Frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea, soaking up the sun, sipping perfectly chilled rosato (Italian-style rosé), and savoring seafood spaghetti is the stuff of summer vacation fantasies. At least it was for me, and that’s why I planned a holiday to the Italian Riviera in late June. We stayed in a quaint fishing village on the Golfo Paradiso in Liguria, the crescent-shaped coastal region in northwest Italy that’s home to the glamorous hotspot of Portofino, larger yet still darling Santa Margherita Ligure, and some smaller, less-trammeled towns that are well worth exploring. On this magical sojourn, one place in particular — San Fruttuoso — somewhere that hadn’t even been on my radar prior to jetting off, left an indelible mark.
A slightly off-the-beaten-track Ligurian idyll, San Fruttuoso is a sheltered spit nestled between Portofino Regional Natural Park and the blue sea that feels like a true escape. A trip here presents the ideal opportunity to enjoy relaxed seaside fun, beautiful scenery, and authentic Italian food. Though technically a cove, it very much gives off Mediterranean island vibes. No doubt, that’s because it’s separated from the rest of the Promontory of Portofino by untouched wilderness and most people take a boat — either the ferry, an organized tour, or a private vessel — to get there. The other way to access this hidden gem? On foot! Hiking paths wind through the forested mountainside from Camogli. The panoramas coming in from the sea really wow. Though we didn’t hoof it with a baby, I’m told the vantage points from the leafy hillside trails are quite stunning as well. Once you step off the boat (or reach the bottom of the pathway), the full scope of this tiny treasure comes into focus.
The swimming beach has smooth pebbles and clear tides that are protected by rocky outcrops. I highly recommend arriving early to rent chairs and umbrellas. Shelling out a few Euros to post up in style also provides access to a roped-off section of the pristine bay. Otherwise, you’re subjugated to trying to find a few feet to roll out a towel in the crowded back corner. Regardless of a garnering squished or spacious perch, the vistas still dazzle all the same. Besides, the time spent lounging doesn’t compare to the joyful hours in the calm, warm yet refreshing water that beckons just a few steps away. On the man-made beauty front, the Abbey of San Fruttuoso, which was erected by Greek monks in the 10th century, is incredibly striking. When coupled with the towering 1562-built Torre Doria, it creates the sort of visual you’d only ever imagine seeing on a travel brochure — truly unlike anything I’ve encountered IRL.
Craving a little sustenance (and perhaps a glass of vino) after all the splishing and splashing? You’ll find a handful of restaurants. All of them serve simple, delicious Ligurian fare like grilled fish and lobster pasta as well as local wine varietals such as Vermentino. Keep in mind that the 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 sight right below for later that afternoon. But if you prefer to skip the mad dash and chance of no availability, it’s probably a good idea to call ahead. In case you were wondering, the mussels and fresh catch of the day at Da Giorgio were excellent. Another great option for lunch with a view, Da Giovanni offers a lovely seaside terrace and everyone eating there seemed very pleased with the generous helpings of fritto misto. The tables at Da Laura spill out onto the gravel underneath the arches of Abbey of San Fruttuoso, making it a uniquely atmospheric spot to dig into a plate of lasagnette with pesto.
San Fruttuoso doesn’t really have accommodations — save a humble Airbnb that’s open seasonally — so your best bet for a more luxurious vacation is to stay in one of the nearby towns that cater a bit more to tourists. A longtime favorite of A-listers — Elizabeth Taylor famously has a pasta named after her and it’s where Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker recently tied the knot — Splendido, A Belmond Hotel oozes stately grandeur, overlooks the sparkling yacht-filled Bay of Portofino, boasts an iconic infinity pool, and serves the best linguine alle vongole I’ve ever tasted. Located in walkable Santa Margherita Ligure, Blu di Te House flaunts individually designed rooms and chic communal spaces, plus a spa that feels like a best-kept secret
While winter is on the immediate horizon, there’s no rule against plotting Italian Riviera adventures for summer 2023. In fact, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about flights, room reservations, and dazzling day trips to San Fruttuoso before everyone else.