disability cruising, Handicap, Traveling with disabilities

Disabled Cruisers Guide to Portofino, Italy

Portofino, Italy

Portofino is port town and resort vacation destination popular for its scenic harbor and historical association with famous artists and celebrities. The town is part of the metro city Genoa on the Italian Riviera.

Portofino is clustered around its small harbor, and is famous for the colorful buildings along its coastline. The city is picturesquely situated in a cove at the southeastern tip of a promontory of the same name. The port of Portofino owes its popularity to its splendid setting, agreeable climate and luxuriant vegetation. Tourists are able to enjoy the unique ambiance, quaint cafes and chic boutiques that overlook the yacht harbor. Explore the surrounding coastline with its tiny villages tucked away in hidden coves. 

Walking is the best way to see everything in Portofino as no cars are allowed in the village. Highlights include the harbor area, The Brown Castle and Museo del Parco. A footpath leads from the village to the church and 15th Century fortress of San Giorgio. Beyond this is the lighthouse of Punto Portofino.

Many upscale shops line the alleyways surrounding the main plaza (Piazzetta) including Armani, Dolce and Gabbana and Missoni. Olive or walnut oil and “macrame lace” created by women in the village and surrounding towns are popular souvenirs, as the regional favourite Trofie (handmade pasta).

The closest sandy beach is at the Bay of Paraggi in Santa Margherita.

Portofino is a tender port – Ships have to anchor off Portofino and tender passengers ashore by boat. When tendering is required, guests using mobility devices will not be transferred into or out of the tender. Many tender ports do not provide wheelchair access so even if the guest can board the tender they may not be able to disembark ashore. Again the shore-side facilities, movement of the tender, weather and tidal conditions can also preclude tendering.

The disabled cruiser visiting Portofino would regard Portofino as very wheelchair-friendly. The harbor-front is flat with mild cobblestone and no cars are allowed in the village.  The main shopping area of Portofino is flat and suitable for a wheelchair. However, you may encounter steps to get into some of the shops.

If you are in need of a wheelchair or scooter in port there is a company that specializes in providing scooters and wheelchairs at cruise ports, including Portofino. Since it looks like an American company, and they are likely acting as an agent for some local provider.

Where You’re Docked

Portofino is an anchorage port. Passengers transfer to shore via ship’s tender.

Portofino is a tender port. Tenders arrive at the yacht moorage in the center of town. Some larger ships may be required to tender off the coast of Santa Margherita, two miles south, and passengers are taken by bus into Portofino.

Once you exit the tender, you can spend quite awhile viewing the luxurious yachts that surround you. Otherwise, you can amble around the main plaza (the Piazzetta), up to the church (St. Martin), back down again, and stick your head into any one of the upscale shops that line the alleyways. Armani, Dolce and Gabbana, and Missoni all have retail outlets in Portofino too — but don’t expect steep discounts.

Getting Around

If you are just visiting the town of Portofino for the day, walking is the best way to see everything. If you are going to other areas, you can walk to Santa Margherita Ligure along the seawall or you can take a shuttle bus (arriving every 20 minutes), cab (both available at the main plaza), or by Tigullio ferry (the times vary from season to season). 


Ordinarily we would have said to buy a bottle of the local olive oil or walnut oil that helps make the region famous, but with airline restrictions on carrying liquids, we have to change direction. Portofino is also well-known for its “macrame lace,” which is created by women in the village and surrounding towns as taught by their mothers and grandmothers before them. And you can at least bring home a package of trofie, a handmade pasta that’s a regional favorite.

Cuisine in the Ligurian region of Italy combines the best of the fresh seafood available (in seacoast towns) and the best of the region’s special fresh herbs, olive oil and nuts. Pesto was “invented” in this area, the basil leaves being small, light-colored and sweet. The local olive oil is lighter too than in other regions. An abundance of pine nuts, chestnuts and walnuts play a large part in regional fare as well.

If there is one specialty that’s typically regional, it would be “pansotti,” a large triangular-shaped ravioli filled with cheese and herbs or vegetables and covered with a walnut sauce. Most of the trattorias serve these and other regional fare along with the Ligurian version of bouillabaisse, a fish and seafood stew in a tomato base.

Local dishes include ‘frisceu di baccala’ (salt cod fritters), ‘torta pasqualina’ (chard pie) and ‘paciugo’ (fresh cherry ice cream).

Points of Interest

  • St. George Sanctuary – If you’re going to be in Portofino in the middle of summer, take an early tender to avoid the heat for this walk. At the western end of the yacht harbor is a trail that has you walking uphill quite a ways (about 15 minutes for a good walker, half an hour for a slower walker). The scenery is absolutely beautiful and the trail is easy. During the Roman period, the sanctuary had a dual role: church and observation fortress. Indeed, the views from here are spectacular, down to the town and to the sea, with the boats and yachts in the harbor and the hills covered in flowers, vines and trees. 

  • The Brown Castle – Just 10 minutes further uphill from the church (via a steep stairway), you come to this crenellated fortress, originally built in the 1400’s (and added onto over time) as a lookout over the northern Tyrrhenian Sea and the Tigullio Gulf to protect the region from marauding Turks. The architecture and artifacts are worth the price of admission, but the spectacular views are priceless.  Continue up another 10 minutes, through pine forests with well-marked trails, and you will come to the faro, or lighthouse, with a view over the entire promontory and as far as Genoa.

  • Museo del Parco – This outdoor sculpture garden features works from many Italian artists. It’s spectacular to see these sculptures while looking out over the yacht harbor and the sea as you stroll up the path. It is an incline, but not too steep; the paths zig-zag as they climb.

  • San Fruttuoso di Camogli – The incredibly gorgeous 10th-century Benedictine Abbey (Abbazia di San Fruttuoso) tucked into a cleft in the cliffs, is worth a visit for the scenery that surrounds it as well as for a glimpse of the church itself. If you start out early enough, you can walk through the national park and over the promontory (about two hours) and take a boat back, or you can take the boat roundtrip.

  • Rapallo and the Funicular to Santuario di Montallegro – You can take a boat from the dock in Portofino to Rapallo. Then, in the center of town, you can take the funicular, which was built in the 1930’s, to the top of the mountain (a seven-minute ride) to see the exquisite 16th-century Sanctuary of Montallegro, 600 meters (1,970 feet) above the town. 

Portofino Accessible Excursions

When most people think about visiting Italy, they think of Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. Few people think about visiting Portofino, but there really is so much Italian culture and medieval history to experience here.

Best of Italian Riviera Accessible Driving Tour

Your 8 hour accessible driving tour of the Italian Riviera will begin when your guide and driver pick you up from the cruise terminal in a wheelchair accessible van that visits Genoa, Santa Margherita, and Portofino. You will begin in Genoa where you will see the Palazzi dei Rolli, a group of palaces and mansions used by prominent Genoese families during the time of the Republic of Genoa.

You will also see the Piazza de Ferrari, the heart of the modern town, as it compares to the “carruggi” or narrow alleys of the Historical City Center, which is also one of the best preserved old city centers in Europe.

The next stop on your Italian Riviera accessible driving tour is Santa Margherita Ligure, which you will get to by driving along the scenic coastal roads through Recco, where you will have a very wide panoramic view of the Tigullio Gulf, and great photo opportunities.

Once in Santa Margherita Ligure, you will have lunch in an accessible Italian restaurant before visiting the Waterfront Promenade harbor and fish market. Afterwards your guide will take you to the Villa Durrazo, a 17th century estate and botanical gardens. Then enjoy the next stop on the tour, the Basilica of Santa Margherita of Antioch, with its stunning Baroque interior. You will also have the option to visit an accessible beach in Santa Margherita Ligure.

The final stop on your accessible Italian Riviera driving tour is Portofino, where you will drive through the Portofino Regional National Park, home to one of the world’s largest concentration of Mediterranean flora, including olive trees and chestnut trees. Walk/roll along the seaside promenade to see the picturesque shops and luxury yachts in the harbor.

At the end of your Italian Riviera accessible driving tour, your guide and driver will drop you back off at the cruise terminal.

The Best of Italian Riviera Accessible Driving Tour uses a wheelchair accessible van and follows a step-free route. You will encounter mild cobblestones and the guides are unable to push a wheelchair.

Santa Margherita & Portofino Accessible Guided Tour

The Santa Margherita & Portofino 6 hour Accessible Guided Tour includes accessible transportation, panoramic views, focaccia tasting, and is an excellent way to enjoy the natural beauty of the Italian Riviera. You will have several opportunities to take photos and experience a part of Italy you’ll be glad you didn’t miss.

Your Santa Margherita and Portofino accessible guided tour will begin when your guide and driver pick you up from the cruise terminal in a wheelchair accessible van, you will have several photo opportunities and spectacular panoramic views along the coastal highway.

You will see the Portofino Regional National Park, with one of the highest concentration of Mediterranean plant life, including chestnut trees and olive trees. You will also walk/roll along the quays to see the luxury yachts, picturesque beaches, and trendy boutiques. Before leaving for Santa Margherita Ligure, you will stop at a local bakery for a taste sampling of the local specialty; focaccia, including the famous “focaccia al formaggio.”

Next, you will drive to Santa Margherita Ligure, and along the way you will have more opportunities to take photos at panoramic viewpoints. Once in Santa Margherita, you will walk/roll along the waterfront promenade to see the harbor and fish market. Your guide will take you to visit the 17th century Basilica of Santa Margherita of Antioch, including the stunning baroque interior.

Afterwards, you will visit the Villa Durazzo and its beautiful, wheelchair accessible gardens, before breaking for lunch in an accessible, authentic Italian restaurant. On the way back to the cruise terminal, you will have more panoramic views and opportunities to stop and photograph the beautiful coastline of the Tigullio Gulf.

The Santa Margherita & Portofino Accessible Guided Tour uses a wheelchair accessible van and follows a step-free route. However, you will encounter mild cobblestones and the guides are unable to push a wheelchair.

For Portofino Accessible Excursions please click here.



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