Frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea, soaking up the sun, sipping a perfectly chilled rosato (Italian-style rosé) and savoring seafood spaghetti are all part of summer vacation fantasies. At least that was for me, and that’s why I planned a vacation to the Italian Riviera at the end of June. We stayed in a quaint fishing village on the Golfo Paradiso in Liguria, the crescent-shaped coastal region of northwest Italy that is home to Portofino’s glamorous hotspot, larger but still darling Santa Margherita Ligure, and some smaller, less crowded towns that are well worth exploring. During this magical stay, one place in particular – San Fruttuoso – somewhere that hadn’t even been on my radar before taking off, left an indelible mark.
A Ligurian idyll a bit off the beaten track, San Fruttuoso is a sheltered spit nestled between the Portofino Regional Nature Park and the blue sea that feels like a true escape. A trip here presents the perfect opportunity to enjoy relaxing seaside fun, beautiful scenery and authentic Italian cuisine. Although technically a cove, it gives off a lot of Mediterranean island vibes. No doubt that’s because it’s separated from the rest of the Portofino headland by unspoiled wilderness and most people take a boat – either the ferry, an organized tour or a private boat – to get there. The other way to access this hidden gem? Walk! Hiking trails wind through the forested Camogli Mountain. The views from the sea are truly breathtaking. Although we didn’t do it with a baby, I’m told the views from the green hillside paths are also quite stunning. Once you get off the boat (or reach the bottom of the trail), the full extent of this little treasure is in focus.
The bathing beach has smooth pebbles and clear tides which are protected by rocky outcrops. I highly recommend arriving early to rent chairs and umbrellas. Shelling out a few euros to post in style also grants access to a demarcated section of the pristine bay. Otherwise, you’re subdued trying to find a few feet to roll out a towel in the crowded back corner. Regardless of a squashed or spacious perch, the vistas still dazzle all the same. Plus, time spent lounging is nothing like happy hours spent in the calm, warm, yet refreshing water available to you just steps away. On the man-made beauty front, the Abbey of San Fruttuoso, erected by Greek monks in the 10th century, is incredibly striking. When paired with the imposing Torre Doria built in 1562, it creates the kind of visual you would never imagine seeing on a travel brochure – truly unlike anything I’ve encountered IRL.
Fancy some food (and maybe a glass of wine) after all the splashing and splashing? You will find a handful of restaurants. All serve simple and delicious Ligurian dishes, like grilled fish and pasta with lobster, as well as local varietals such as Vermentino. Keep in mind that limited dining options mean things book up quickly. I ran over to Da Giorgio when we docked and was able to reserve a table by the window overlooking the postcard worthy view just below for later in the afternoon. But if you’d rather avoid the mad rush and risk of no availability, it’s probably a good idea to call ahead. In case you were wondering, the mussels and daily fresh catch at Da Giorgio were excellent. Another great option for lunch with a view, Da Giovanni has a lovely seaside terrace and everyone who ate there seemed very pleased with the generous portions of fritto misto. Da Laura’s tables spill out onto the gravel under the arches of the Abbey of San Fruttuoso, making for a uniquely atmospheric spot to dig into a plate of pesto lasagnettes.
San Fruttuoso doesn’t really have any accommodations – except for a humble seasonal Airbnb – so your best bet for a more luxurious vacation is to stay in one of the nearby towns that are a little more tourist-friendly. A longtime favorite of A-listers – Elizabeth Taylor has pasta named after her and it’s where Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker recently married – Splendido, A Belmond Hotel exudes majestic grandeur, overlooks Portofino Bay filled with sparkling yachts, boasts an iconic infinity pool and serves the best linguine alle vongole I’ve ever tasted. Located in the pedestrian town of Santa Margherita Ligure, Blu di Te House flaunts individually designed rooms and chic common areas, plus a spa that feels like a best-kept secret
With winter fast approaching, nothing stands in the way of planning Italian Riviera adventures for summer 2023. In fact, now is the perfect time to start thinking about flights, to room reservations and dazzling day trips to San Fruttuoso before anyone else.