Historical Houses

Portofino, a World apart
February 2009

The Castles of Portofino and Paraggi

Molo Umberto, vista del Castello Brown

Umberto Pier, View of Castle Brown

When one speaks of the Castle Brown it is normal to think immediately of Portofino, however, few know that the castle in Paraggi also belonged to the Browns. Timothy Yeats Brown, originally of a Scotch family, following the romantic footsteps of the poets Byron and Shelly, came to Italy, to Portovenere where he lived on the island of Palmaria.

When he was named consol of the United Kingdom to Genoa, he moved here with his family and raised his children who, while being British citizens felt Genoese in sentiment and loved Portofino. The oldest boy, Montagu, became console of S. M. Britannica when his father died. The second boy, Federico, was a great industrialist and businessman of the end of the nineteenth century.

The castle of Portofino, which was a Genoese fort and over the centuries belonged to the Florentines, the French, and the Spanish, and, after Waterloo, was conquered by the English, has very ancient origins. Montagu Brown acquired it from the State in 1870 for seven thousand liras and had it adapted for civil habitation by the noted architect Alfredo D’Andrade; from this splendid position, he dominated the two seas and could see below him the village of Portofino and all the bays and ravines that mark the coast towards Santa Margherita Ligure. On the terrace that in the past had been the esplanade of the fort, he planted two pine trees that today, having grown imposing and stately, characterize the castle.

He furnished the inside with furniture that came from clipper ships in that austere and aristocratic style so characteristic of the English of that epoch. On the walls of the studio of the castle hung paintings of Moeris and an authentic Hogarth copy. Montagu Brown invited many people to his castle. Lord Carnarvon, the noted Egyptologist who discovered the tomb of Tut-Anch Amon (and who with his wife and collaborators were subject to a famous curse), and Baron Von Mumm, an industrialist and the producer of champagne of the same name, lived close by; the former in Villa Altachiara, and the latter in the “San Giorgio” castle.

They both became good friends of the Browns and often exchanged visits. The Babers, who succeeded the Browns on the property were true archeologists and did studies on the castle which they came to know rock by rock. Colonel John published a book, unobtainable today, on this subject and on medieval Portofino. His wife Joceline dedicated herself to research on the old chapel of which she possessed a complete inventory dated May 6, 1607. The Babers left the castle to the commune of Portofino which then transformed it into a museum used for various cultural presentations and programs. Recently, in 1993, it appeared in a film entitled “L’incantevole aprile” (The Enchanting April).

Il Castello di Paraggi

The Castle of Paraggi

When Frederick Brown, the younger brother of Montagu, married in 1882 he acquired the Castle in Paraggi, foto, by then in disuse. It had belonged to the Fieschis in the Middle Ages and was later used by the Genoese Republic as a defense against pirates as well as to block the landing of victims of the plague.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was originally a military design, it was possible to adapt it to use as a luxurious residence for prestigious guests. The original project of transformation from a fort to a villa was done by Frederick himself.

When he first submitted the design to his friend the artist James Harris, who was later to become a baron and British Console in Nice, he was told that it would disfigure the castle. On the advice of a friend of the family, the architect Alfredo D’Andrade, the project was entrusted to an engineer by the name of Tamburelli. In restructuring the castle, Tamburelli abolished the narrow moat (and as a consequence its connecting bridge) that ran along the cliff behind the structure and had it filled with stone. In place of the existing battery of cannons he had built a fragile but charming loggia that was thought precarious by contemporaries but which still exists today.

At the end of 1890 the castle at Paraggi was wholly restored and became a delight and admiration not only from the sea but also by land because the road from Santa Margherita to Portofino, one of the most beautiful in the world, was completed, and open to the privileged few who traveled on it in their carriages. Many were the guests of Frederick Brown and his wife Ida in this beautiful castle. Some of these will appear in the third part of this book. In 1913 Frederick Brown gave up the castle. The Goretti family who would succeed the Browns as owners of this fine house maintained the same customs and continued the tradition of illustrious guests. In 1939 they hosted Maria Jose, then queen of Italy, and her children.

After World War II, the castle changed hands again and remains in private ownership. In the first few years after the war, problems in French-Italian relations were resolved in meetings at the Grand Hotel Miramare, in which De Gaspari and Sforza participated. They stayed at the Grand Hotel Excelsior, while the French delegation which included Schuman and Pleven took rooms in the castle at Paraggi.

Since the years of the economic miracle, the castle has seen the bay of Paraggi crowded with boats, not only with the usual prestigious yachts but also with more modest crafts, a testament to a more general and defuse well-being.

Portofino, a World apart.