Portofino’s beaches are a colorful selection, whether it’s the sea-life teeming beneath the glassy water or the rainbow of candy-colored sun umbrellas ashore. Beach-day reliability on the sheltered Italian Riviera is also ensured by three hundred days of sun per annum.
It’s not all sand. Many beaches consist of small pebbles, but then, the Riviera beach experience is not just about what’s underfoot. There’s the architecture, with the traditional gelato-colored houses of Liguria overlooking the water, many decorated with trompe l’oeil detailing and deep green shutters. Bars and restaurants pitch their seating directly onto the beaches, ensuring that beach days turn into beach evenings, with sunsets kindling the pastel seafront facades.
With the best beaches around Portofino, the differences can feel subtle (besides the odd stand-out such as San Fruttuoso). But settle into your spot, feel the sun on your back, listen to the chatter of Italian around you, and you’ll find that the distinctive characters of each will emerge. Here’s a list of the finest Portofino beaches to help you decide.
San Fruttuoso Bay
Perhaps one of the best beaches near Portofino, San Fruttuoso Bay is accessible only by water or after a worthy hike. Its remoteness is what attracted the monks to build the Abbey of San Fruttuoso here, which overlooks the beach.
The abbey is a striking architectural vision. After about a half an hour’s boat ride from Portofino, past the azure chop of the sea and the gnarled oak-wooded hills of the peninsula, the abbey comes into view. Its elegant arches skip across the top of the pebble beach while overhead, the white stone octagonal tower rises serenely.
This is a far cry from the storm-weathered monasteries of northern Europe, with the abbey overlooking what is essentially a private beach for the monks who used to live here. While the recently restored 10th century buildings are open to visitors and are very much worth your time, your first impulse, like everyone else who arrives here, is to find some space on the secluded beach, an icon of the Italian Riviera.
Or wade into the gloriously clear water of the Portofino Marine Park. If you’ve brought a snorkel, swim out to see the nine-foot Christ of the Abyss statue submerged just offshore.
Perhaps the nearest of Portofino’s beaches to the famous village itself, Paraggi Bay is reached by a twenty-minute coastal walk from Portofino’s exclusive harbor.
It’s also, of all of Portofino’s nearby beaches, the only one with sand. The bay itself is a verdant wedge of coast with lime-green shallows and tree-shaded cliffs. The well-coiffed beach is dominated by private beach clubs, although there is also public beach space.
Beyond the sand, however, lie the true riches of the bay, so be sure to bring your snorkel or hire some diving gear. Part of the Portofino Marine Park, the Blue Flag-awarded waters thrill with biodiversity. Spending an afternoon exploring shimmering seagrass meadows, spotting starfish the color of Ligurian houses, is one of the Riviera’s lesser-known treasures.
Monterosso Beach, Cinque Terre
The only sandy beach of the Cinque Terre, and easily the most spacious of the beaches found at these five fabled fishing villages, Monterosso Beach is located at the westernmost extent of the Cinque Terre. It’s easily one of the most high-profile of the various Portofino beaches.
From a bird’s-eye perspective, the beach’s regimented loungers and bright sun umbrellas contrast with the helter-skelter of terracotta rooftops as the streets clamber up the steep hillside of this seaside village. Past the golden strip of sand, the clean, shallow sea gleams emerald green and stays warm into September.
On the beach, you’ll hear the splash of gentle waves, smell lemon from the trees that flourish across the terraces, and find your toes sinking into the near-liquid warmth of the soft sand.
At the eastern side of the beach, locals dive off the rocks into the water, while on the western end, a gargantuan statue of Neptune props up Villa Pastine. Others sit with a cone of fried calamari from Il Bocconcino and observe another miraculous sunset. Monterosso Beach is one of the best beaches in Italy.
Boccadasse Beach, Genoa
Boccadasse, despite being only a short walk from the city center, feels removed from Genoa’s faded grandeur. A quintessential Ligurian fishing village that’s been absorbed into the city limits, Boccadasse offers one of the city’s nearest and most atmospheric beaches.
While the pebble beach itself is, like the neighborhood, rather bijou, it’s about more than just sunbathing acreage. The turquoise bay, its “donkey’s mouth” shape giving the village its name, slopes gently away into stripes of ultramarine from the undersea rocks. Overlooking the beach, the gozzi fishing boats lined up on the quayside and tucked into their white and fawn covers are an indication of the traditional way of life here.
In the evenings, it’s one of Genoa’s best places for an aperitivo, while the sky warms orange and the sea laps the pebbles. A number of bars operate out of the tall cinnamon and lime-colored waterfront houses, with seats available at the top of the beach.
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Vernazzola Beach, Genoa
This gorgeous, spacious Genoa beach, just east of Boccadasse, is a hive of activity in the warmer months. Rowing clubs launch their boats into the surf, children dig into the pebbly ground in roped-off family areas, and towels are flapped in the gentle breeze before alighting on the ground, large enough for one (or two at a push).
There’s an easygoing vibe in this handsome crescent bay, and with the space, even in high summer, there’s usually a spot amid the umbrellas of the Genoese. Locals swim around the small breakwaters before basking like seals on the rocks. The freshwater showers are handy, and, compared to Boccadasse, there’s an embarrassment of parking spaces.
Spiaggia di San Michele di Pagana, Rapallo
Twenty minutes walk from Rapallo, Spiaggia di San Michele di Pagana is a vibrant public beach edged by palms, shady maritime pines, and a seafront brightened by candy-striped awnings.
The beach faces out into the Gulf of Tigullio and towards the sloping coastal mountains. Come early, and the morning sun spills golden light across the sailboats and dinghies docked offshore, while the pastel facades of the buildings glow. This is a popular spot, so early arrival is recommended.
If you fancy stretching your legs, a short walk from the beach will take you to a pine-shrouded promontory out of which rises the Punta Pagana Tower. One of the few Saracen towers accessible to the public, its brick floor and rooftop cannon room have been renovated by a national charity. Access to the tower is free and the views are expansive and lovely.
Spiaggia Baia del Silenzio, Sestri Levante
Quietly positioned between two of the Riviera’s top attractions—Portofino and the Cinque Terre—is the town of Sestri Levante. This “la città dei due mari” (city of two seas), often overlooked by visitors rushing to tick off the highlights of the region, is a favorite with Italian holidaymakers.
Sestri Levante’s old town is clustered at the tip of the peninsula on which visitors puzzle over which splendid bay in which to pitch their umbrellas. The smaller of the two, and, uncommonly for Italy, beach club-free, is the Baia del Silenzio, or Bay of Silence.
Previously ranked in the Top Ten Best Beaches in Italy in a national survey, the poetically-named bay has always been viewed as the town’s “fisherman’s bay”, thanks to the colorful boats on the beach. Its sand seems milled to the perfect softness, and its diverse collection of admirers include the composer Richard Wagner and the mythological Sirens.
The waterfront comprises broad-chested buildings of historical import, their overbearing proportions softened by colorful ochre paint. At the end of the day, find a white chair at the Citto Beach Bar and pair fried anchovies with Aperol Spritz as the pelicans skim the sunset-infused seascape.
Baia della Favole, Sestri Levante
The pretty Baia della Favole (the “Bay of Fairy Tales”, named in honor of author Hans Christian Andersen, who lived in the town in 1833) is the larger of Sestri Levante’s two bays.
The soft sand bristles with parasols from the private beach clubs, although as you get closer to the Old Town you’ll find a section of spiaggia libera, or public beaches. It does get busy, however, so you might prefer to select your favorite color of parasol and secure your stretch of sand at one of the clubs.
Lively Viale Rimembranze, the palm-lined promenade that backs onto the beach, is lined with hotels, bars, and restaurants. Treat yourself after your day of sun and sea by booking into the Michelin-worthy Balin Sestri Levante for inventive, delicious cuisine made from seafood fresh caught that day.
Camogli Beach, Camogli
Driving the coastal highway past Camogli and catching a glimpse of the old town in the summer sun below the road is a snapshot of Riviera perfection.
Seafront Camogli, its pink bell tower rising beside a circular tower and a cluster of square lemon-colored buildings, is a serene piece of architectural harmony. Its beach, therefore, with such a backdrop, is already something special. Spacious and pebbly, with pops of color added by the locals’ beach umbrellas, Camogli Beach sweeps around in front of the old town, its drop-off descending gently into the glimmering shallows.
The beach and town feel interwoven, life spilling out from the alleys onto the shoreline, almost as if the beach were another piazza. Camogli’s low-key atmosphere reflects its humble fishing origins; a testament to this is the local story that the bright building fronts were a pragmatic decision intended to make the town more visible in sea fog.
The church bell tolls; it’s lunchtime. Pick yourself off the beach and hunt down a bowl of pansotti (the Riviera’s version of ravioli stuffed with wild herbs and ricotta before being sunk in the famous walnut sauce). Afterward, explore the vibrant lanes and the baroque detailing of the basilica.
Baia dei Saraceni, Varigotti
Arriving on the golden sand of Baia dei Saraceni (Saracens’ Bay) on a cloudless day in high summer is one of those perfectly satisfying vacation moments. Little more is required than the natural beauty of this bay, the pebbly beach surrounded by shining limestone cliffs with a northern headland crowned by an ancient Saracen watchtower.
Located towards the end of the western edge of the Riviera, the bay’s attractive geography ensures a line of gleaming white yachts moored offshore during summer in Italy. And, even among Portofino’s beaches in its marine park, Saracens’ Bay enjoys strikingly clear seas. Don your mask and snorkel and dive in.
The village of Varigotti itself, located around the headland, is also a rather unique piece of the Ligurian coastline. Its brightly-colored architecture bears north African influences, and the buildings front directly onto the sand.
Walk the alleys of its old town, and you’ll eventually be drawn to another of its beautiful, if more crowded, beaches, the Ca’ dei Mori. This is a good place to hire a kayak and launch into the mellow summer seas.
Spiaggia di Zoagli, Zoagli
East along the coast from Rapallo, Zoagli Beach is one of the best beaches near Portofino. It’s also somehow managed to maintain a relatively low profile.
Looking out onto the picturesque Gulf of Tigullio, Zoagli town climbs the lower elevations of the wooded hills of the Ligurian coast. Its jumble of colorful buildings is intersected by Zoagli’s major landmark: a handsome railway viaduct. The town is a popular spot for walkers, with a series of paths rambling through including a rewarding cliff walk to the nearby village of San Pietro di Rovereto.
At the viaduct’s feet, you’ll find Zoagli Beach, the peaceful shoreline dramatically backed by the vaulting arches. Its pebbles sink into turquoise shallows, and snorkelers can spot the Madonna del Mare sculpture sunk offshore. Another characterful element of the beach is the pair of Saracen towers (the eastern one is accessible to the public) standing as proof of the enduring magnetism of the Riviera through the ages.
See Italy’s beaches for yourself on a cruise to Portofino and discover shimmering coves, translucent surf, and chic waterfront cafés. Browse our cruise itineraries online and book a memorable vacation to a destination of effortless glamor.