Written by Missy Johnston
Fly into Genoa to board your yacht. After you meet your crew and view the itinerary, explore Genoa, the reputed home of Christopher Columbus. The captain will arrange a tour of this legendary maritime gem including a trip to La Spianata de Castrelleto for an amazing view of the city. Stroll the labyrinthine streets past medieval churches to see the Columbus House and the Renaissance palazzo on the Via Garibaldi. Then walk to the magnificent Piazza Mateo, visit the superbly restored Palazzo Ducale, the impressive Church of Gesu and the majestic black and white-striped façade of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. Dinner on board.
In the morning cruise to Camogli. Situated at the edge of the large promontory and nature reserve known as the Portofino Peninsula, it has always been a town of sailors. The name Camogli is a contraction of Casa Mogli (Wives’ House) from the days when the women ran the town while the men spent months at sea with the town’s huge fishing fleet. Today, the fleet is much smaller and the men have resumed control of civic affairs. Piles of fishing nets filled with sleeping cats cover the docks along the massive 17th century seawall. Multicolor houses and remarkably deceptive trompe-l’oeil frescoes mark this appealing harbor community, perhaps as beautiful as Portofino but without the glamour. When exploring on foot, don’t miss the boat-filled second harbor, which is reached by ducking under a narrow archway at the northern end of the first one. At the end of the harbor, built into sheer rock is the Castello della Dragonara which houses the Acqario (Aquarium).
In the morning, sail to enchanting Portofino, a national monument and playground of the rich and famous. One of the most photographed villages along the coast, with a decidedly romantic and affluent aura, Portofino has long been a popular destination for foreigners. Once an ancient Roman colony and taken by the Republic of Genoa in 1229, it has also been ruled by the French, English, Spanish, and Austrians, as well as marauding bands of 16th-century pirates. Elite British tourists first flocked to the lush harbor in the mid-1800s. Stroll around the promenade between the harbor and brightly colored chops. Walk to Punta del Capo, shop at exclusive boutiques and relax with a coffee at one of the Piazzetta’s cafes. Enjoy panoramic views of the sparkling bay from the Church of San Giorgio, the medieval fortress of Castello di San Giorgio and the Punta del Capo lighthouse. Relax with cocktails and dinner on board.
After breakfast, it’s a short cruise to Santa Margherita Ligure. A beautiful old resort town favored by well-to-do Italians, Santa Margherita Ligure has everything a Riviera playground should have — plenty of palm trees and attractive hotels and cafés. Some of the older buildings here are still decorated on the outside with the trompe-l’oeil frescoes typical of this part of the Riviera. Wander through the town before dinner on board.
In the morning cruise to the Cinqueterre, which takes its name from the five small villages – Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore and Vernazza – that defiantly cling to the inhospitably rugged Ligurian coastline. They are, and have been for many centuries, practically inaccessible by land due to the harsh, steep terrain which juts up at their backs. The best way to see them is to dinghy from the yacht to the base of each village.
Each of the Cinqueterre towns has something different to offer. Monterosso has the most famous beach, a 16th-century Capucchin monastery with some fine paintings, and an ancient castle. There are great views of the other towns in Corniglia, along with a more secluded beach. Vernazza, perhaps the most dramatic, juts straight out over the water, with crashing waves below to the left and a postage stamp boat harbor to the right. High above are the ramparts of a ruined medieval tower. Riomaggiore is hopelessly picturesque, a beehive of crumbling pastel-colored houses tumbling down to the horseshoe-shaped dock, and great snorkeling. Manarola also has excellent swimming off the rocks. An authentic fishing village, it is probably the most genuine of the “lands.” One of the best ways to see the Cinqueterre is to hike the many trails that join them. All Riviera di Levante tourist offices can supply maps of the sentieri (paths), many of which have been marked by the Italian Alpine Club.
Return to Portofino for one last night in this lovely picturesque village, perhaps with dinner at the Hotel Splendido.
Disembark at Portofino.