Genoa – Trains & Hiking from Santa Margherita to Portofino

When Kayla and I were planning our trip, before we left the comforts of home behind (like high-speed internet), we decided that Portofino would be a better destination than another big city like Genoa (sorry, Genoa, no hard feelings).  Simply put, we fell in love with the photos we saw on the web.  It just looked gorgeous to us!  Plus, I had read somewhere that the walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino is just chock-full of postcard-worthy views.  Since we just had such a fabulous time hiking in Gibraltar, why not take another long walk (albeit this one not so grueling)?  

The best way to get from Genoa to Portofino is via train to Santa Margherita and since I know there’s at least one person reading this blog that hasn’t been to Europe, I’m going to share some photos from the our train experience.  It’s fairly easy to use the trains in Europe and they will get you most everywhere.

Walking up the stairs in the train station in Genoa

It’s a much better train system than we have in the US.  In many train stations, there are information booths with english-speaking attendants that will help you figure out which ticket to purchase if you need assistance.  If you know your destination (and to avoid the long lines at the information desks), you can generally buy tickets using vending machines.

Fred buying our tickets to Santa Margherita at the vending machines in Genoa
One of our tickets, which shows the departure, destination, etc.

Once you get your tickets, you have to look at the large board and find your train’s platform.  You just look for the time of departure and the final destination on the board.   When you get to your platform, you just wait until your train arrives.  Be careful not to get on the wrong train!  Sometimes trains will use the same platform before yours arrives, so don’t get on too early.  Also, you usually need to validate your ticket by stamping it.  In Italy, the machines that validate the tickets are green and are placed all around the station.  This validation marks the time on your ticket, so that you can’t use the ticket more than once.  If you get on the train without validating it and the conductor comes through checking the tickets, you can get stuck paying a large fine, so don’t do it!

Waiting for our train on the platform
One of the trains in Genoa

In the larger stations, there will be information boards on all of the platforms.  You will see your train’s final destination, its time of departure, if its running late, etc.

This is the sign on platform 1, where we waited for our train. You can see the final destination is Sestri Levante. In the smaller print below near the bottom of the sign are all of the stops, which includes Santa Margherita (shown as S.Margi). The train was supposed to arrive at 11:38am, but was running 15 minutes behind. You can see this information in the middle of the sign.

That’s about it!  Here we are relaxing on our way to Santa Margherita.  Kyle & Fred both took naps along the way.  I think Kayla and I may have closed our eyes for a few minutes, too.  It was a long ride – about an hour and forty minutes.  Plus, we knew we were going to be doing a lot of walking, so we were conserving our energy.

The kids are learning to take short naps on the trains, which is smart, since we have such a long day ahead of us. Of course, we don’t all want to be sleeping at once!
Kayla on the train to Santa Margherita

The walk from the train station from Santa Margherita to Portofino is about 5.4 km or a little under 3.5 miles.  It takes well over an hour without stops.  There is a beautiful stairway that leads down to the street from the train station.

This is the view down the stairway at the train station in Santa Margherita.

Once on the street, it’s easy to get to the waterfront and spot the marina.  We just walked straight for the waterfront and turned right and walked all the way along the coast.

Heading straight toward the water in Santa Margherita
My family taking yet another creative photo

We were all really happy with the views once we got to to Santa Margherita.  It was already after lunchtime, so we took a break to get a bite to eat.  Plus we were told that the prices would be really outrageous in Portofino, so we knew that we’d be better off eating before we got there.  We stopped at Kicks, a seafood, pasta, and pizza restaurant across the street from the waterfront.

Waiting for lunch at Kicks, a restaurant in Santa Margherita
Kicks, a restaurant in Santa Margherita
Kayla enjoying seafood pasta at Kicks

Once we refueled, we headed toward the marina.  Here’s a view of the marina and a castle we saw, the Castello di Santa Margherita Ligure, which was built in the 1500’s.  It’s apparently not open to the public except for art exhibitions, wedding receptions, etc, so we didn’t get to see inside.

A view of the marina
A quick shot of Santa Margherita Ligure Castle, built in the 1500’s to protect the area against pirate raids.
Another gorgeous view of the area

In a lot of the photos I took, you can see the colorful buildings in the background.  Here’s a closeup of a typical one.  Along the main street, most of them have shops at street level, with residential space on the floors above.

A typical building along the waterfront, with shops at street-level and residences above

This gas station caught our eye.  There is only space for two cars to fill up and it’s right on the roadway.  Vehicles pull in to a space that is about the size of two parallel parking spots.  There’s just not a lot of space for anything else here.  You will see another example of this space issue in a few minutes.

We were fascinated by this gas station, which was not much larger than two parallel parking spots.

When packing our backpack for the day, we brought swimsuits in hopes that the beaches were nice.  Here’s a shot of the first beach we saw.  We didn’t see any sand on the beaches between Santa Margherita and Portofino.  It would be tough to convince us to stop here, since we have been spoiled by Caribbean beaches.

One of the beaches along the waterfront between Santa Margherita and Portofino

Here are a couple of things we saw along the way, early on in the walk.

I believe this is a private villa, but don’t quote me on that. Whatever it is, it is quite something to see in person. The street level facade has definite asian influences
We saw motorcycles and scooters everywhere we went. All along the walk, we could hear them roaring past – and smell the exhaust
Fred ran down to one of the rocky shores along the waterfront.

At another beach, which was also along the rocky shore, we saw lots of sunbathers stretched out relaxing in the sun, with nothing but towels to protect them from the rocks underneath!  I can’t imagine that it was very comfortable.

Another beach we saw along our walk

Here you can see just how narrow the pathway would get for us along a portion of the roadway.  At times, we didn’t have a pathway at all!  At one point, a local walked into the roadway to get around us.  She had her back to an approaching car and just hopped down onto the street right in front of the car.  She didn’t even look!  The car barely missed her.  I was flabbergasted!  There were plenty of areas with nice wide boardwalks, too.  I just wish we’d had them all the way to Portofino.

The streets are narrow the entire way…and the walkways are narrower – or nonexistent!
One of the places that offered a boardwalk

There were some really stunning views of the rocky coastline.  In many ways, this area reminds me of the central coast in California.  There was even a lone tree out on a rock like the famous lone cypress in Monterey, CA.  There were also luxury yachts anchored near the shore.

This tree reminded me of the lone cypress tree in Monterey, CA
The tall cliffs and rocky shore reminded me of the central coast in California
yachts anchored near the shore as we approached Portofino

Here’s a view of the street when we had no sidewalks.  We had at least a kilometer or two where we simply had to walk on the busy, narrow streets.  We were at the mercy of the drivers on the roadway.  There were tons of motorcycles and scooters as well.  One guy stopped in the middle of the street to finish his gelato right in front of us and then looked annoyed that he had to move in order for us to get safely around him, since there was a curve in the street ahead of us.

The last part of the walk, getting into Portofino, where you can see there were no sidewalks at all. There were quite a few places on our trek where we were at the mercy of the cars on the road.

We were thrilled to be off the busy roadway and happy to see our destination once we got to Portofino.  Note that Fred, as usual, is leading the pack.

A narrow street in Portofino

Portofino has a beautiful harbor and that’s where we wanted to go, but first we had to find a pharmacy to pick up some bandaids for Kayla, since she ended up with a blister from the walk.  Once we took care of that issue, we walked along a couple of streets until we found the harbor.  We stopped almost immediately at a little cafe to grab a drink and rest our weary bones.  Here are a few photos of what we saw along the way and once we got there.

a street view in Portofino
shops in Portofino with the harbor in the distance
restaurants and cafes are packed near the harbor in Portofino where we stopped to get a drink at a cafe
It was another letdown as far as the internet available at the cafe we stopped at in Portofino. Decent internet has been really hard to find.
A view of the colorful buildings along the waterfront in Portofino, with Kayla sitting in the shade at the cafe
Bar Sottocoperta, a small cafe in Portofino where we stopped for a quick drink

We were all drained from the long day in the sun, so we caught the local bus back to the train station in Santa Margherita.  It was bus #82 and we picked up tickets at a little tobacconist/market right across from the bus stop.   Then we just did the reverse of what we had done on the way there.  We got back to the cruise ship an hour before we set sail.  It was a wonderful day and one of my favorite ports.  I really enjoyed the scenery and the walk (other than the areas with no sidewalks and the exhaust from the scooters).  It is definitely worth a train ride out to Santa Margherita if you happen to find yourself in Genoa.