Hollywood on Holiday: Portofino
HOLLYWOOD ON HOLIDAY: PORTOFINO
The inspiration behind Tom Ford’s newest fragrance is an Italian town with more Hollywood lore than the Chateau Marmont.
- Written By
- CHRISTINA HAN
Welcome to Portofino, Italy, where Hollywood comes to play... Before Bey and Jay, Clooney and Pitt, J.Lo and her paramour du jour moored their yachts in this tiny Italian town’s deep marina, it was Bogart and Bacall, Burton and Taylor who steeped the coastal hideaway with casual elegance. They lounged around the Hotel Splendido and basked, almost unnoticed, among the pastel-hued buildings of the quaint piazzetta. (Italian fisherman, as it turns out, preferred to study the tides rather than the glitterati.) Sixty-some years later, the (mostly) sleepy town—restaurants and hotels are shuttered from late October to early April—is still one of the most glamorous enclaves on the planet.
A mere three-hour drive from Milan, Portofino has lured past and present residents, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the Agnelli and Piaggi families (of Fiat and Vespa, respectively), and Misters Dolce and Gabbana (with five homes in the area between them). Designer Tom Ford, whose short list of favorite places now includes Portofino, fell in love with the fishing village while on holiday, a vacation romance that inspired his bewitching Neroli Portofino fragrance. Nearly nine years later, Mr. Ford has reinvented his acclaimed perfume with Forte, an intensified version of the warm, citrusy scent with added notes of basil and leather. In one airy spritz, the hedonistic fragrance instantly transports all who breathe it to a place where the breeze blows warm and pool boys in polo shirts cater to your every whim.
Last fall, before the town closed its doors for the season, I followed Mr. Ford’s footsteps to the Italian Riviera in search of the ultimate Portofino experience. Below, notes and snapshots from my own coastal voyage, and a glimpse at the original Hollywood playground’s storied legacy.
My notes on a three-day jaunt in the quaint coastal town of Portofino
Belmond Hotel Splendido
This hillside hotel—housed in a former monastery—first opened its doors in 1902. Since then, nearly every bold-faced name (Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Winston Churchill) to visit Portofino has adjourned to the 69-room property. It’s legend that Richard Burton proposed to Elizabeth Taylor in one of Splendido’s expansive suites during one of their many costly breaks while filming Cleopatra. And Madonna reserved an entire floor at the pink hotel while she was in town to celebrate her fifty-first birthday with Dolce and Gabbana.
All the charming cafés and bars in the piazzetta face seaward, but La Gritta American Bar is where Portofino resident and actor Rex Harrison famously threw his Oscar (for Best Actor in My Fair Lady) into the harbor after a particularly raucous night in 1964.
Locals will stay mum about whose yacht is currently bobbing in their harbor (with one of the deepest marinas along the coast, boats pull right up to the piazzetta). I advise donning your darkest sunnies and anchoring yourself to a table at Ristorante Delfino to find out for yourself.
The sights of Portofino
Stroll to the Chiesa San Giorgio (first built in 1154 and reconstructed in 1950, following World War II), passing along the Museo del Parco’s sculpture garden. From there, follow the path beyond the church and into the town’s small peninsula, where Dolce and Gabbana own five homes (you will easily spot their blue painted doors along the narrow pathway). You could veer off and pay the admission fee to tour the Castello Brown, but the choicer option is to circumvent the sixteenth-century castle and venture down the hillside, through the grove of cypress trees and toward the sea. There aren’t too many signs (I saw none on my adventure), so just follow the sound of the waves and you’ll find yourself harborside soon enough.
If by chance you forget your SPF (as I did) or need to restock on melatonin sleep supplements and Berocca for the flight home, pop into the tiny pharmacy located just steps outside the main piazzetta.
Dior, Missoni, and Loro Piana are just a few of the usual suspects found in and around Portofino’s piazzetta, but Antica Sartoria, a hallway of a shop (you can easily peruse their entire inventory in a quick back-and-forth of the head) houses a unique collection of the softest homespun cotton and linen dresses imaginable. All true necessities for a proper holiday in the Italian Riviera.
Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa with scenes filmed in Portofino.