Portofino Peninsula: Ferry Boat Frenzy

It was almost noon in Italy, meaning I unintentionally slept the entire morning away after experiencing the Italian nightlife. I had no real plans for the day but I knew I wasn’t about to sit around doing nothing. I heard about a ferry that takes you from Rapollo around the Portofino Peninsula. The ferry would depart from Rapollo and stop in Santa Margherita, San Fruttuoso and Portofino. It was such a last-minute plan that I didn’t even have anyone to go with. However, I posted on a Facebook group to see if anyone was interested to go on the day trip with me. To my luck a girl, Amanda, responded. I agreed to meet this girl that I have never met at the Genoa Brignoli Train Station. I had 30 minutes to get dressed, pack my bag and book it to the catch a bus to get to the train station. When I arrived at the train station I easily found Amanda. We quickly began talking and went to buy our train tickets.

Genoa Brignoli Train Station

The train ride was short and soon we were in Rapollo , a sea-side town in the Italian Riviera. Every detail of Rapallo was simply adorable. Even the sidewalks were adorned with stone mosaics in a flower design. Walking through this quaint town to find the port, I kept having to remind myself that this was only the departure point. I was already falling for the charm of the Italian Riviera and we still had so much more to see.

Rapallo, Italy

Rapallo mosaics on the ground

A short walk through town brought us to the sea.  Astonishingly, there is a sand beach in Rapollo ! Sand beaches are hard to come by in the Italian Riviera, most of the beaches are rocky. I allowed a few minutes to walk through the sand and dip my feet in the cool Ligurian Sea. From the beach, I could see the coast of Rapallo. The shore was lined with palm trees, art nouveau hotels and even a small castle. I could stay here all day. Alas we had a ferry to catch. We easily found the ferry and bought our one-way ticket, thinking we could just take a train from the last stop. In our hurried decision-making, we thought you could stop at each port with the one-way ticket. Oblivious yet blissful, we made our way to the top of the ferry, where we could see it all. From the top deck, I got a better view of the castle. Castello di Rapallo, the castle of Rapallo is a medieval castle surrounded by water and connected by a pier. It has been used as a king’s house and even a prison.

Beach in Rapallo, Italy

Rapallo, Italy

It was a quick ferry ride to our first stop, Santa Margherita. It was so picturesque. Small boats dotted the water and the town was built up on the hills. The first thing that caught our eye was what looked like a small fort on the water front. We headed straight there. When we made it inside, we were surprised to see that it had been converted into an art gallery. This was not what I was expecting to see. The view of the fort was pretty great but the view from it was spectacular! The fort offered a panoramic view of Santa Margherita. There were even lounge chairs set up where you can relax and take in the view.

Santa Margherita fort

View from Santa Margherita fort

View from Santa Margherita fort

We made our way up the hillside to a church atop the hill, Santa Margherita d’Antiochia. It was only a short walk up and the view was amazing. From the top of the hill it appears as if the stairs lead straight to the sea. In order to enter churches in Italy, you must have your knees and shoulders covered. As we were dressed  in bathing suits and sundresses, we knew that we weren’t dressed appropriately. Even though we weren’t able to go inside the church, the view from the stairs was well worth the climb.

Santa Margherita church

Santa Margherita, Italy

In the search for food, we headed downhill. The ornately painted buildings of the Italian Riviera seem especially flamboyant in Santa Margherita. The architecturally simple buildings were painted in vibrant hues. Each detail including the shutters, bricks, curtains and even people are painted on the facade of the buildings.  The promenade was lined with cafes and sea-side restaurants, the umbrellas of the tables covering the walkway. We opted for sandwiches from a cafe, which only cost 2 Euro for a tomato and mozzarella panini to-go. The prices for food in Italy is often cheaper if you take it to go then if you eat it at the cafe.

Santa Margherita, Italy

Santa Margherita, Italy

After finishing our sandwiches, we headed past the boat dock to a beach to relax on some rocks for a bit. Now we were taking full advantage of the rocky coast. We were completely relaxed until we realized that we had to make this ferry in order to have sufficient time at our next stop. We gathered up our things, didn’t even get dressed and ran to where the ferry was docked. We didn’t make it in time, the ferry had already left. Now we had to wait an hour for the next ferry to arrive and we would only have 30 minutes in our next stop, San Fruttuoso. Not wanting to miss the next ferry out of Santa Margherita, we found rocks to sunbath on by the dock. It was one golden hour of relaxation in the riviera, simply soaking up the sun and taking in the views around us. Out of no where, we looked up to see the ferry boarding. We had completely lost track of time in our state of relaxation. The ferry ramp was being extracted yet we made it just in time. The crew allowed us to still board the ferry.

Santa Margherita, Italy

Santa Margherita, Italy

The next stop was Portofino. I watched in awe as our ferry weaved through the fishing boats and yachts. This place was an actual paining that I couldn’t wait to explore. The majority of the passengers departed yet we remained on the ferry. We were saving Portofino as our last stop. First, we had to go to San Fruttuoso. We were some of the only people left on the ferry but I knew we couldn’t miss this stop. San Fruttuoso is a small village grouped around a benedict abbey that is only accessible by boat or by foot. It is hard to get to, enticing me to want to go even more-so.

Portofino, Italy

The boat ride to San Fruttuoso was phenomenal. Our boat followed the rugged coastline all the way there. The mountains jutted out of the sea to create this beautiful coast. My eyes were wide the entire ride. This scenery was just too unreal. San Fruttuoso Abbey laid nestled amid the rugged coast’s lush mountainside. From afar it looked harsh and dramatic. The closer we got, the more enchanting it became. The water here was so blue and crystal clear. I was torn between wanting to swim in the crystal clear water and wanting to explore. We only had 30 minutes so we had to use our time wisely.

Rugged Coast, Italian Riviera

San Fruttuouso, Italy

We took the stairs up to where the church was.  Underneath the abbey there was a passage way to the sea. There were so many things to be seen. It was a wonderful maze of endless exploration. We choose to continue up the mountain to Doria Tower. The stairs were steep. By the time I got to the tower, I was out of breath. I’m not very good with stairs. Continuing down another path, there was a small house equip with it’s own well. How weird would it be to live in a place like this that is so isolated from the rest of society. As this thought of isolation crossed my mind, I looked down and noticed that people were already boarded on the ferry. This is the last ferry leaving from San Futtuoso for the night and we couldn’t get stranded here. The only way back would be to hike. I was wearing flip-flops and if I couldn’t handle the staircase, then there was no way I could handle hiking the entire mountain. We sprinted down the side of the mountain, through the abbey, took the passage to the beach and did not slow down until we reached the dock. We somehow made it, seconds before the boat was to depart. When we were about to get on the ferry though, they told us that our ticket wasn’t good for the next stop. For some reason we thought that you could go to all the stop in any order. We clearly didn’t think that one through. We had to buy another ticket to get to our next stop, Portofino. At least we wouldn’t be stranded in San Fruttuoso.

San Fruttuoso, Italy

San Fruttuoso, Italy

Finally, we arrived in Portofino. This time, we were getting off the boat to explore. The sun washed jewel toned buildings drew us into the town. These colorfully painted buildings in Portofino stand tall, side-by-side lining the shore. It was hard to drag myself away from this view. Yet, we cut through a narrow alley-way among the wall of buildings to delve further into the sea-side town. We had intended to take a train from Portofino back to Genoa, where we were staying. While exploring the town, we realized that there wasn’t a train station in Portofino. Oh well, we could just take the next ferry back to Rapallo.

Portofino, Italy

Portofino is one of the nicest places I have ever been. Men were sipping champagne on their yachts and women were strutting around in couture outfits. I felt that I looked nice, until I stepped foot in Portofino. Now, I appeared sloppy and underdressed in comparison. Adding to the luxury, there was a castle, Castello Brown on top of a hill that we wanted to explore but we didn’t have time. We walked up a little way then realized that there was no way we would make it to the castle and down to the dock in time. Rather we took a stroll around an upper garden that offered us a birds eye view of the port below. I’ve come to the conclusion that there in no bag angle of Portofino.

Portofino, Italy

Since we only bought a ferry ticket to Portofino, intending to catch a train, we would probably have to buy yet another ferry ticket. We scrounged up our coins because we couldn’t find an ATM anywhere in sight.  There was still a little time before the last ferry departed at 19:00 (7:00 p.m.) and we were in the mood for gelato. To our disappointment, no one took credit card and we had a limited supply of euros on us that we had to save to get back. Time continued to pass and the ferry was no where in sight. At this point we became very skeptical. Waling over to where the ferry was supposed to be docked, I saw a sign posted for the ferry schedule. I already had a ferry schedule on me, yet this one had one important difference. The last ferry departure at 19:00 was crossed off of the sign with a sharpie! That can’t be an official way to do things. We were screwed. Or so we thought.

Portofino, Italy

I pictured ourselves having to bag someone who has a boat for a ride to the nearest town with a train station. We thought for sure this time we were stranded in the Italian Riviera. I could barely afford to breath the air in this town, I was sure a hotel would cost a pretty penny. We walked over to where there was a taxi boat service. Taking a taxi boat would cost 80 euros per person. No thank you! Sensing our hesitation, the boat taxi driver suggested that we take the last bus to Santa Margherita. From there we could take a train. The bus would be leaving soon so we had to run to find the bus stop. Somehow we managed to make it in time. We jumped on the over crowded bus for a surprisingly short ride to Santa Margherita. The bus only cost 2 euros and took 20 minutes. It probably would’ve been an hour walk.

Portofino, Italy

Turns out we weren’t as stranded as we felt. We experienced that gut wrenching fear that we were stranded everywhere in the Portofino Peninsula yet little did we know everything is accessible by foot. Apparently I couldn’t manage to catch a ferry in time and I had no clue what type of public transportation was accessible in each town. This is what happens when I try to be spontaneous. I didn’t make set plans, I barely had a clue where I was going or who I was going with. All I knew were pictures I had seen and the short blurb on the Portofino Peninsula that I read in my travel guide. Yes, I was unprepared. But sometimes, travel is better that way. I had little expectations and ended up being blown away by everything I saw that day.  It was ones of those epic adventures with a total stranger turned new friend, where everything goes wrong but is so right.

Italian Riviera


More Information

Company: Traghetti Portofino (Tigullio – Marine Lines)

Line 1: Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, San Fruttuoso

Cost: € 11,00 (One Way) ; € 16,50 (Round Trip) 


22 thoughts on “Portofino Peninsula: Ferry Boat Frenzy

  1. Pingback: Genoa: Two Day Itinerary | Come Join My Journey

  2. veronica

    Portofino, a very popular destination with Italian celebrities and it is clear to see why…it is so stunning. Looking at these pictures makes me proud to have been born in such a beautiful country. I can’t wait to visit this place 🙂 thanks for sharing x

  3. Rimsha

    Your photos are so gorgeous and I had so much fun reading about your experience! Would love to visit myself one day – it wasn’t on my itinerary last time I went to Italy but is definitely on my bucket list now 🙂

  4. Sophie

    I love trips that turn into adventures that you remember for a lifetime. A happy accident, and even when you don’t have it all planned out you get to see something new or live like a local. I had this happen a lot in Spain when I would decide to just pick a bus and a destination to explore without actually reading up or planning anything in advance. I am going to have to check out the places you mentioned though, definitely enticing!

  5. Lara

    This looks amazing, I seriously can’t stop looking at these gorgeous photos! After reading this I’m definitely going to have to go 🙂

  6. Ishita

    Amazing photos!! Your day sounds like such an adventure missing ferries and last minute bus rides. Haha what fun to think of it now, no??

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