History & Legends

Portofino, a World apart
August 2016

The Coachmen


At the end of the XIX century, Portofino ceased to be isolated from the continent, where roads didn’t exist and you could only arrive by sea, or along the mountain foot paths. The motor road that connected the village of Santa Margherita was built in the eighties-nineties: which brought to Portofino a big economic transformation that, together with the touristic knowledge already acquired, permitted to establish a new category of workers. Transport services were organized in a short period of time, connecting the train service with other inherent activities giving well-being to the population. The first person to have concession to carry the post was Silvio Gazzolo called “Baxian”, who was for a long period of time the Village’s postman. His son Angelino continued his father’s work, increasing the service, as apart from the local post there was an increase in passing tourists. His niece Anna Bruno remembers: “Thinking of the most beautiful years of my youth, exist many memories that fill my mind: they belong to a family that had found a reason to live through work, continued in our different generations.

My grandfather Silvio, a great worker, started his working life as a postal carrier by rowing boat, because roads and motors didn’t exist. With the passing of the years finally the roads arrived, like that the boat was left for the gig, trailers were driven by two horses for every coach: existed the summer one with an open top for the sun and the winter one with closed windows, because there was rain and wind on certain days. I remember that during the school period we went by horse trailors. Whilst all this was happening, clever grandfather occupied himself with other things; a bar was opened on the small property that he owned on the square: the foreigners came at tea time to drink chocolate with whipped cream. The whole family were thrilled about this and, slowly, slowly, it became a small restaurant: my wonderful mother, a lover of food, was in charge of the kitchen.


When I was older I remember the clients, industrialists who came into the kitchen to embrace her and thank her. Aunt Lina, my mother’s sister, who studied languages was not able to help grandfather who in the mean time had become administrator of the noble english Brown and Carnavon families, both owners of the most beautiful villas of Portofino. One day, Mr. Marconi appeared with the Japanese Ambassador: what an honour for Portofino! To thank him for the honour of his visit, I went to meet him with a bunch of flowers”. Some tourists had established in Portofino a real permanent residential colony, the first horse carriages and famous coachmen began to arrive, offering to the tourists, excursion and panoramic trips. These particulars are remembered because they were handed down to our ancestors. The most famous name amongst the people who dedicated themselves to this activity was Emanuele Viacava, called “Menelik” of the Ciccianti family: this person, active and full of initiative was originally from Portofino, and was the first to have the sense of touristic economy putting into practice some of his ideas to serve the community. He started with his horse tram in competition with Gazzolo’s horse carriages, he built a tavern, an oven for bread, a groceries, an olive grinder, a wheat mill: then, to keep in with the times, he became a taxi driver with his sons Battista and Giuseppe and his son-in-law Carlo Rosselli.

As time went by, he owned a stall that sold laces, motor and sailing boats, a fishing boat, ten apartments and ten warehouses, he was a true industrial captain: I believe that he was given that nickname, because in his own small world he had built an economic real estate empire. Emigrated from Santa Margherita to Portofino, the Fasce family dedicates itself to two activities, that of bakers and that of coachmen, first with the carriages and after with taxis: for example I remember Giacomin, called “7 and a 1/2”, who had always been the Baroness Mumm’s driver: when the time arrived for the Baroness to depart the Portofino children were very happy because they knew that at her return, she wouldn’t give a tip to an odd one or two who were welcoming her back, but she would get them to carry her bags up to the castle where she would repay them according to their age. It was a kind way of giving a present, without seeming that they were begging. In the Fasce family there was Francesco called “Pine”, and Giuseppe “Pippo” called “The Spender” who, at the moment of going to bed, had to be very quiet as his house was above the stable, and if the hungry horse heard him he would neigh all night to his poor owner for food.

Portofino Porsche Speedster 356

The last taxi driver of the “old generation” after the second world war was Luigi Lodi called “Gino u Macaron” (the Uncouth): this character became part of the “Benitta” family because he married her daughter Angela, heir to Battista Viacava “Menelik”. Gino was a very jolly man, everybody liked him, and he loved playing jokes: he “equipped” himself for his work with suitable cars undertaking long journeys, also international. I want to tell you an anecdote that went round the world and is a joke with a double sense. Luigi worked for the shipowner Fassio: it was the fifties and, as no motorways existed, one had to go on the inside road to get to Rome which took 7-8 hours. During these journeys various ministers spoken about different things: at a certain point, Gino understood that the Commander was getting tired and he prepares himself to advise him, saying: “Commander, why should you have to work like this? Come and live permanently at Portofino, you are owner of a Castle, the “Cipressina” (a tiny apartment), the Sailor’s Club, motor boats, fishing boats. Lets face it youv’e got everythings that others haven’t”. The shipowner asks him: “Have you ever been in a plane?”: The driver replies: “Yes Commander. Just as the second world war finished I made a journey in America to get the “Liberty’: that is the steam ships that the americans had given to the italian shipowners”. And the Commander: “At what height did you fly?” and Gino “At 8000-10000 metres“; “Good — Fassio replies —have you ever tried to get off the plane at that height?”. With the coming of the car, a taxi service was added to the carriages.


Like that, Angelino Gazzolo, heir of the first Portofino pioneers, obtained the first concession of the carrier line which connected Potofino and the Santa Margherita railroad. This brought more tourists, but the new road stopped at the Church and caused traffic jams on the hill: the Municipality had to eliminate this problem immediately, giving rise to a project to arrive in the Village from the outskirts that, in those times, was the “Canneto” and, today, it’s “Liberty Square“. The new project foresaw two solutions: the first was to continue the road passing by “Canonica Alley”, coming out of the orchard belonging to the Benvenutos to be able to have access to a new square, that was to be built on Rocca’s property, where the garage had been eliminated. The second solution, was the present one, a “terrible sight”, that is building the hill from the holm-oaks, which sacrificed the aspect of the Church square: this project was chosen because the hill behind the Church had given way, called “lo Iau”, and it was necessary to build a strong wall to avoid other landslides.

The mayor D’Alessandro also wanted to lower the road to the Church square level to avoid the entrance steps and to highlight the facade, but it wasn’t possible, because this important work asked for long bureaucracy and his time was nearly up as mayor. When the port was connected, the category of the coachmen increased: the project, besides the service, had a positive effect for the economical prosperity of the families involved. The coachmen’s category answered to new needs of circulation, ground transformation, pedestrian road conditions: like that the Commune administration had to consider the restructure of the roads situated in the historical centre (the stables were in the alleys) let alone those of the Mount, taking into consideration that the electric light had arrived. This category had a short life because Portofino has always been more adaptable to sealife, and progress has replaced the horse carriages with the motor. Thanks to Giovanni Carbone.

Portofino, a World apart.