Don't panic! The Portofino Regional Park is not really as steep as our photograph above seems to suggest. There's a path in there somewhere because this was taken looking backwards on the San Rocco trail and we were only a few minutes into the walk at that time, but it was a very gentle downhill I assure you. At the top is the little community of San Rocco and in the distance on the left is Camogli, which will be the subject of a separate article, but at the very least this photograph will give you a sense of the extraordinary beauty of this part of Liguria.
It’s a good thing that this park was designated and protected as long ago as 1935 because it’s such an attractive area that otherwise it would have probably been developed. I can’t imagine a better environment for hiking and the park authorities have done a great job making it accessible for everyone. There are 50 miles of well-marked trails that criss cross the peninsula and connect the towns of Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino and Camogli. You can see how many different trails there are from the picture above, which is in fact a photograph of the large information board that you will see at regular intervals throughout the park when you’re out walking and need to get your bearings. Note also the QR codes at the bottom so you can immediately access further information in both Italian and English.
Not only is this an area of outstanding natural beauty but the trails themselves are generally very well maintained and well-marked with frequent sign posts. Liguria is often plagued by some powerful winter deluges and hiking trails perched on the edge of mountains are one of the first things to be adversely affected.
The San Rocco trail (on the left side of the map above), which is the second trail that we describe below, is currently being rebuilt in places after a recent landslide and further south the famous Cinque Terre Blue Trail always seems particularly vulnerable and has been partly closed for some time now, requiring at least another year until 2022 at the earliest before it can be fully opened again after landslides.
The screenshot above is taken from the park’s website at www.parcoportofino.it where they have a whole series of these maps showing individual trails. This one shows just the first two sections of the first route that we describe below.
All of the trails ultimately connect to the three local towns mentioned above as well as Rapallo and there are a total of five embarkation points for the various boat services that travel around the coastal perimeter of the park so it’s not always necessary to do an out and back walk. Returning by boat is generally an option but planning the whole thing can get complicated because there is more than one boat service involved and their routes vary.
Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino:
There are two choices for this walk. The easy one that takes only one hour and has no hills involved is the path alongside the road. This is just over 3 miles and is a little boring but still worthwhile for a little exercise if the goal is simply to have lunch in Portofino.
The second option which we prefer is to leave Santa Margherita and head slightly inland to Nozarego then Gave before descending to Paraggi and completing the final short stretch into Portofino on the path just above the road. This will take no more than 1 hour 40 minutes and involves some steepish uphill sections but worthwhile for the views you earn. This is the route described below:
1. The sign above is the start and you can find it at the southern end of the harbor in Santa Margherita Ligure just steps from the sea where Via Jacopo Ruffini meets Via Milite Ignoto (right behind the tiny IP gas station).
2. As salita suggests, it's uphill. You're heading in the direction of Nozarego and right around the first corner there's this very colorful building (above left). Continuing the ascent you'll quickly come to a small chapel (above right) before a wide local road. Turn right here and you'll have your first views of the town behind you.
3. Only 100 yards past the chapel you'll need to take the left uphill paved path rather than continuing on the road. You'll notice the red markings which identify the path you're on and you can periodically check these on the large information boards that are at various points on all the trails.
4. There's a lot of steady uphill sections from this point until Gave, interspersed with flatter parts, but the total time from the start to the end of the uphill is about 50 minutes or about 2 miles.
5. As you near the highest point there are plenty of views to enjoy south across the gulf of Tigullio and when you get to the next chapel (Cappelletta di Gave) it's all downhill from here. Stay on the left path (with the three red dots) downhill towards Paraggi and Portofino Mare (not Portofino Vetta, which means 'peak' or 'summit' and is a long way in the wrong direction) and a few yards into the descent there's a drinking water tap on the right hand side. This is a good place to take a break.
6. You're now just over half way and all the climbing is finished. From here down to the sea at Paraggi there are a lot of concrete steps to navigate rather than a smooth path but it's no more than 20 minutes. Strange to see abandoned properties in such a desirable location.
7. At Paraggi there's a small beach and a few restaurants but if the goal of the walk here is reach Portofino there's only about 25 minutes left with no uphill. When you get to the beach in Paraggi turn right and at the end of the beach you'll see the steps up to the path above the road signposted to Portofino (below right).
8. And then finally you arrive in Portofino so you can watch tourists watching tourists, buy yourself an expensive Louis Vuitton handbag, eat an egregiously overpriced lunch, hear only foreign accents, gawk at the big ugly yachts spoiling the harbor and gaze at the same colored buildings that you've already seen in Santa Margherita Ligure. But now at least you can cross it off your list and have earned the right to be as critical as I am, or maybe you'll like it. Lots of people do.
The return journey will be a bit of a struggle with all the steps to negotiate if you've had a big lunch so the better choice may be to take the 15 minute boat ride back.
If you either make a navigational error somewhere or are feeling strong and decide to turn right at Gave and walk all the way to San Fruttuoso, this is the ancient abbey where you should be able to get a boat back to Santa Margherita Ligure.
San Rocco to Punta Chiappa or Batterie:
You can start this walk in Camogli if you want but, as you can see from the very first photo at the top of the article, this would involve an initial uphill section just to reach the start of this particular trail at San Rocco. Otherwise, you can drive to San Rocco until you reach the car park at the end of Viale Franco Molfino, but on busy weekends it may be difficult to find a spot which is why you'll typically see cars parked all along the road. Park where you can and as long as you're not actually blocking someone else you'll be fine.
This is not a particularly strenuous walk and if you want sunset pictures of Camogli then late afternoon is the time to start, which is what we did. San Rocco itself is worth a visit even if you don't plan to do much walking because of its great views of Camogli. It's a small community with some shops, bars and restaurants so just doing the 40 minute walk up from Camogli for a meal or a cocktail with an easy descent back is another option.
Nonna Nina is always a down to earth and reliable restaurant (below left photo). It's unpretentious and good value and we've never been disappointed eating there. A part of the laid back atmosphere of San Rocco.
The start of the walk is easy to find because it's simply at the end of the road. Almost immediately you'll see a bar inside the rock wall and a few outdoor tables with hikers milling around who have returned thirsty or people just enjoying the views with a drink in hand.
San Rocco is about 700 feet above sea level so the walk to Punta Chiappa is mostly descent and takes less than 1 hour to cover about 1.75 miles. There are fabulous views of Camogli and the coastline as you descend and at Punta Chiappa there is a long flatish rock at the very end with easy access into the water if you feel like a dip. More importantly there are several restaurants and a ferry stop so if you walked up to San Rocco from Camogli taking the boat back from Punta Chiappa is a pleasant way to finish the day.
We'd have more photographs to show you if we hadn't already drained the camera battery, but you can't really get lost on this trail and the early evening view below of Camogli is as good as any of the others that you'll see lower down on the trail at Punta Chiappa.
For the more adventurous, if you're staying in Sant Margherita Ligure a longer excursion idea would be to take the train to Camogli, walk up to San Rocco, take a break there, then do the 3 hour hike to San Fruttuoso and return from there by boat to Sant Margherita Ligure.
There are many other combinations of train, walk and ferry to suit individual preferences and the best place to plan one is the Parco di Portofino website linked at the start of this article.