal, a copy of the daily programme Pursuits had been left in our room when it had been prepared for the evening, and the expected weather for Saint-Tropez was certainly better than the weather we had experience in Portofino. That was good news.

Final thoughts on our day? Well, the part of the Italian Riviera that we had toured today was extremely quaint and picturesque. The pretty old buildings looked wonderful against the rugged natural beauty of the hilly coastland. It would have been so very nice to have seen it in sunny conditions. Maybe next time. There was something that surprised us a bit - the size of these towns, they really are quite small. One more word comes to mind: memorable.

Portofino Image Gallery

View of Portofino from the tendered Azamara Journey
Colourful buildings lining the Portofino Piazzetta
Portofino Piazzetta
Ominous sky over Azamara Journey
Looking out from the Portofino harbour
Castello sul Mare (Castle-on-the-Sea) in Rapallo
Faux marble painted facades of Rapallo
Patriotic scenes in Rapallo
Santa Margherita Ligure
Statue of Vittorio Emanuele II in Santa Margherita Ligure
Inside Basilica di Santa Margherita
Looking towards the Imperiale Place Hotel in Santa Margherita Ligure
Castello di Santa Margherita Ligure
Portofino Piazzetta
Harbour view on the way up to Castello Brown
Portofino Piazzetta
Water level view of the Portofino harbour
From little working boats to luxury yachts in this harbour
About WHITEonline

WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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