History & Legends

Portofino, a World apart
November 2016

The Taverns, Restaurants and Hotels


Already in the last centuries they spoke about public places in Portofino, which can also be read in other books on the Village. From 1800 to today it’s possible to list some that were quite a numerous amount, taking in to consideration the “size” of the tiny Village and the passing of ships and boats in its important port: the demand for food stuffs and places to stay were in fact superior to the inhabitants, because the port was visited by Popes, emperors, prelates, politicians and soldiers for a few days and even weeks, until the southwest and southeast winds fell and the good weather returned. At the end of the XIX century, Portofino had a motor road which united them to Santa Margherita: this important piece of work transformed almost totally the local economy, leaving the sea life, the mills and the peasant country to transporting passengers by land. Like this Portofino gave start to a touristic economy in continual increase, which gave rise to a great number of shops which became a question of worry. The first restaurant of the Village was the “Stella” that, years ago, was also a boarding house: the roms looked over the “Marconi Quay” and they still belong to Gazzolo today, descendant of the restaurant owner’s family. The Gazzolo families, at Portofino, were the ones who had more faith in the touristic activities, like that, other relations opened activities in the field of hotels, restaurants, grocery shops and transport in general.

A man’s memory, with the help of old magazines and the older people, can remember the number of shops existing in those times and the names of the families who ran them: without betraying the ligurian character, with much sacrifice and perseverance, they managed to leave in inheritance to their children a profession that guaranteed their future. You remember that before the thirties Roma Street didn’t exist, that the street was called “Alley of the souls” because the Oratory was there and, in the evening, everyone was afraid to walk along that road because of the torrent and the presence of possible evil spirits. After the “Stella”, it’s possible to name the public places of the last fifty years, dividing the list in two periods: up until the thirties and after. Up until the thirties, starting from the Umberto I Dock and going round the Village which in those days arrived to the top of “Dritto Alley”, we can find “Delfino” restaurant belonging to the Crovari sisters, the “Osteria del Porto” of Luigi Viacava and Coletta Schiaffino, the “Tripoli” restaurant of Nicolin Viacava (today it belongs to his son Emanuele); on the Penisola the “Aurora” restaurant of Benedetto Giuffra, Teresa Viacava’s restaurant called “Pittella”, the Velo brother’s aunt, today they are the owners of the “Delfino” restaurant, the “Gaffe Excelsior” of Santino Repetto, where Mrs. Lina invented the first ice-cream called “paciugo”, today the owners are Gazzolo and Zucca, the “Nazionale” hotel with an adjoining restaurant which Mrs. Enrichetta made world famous thanks to her delicious food, the “Roma” bar owned by the “Rivanis”, the first groceries of Emanuele Gazzolo called “Numa” in Dritto Alley, the Giuffra’s “Rolando” restaurant, Emanuele Viacava’s restaurant called “Menelik”, Teresa Oneto’s one called “Teinun” and finally the very old one of Santa Schiaffino.


On the Mount was “Osteria del Nan”, where on sundays, especially in the winter, people went to pass the day: there was a bowling green and tables to play cards, you could also eat the typical ligurian pasta called “trenette” with “pesto” (green sauce made with garlic and basil) and the “tortelli”; these are big “ravioli” filled with herbs and pumpkin found on the Mount: this filling was placed on a sheet of pastry and fried, it was a delicious meal. Like that, after the war, this restaurant became trendy for the tourists during their walks on the Mount, also giving work to other restaurants all year round. I want to tell you an anecdote that caused a lot of curiosity at Portofino. There was a man called Piero Moscatelli, a friend of Agustas, a very happy man that won all the hearts of Portofino because he sang very well and amused everyone, even the people he didn’t know. Piero owned a boat which he used for cruising in the summer: one day passing by the island of Giglio, he took on board a stray, black and white dog who he called Bibo. This dog made himself at home in Portofino in no time, and like his owner he became popular with everyone. Moscatelli spent much of his free time at “Manue” at Nan’ restaurant, together with his faithful friend: this affectionate animal lived in Manue’s boardinghouse at San Sebastiano when his owner went to Milan, and when Moscatelli returned to Portofino, the dog came down to the Village to stay with him as long as he stayed, and then returned up on the Mount. At this point a very strange thing was noticed: when Piero got in his car to leave for Milan, the dog sensed that it was time to return up the Mount, and it was enough that his owner said one word or moved his hand to make the dog understand: on returning, Moscatelli stopped off at Santa Margherita and telephoned Manue to tell him of his arrival, like that, everytime the phone rang the dog went to listen to whose voice was on the line and, if he heard his owner whistle, he jumped for joy running down to the Village and waiting for him in front of the garage. This is only a small thing, but at Portofino small significant things exist in abundance. An obliged acknowledgement goes to the tabacconist shop belonging to Giovanni Olivari and his wife Maria Traverso, first daughter of Caterina Crovo called “dei pizzetti” or “la Banchiera”.

The tobacconist had been run by them since the twenties and it had become the shop that sold everything: you could buy canvas shoes with car rubber soles, carbide to acetylene, paints to snuff, from sweets to “libieti”, the candles that were lit for the Novena of the All Soul Day, from newspapers to toys, from codfish oils to linseed oil as petrol for headlights, from toothpaste to perfumes to exercise books, from naphthalene to buttons, to knick-knacks, to fishing rods, tea, camomile, to quinine: in short, a little of everything in a few square metres. They were good times, made up of simple and beautiful things, even the postman left the post at the tabacconist to avoid climbing the Mount, the peasants, alot in those times, descended by foot everyday to do the shopping and ask. “Nothing today?“. Maria was a landmark, an institution, always kind, always helpful: her working hours were from 7 in the morning continuing until late at night, her holidays consisted of closing the shop from 1 I am to 3pm on Christmas Day: that was the custom in those days. Instead, she had a beautiful celebration the day of her wedding, a luxury party: the ceremony was in Church and the refreshments at the hotel “Piccolo” with many guests and, then straight back to work: she continued like that for many years up until the age of pension and even more; it was only then that she had time to see the new parts of the Village: we were in 1965, her nephew Manuel called “Itto” Fresco, took her to see the new San Giorgio church which had been destroyed by bombardments. I don’t think she knew the Peninsula or the Lighthouse on the Cape. Giovanni and Maria were my godfather and godmother: like that she wanted to see my house at Fondaco and my shop on the Dock; one evening her family accompanied her to see where I had settled, she didn’t know about the transformation of the “Carriage Square” and the houses around it: she remembered only Rocca’s orchard there. That’s why she was an institution for the Village, her world covered only a few metres: she died in silence on an autumn night, known by everybody, but unfortunately without knowing the small world around her.


After the thirties up until today, that is 1995, the public exercises at Portofino have reached the considerable number of more than 50, of which 26 are hotels, restaurants, bar with snacks. Leaving Umberto I Dock and going up towards Roma Street to the square, we start with the american-bar restaurant “Strainer” of Enrico Vago, the Vinelli’s “Pitosforo” restaurant, the Gazzolo’s “Stella” restaurant for four generations, the Veto’s “Delfino” restaurant, the “Tripoli” restaurant of Emanuele Viacava,”Caffe Excelsior” of Vittoria Gazzolo, the Moresco’s “Sottocoperta” bar, the Bocchio’s “San Giorgio” ice-cream parlour, the “Nazionale” hotel of Bruno Gazzolo Briola, the Balzan’s “El Portico” pizza house, the “Fabio” bar and pastries of Gimelli, the “Cisterna” restaurant of Rosselli but today belonging to Gaglairdi, the Viacava’s “Concordia” restaurant, heirs to Giovanni, and Gagliardi’s bar “Cavalluccio”. Going down the Dritto Alley to the Marconi Quay, we find the “Eden” hotel of Maria Osta, the “da U Batti” restaurant of Gian Bacigalupo and Canepa’s sandwich bar called “l’Isolotto”, the “Puny” restaurant of Luigi Miroli, the Seghezzo brother’s restaurant “al Navicello”, the Emiliani brother’s bar “Sole”, bar “Morena” belonging to Ugo Repetto and Liliana Gardella, bar “Mariuccia” of Enrico Vago, the Viacava brother’s “Taverna del Marinaio”, “da Mario” restaurant belonging to Aloisio and Federica Denaro, the “Scafandro” american-bar of Enrico Vago, the Raggio’s american-bar “La Gritta”, the “l’Ormeggio” restaurant of Giorgio Mussini and finally at Paraggi, the “Teresina” restaurant. Hotel “Splendido” is always to be found on Portofino territory, born from the transformation of a patrician villa belonging to the Baratta’s, already well known in the ligurian history especially at Portofino. The wonderful idea to build a hotel was, that, of Mrs. Valentini Nava, a very wise woman in her category, verifying that the position of such a building is, in the winter period, climatically more favourable of at least 5° (grades) in respect to the remaining territory. At the beginning of the century, the hotel season started at the end of the summer, when the northerners came to open out their wings to the mild climate, thanks to our Apennine Mounts, especially on the West Riviera Coast from Genoa Nervi to the Gulf of Tigullio.

Hotel “Kulm” was also born on the Mount of Portofino, well known by german tourists; immediately after hotel “Splendido” saw the light of day: after Mrs. Valentini Nava, this hotel went under different managements, from the Piaggios to the Croces, from the Emanuelis to the Galleppinis, going through different building transformations, always keeping up to date with the times of hotel progress. It has a beautiful park with private road, swimming-pool with sea water, car-parks and all the necessary conveniences which are essential for high society hospitality: in fact this hotel is one of the best known in Italy and the world. In the last years, the direction transformed into a real jewel an old hotel in the square of Portofino in front of the port, calling it “Splendido Mare”: this work has given to the Village a place which has filled an emptiness, creating high level evening entertainment which is of a great advantage to Portofino and to her image in the world. Besides these two hotels, there is Hotel “Piccolo” belonging to the Fermos and Hotel “San Giorgio” in Fondaco: the latter has been recently refurbished in “Portofino’s genoese style”. The hotel “Piccolo” belongs to the “Domina vacanze” society owned by Mr. Ernesto Preatoni. This hotel is situated in the “Bay of the Cannon” with a private park, access to the beach which is equipped with modern conveniences and an excellent managment. The other activities at Portofino are seven, being jewellers, watchmakers and goldsmiths: on the Marconi Quay we find “Cusi” and “Capello”; in Roma Street Adolfo “Nostalgia” “River”, “Alfex”, “Coppini”. The remaining eighteen activities are boutiques. On the Marconi Quay we find: “Blu” of Camillo Marchese, “Trussardi”, “Giorgio Armani”, “Jolly” of Gianni Brusaca (today it’s called “Malo” belonging to the Canessas), “Danda”, “Buscin” of Guido Carbone; in the Martini dell’Olivetta Square we find “L’Ancora”, the first boutique of Portofino, opened in the thirties by the sisters called “Jewish Dragonflies”, “Dinghy”, “Cherie mode” of Manuel “Itto” Fresco, the “De Angeli Bazar”, “Gennaker” of Rachele Prato, the Viacava sister’s “Summertime” boutique, the Giardina sister’s “La Vela”; in Roma Street we find Oneto’s “Mingo”, Mingo was the inventor of cork-soled mocassins, a “talented man” with excellent inventiveness in fashion shoes, besides being a regatta helmsman; “Azzurro” of Ilona den Blanken, “Stefanel”, “Tender”, “Cupido”, “Donna Lia”, “Louis Vuitton”, “Hermes” of Gadolla; on the Umberto I Dock we find “Fusi”, “Mori”, “Ermenegildo Zegna”; in Liberty Square we find “Rosanna moda mare”, belonging to the Vecchiones with adjoining tobacconist. The other tobacconist is in Martiri dell’Olivetta Square together with other shoe shops, bazaar, art galleries, and a specialized bookshop called “Mursia”. Apart from the fruit, vegetable, and other artisan shops in general, in Roma Street there is a baker specialized in genoese “focaccia”, which I must dedicate a parenthetic clause: the Figallo’s baker was first situated in Dritto Alley and, then in Roma Street. Giorgio Figallo and Antonia Portafo married at just twenty years old and from Corte at Santa Margherita they emigrated to Portofino, taking over Emanuele Viacava’s “Menelik” bakers: their adventure began in this way. We were in 1911 when these two willing youngsters and hard workers rented the house and shop that still exists today. After a short amount of time, the Italo-Turkish war broke out to conquer Lybia, a colony that had become italian. Giorgio was called to fight and to campaign the war, leaving his young wife to run the business, who had also become a mother: like that, Adele Devoto Ravetti went to help make the bread, she was the mother of the self-taught artist Angelo Ravetti, called “Ninin”. Giorgio the baker, returned from the war, and together with his wife, started to work again, but after a few years he was called up for the First World War, and once again Antonia called “Tunitta” by the inhabitants of Portofino, and Adele Devoto Ravetti found themselves alone again. They worked, sacrificing themselves, to make and produce the bread that the population needed: this lasted for four years, that is the length of the war.


When Figallo returned he continued to work with his wife showing initiative and sacrifice, that they were able to buy the Menelik’s property where still exists today the workshop and house. Mr. and Mrs. Figallo had two daughters, Teresa and Emma; the latter married Maurizio Canale in 1947 and continued to work as a baker. When Canale, an expert in commerce, entered the family, he boosted the trade. Even today their products are spoken about at a world level, this is confirmed by a Japanese magazine called “Asahi-shimbun”, from California, where they have even published a photo of the shop, with the brothers Mariangela and Giorgio, niece and nephew of the founder of the Figallo family. Then, they were awarded a gold metal for the quality of their products throughout the world and the length of time in business. Their daughter Emma, reminded me that during the last world war her father Figallo was taken away from his baker’s shop, occupied first by Germans, after by the Black Brigade, after again from the Anglo-Americans, and lastly from the Southafricans: in the meantime Figallo still found a way to make bread for the population of about 1300 inhabitants. In that period the inhabitants should have evacuated to the Mount, the bread was distributed in Prato locality and in front of Paolo de Barbieri’s tavern called “Nan”, in San Sebastiano locality: furthermore, they told me that the oven worked by wood, therefore you can imagine the work envolved to get it working fully. Apart from these activities, a praise must be given to all those who, in the past, have achieved success with their trade through quality and business ability, contributing to the fame of this Village throughout the world. To the “Stella” belonging to the Gazzolo family, who have run traditionally the hotels activities in the Village (their name has been in the parishes archives at Portofino since 5 hundred), I will attribute the following anecdote told in the “Primo Portolano d’Italia“. This is how Priest G.B. Confalonieri, in 1592, remembers Portofino, particulary Gazzolo’s “Stella” hotel: “Wednesday 11 th November 1592 (the galley) reaches Portofino, being only 20 miles from Genoa, where we could arrive before evening, if the king had let us sail with the big sails and not only the foremast. Portofino is between two mounts, it’s not very big and exposed to the southeast gale which causes problems to those war vessels out there.


The Village was adorned by the surrounding houses: we found bread as white as milk but undercooked, expensive, that cost the same as in Rome, the loaf cost 18 coins, that didn’t weigh more than 4 ounces: a bed cost a scudo (antique coin) a night, paying not only the room but the air you breathed. There are two churches, the Pieve and San Giorgio at the top of a high mount, where they say that the body of the Saint is. Two miles away from the port, is the Monastery of San Girolamo of the Cervara, of the Cassinesi monarch’s. It stands out beautifully, among those sterile stony mounts, with all it’s fertile, good products: they have wonderful big gardens, where they pick wheat, an enormous quantity of wine and oil of which any remains are sold, but unfortunately not enough wheat to make bread to give breakfast to their sixteen monarchs. On Saturday at fourteen hours after following the coast for 14 miles searching for the Riviera, we arrived at Genoa, whose coast is full of many small castles, ports, fortresses with buildings without numbers and delicious gardens with vague prospects and magnificent factories. . .”. The Silvio Gazzolo’s family “Nazionale” hotel, started it’s activity as a tea room, after a restaurant and, lastly, he became property owner of a small amount of tiny apartments, bought by sacrifice through hard work. The “Nazionale” hotel had it’s best years at the beginning of the twenties, Mrs. Enrichetta Gazzolo in Bruno was born with a passion for cooking, she had never been taught at school, but was so brilliant that prelates, princes, counts and nobles, industrialists in general and even Guglielmo Marconi who, having the “Elettra”, anchored at Santa Margherita, went whenever he could to Enrichetta’s restaurant. After the second world war, the most popular restaurant was still the “Stella”: a niece, Giorgia Cupido, whilst working with her uncle Italo, was very able in public relations and, good looks, that the restaurant worked even more, especially with a higher rank of clients, so “Let’s go to Stella restaurant”, wasn’t used anymore but, “Let’s go to Giorgia’: because her name had become famous. Then, a new restaurant was opened on the Umbertol Dock by Mr. Marco Vinelli: after inheriting an apartment with garden, he had the idea to open a restaurant, as, the Vinellis, had already worked in the restaurant field on board the “Rex”, the fastest transatlantic of the world, “Nastro Azzurro” in 1934. He wants to bring his experience to Portofino and calls the restaurant “Pitosforo” because of the presence of the tree: in a short time the restaurant became of a high prestige, and high level as only a few in Italy are known, he works intensely, first with artists and the high finance, then with industrialists. How many business affairs were concluded in Portofino, at the “Pitosforo”!


Another restaurant that became important, even though it had already existed for some time, was “Delfino” restaurant belonging to the Velo brothers; Prospero Velo, was mayor of Portofino for more than twenty years, he suddenly became cook, he transformed the management of the restaurant, giving it a new look much appreciated by the high society: Prospero was a polite, easy-going person and he invented many delicious dishes that won the hearts of his clients. I want to tell you an unforgettable anecdote about Mrs. Costanza Crovari, owner of the “Delfino” restaurant. About 1946, Count Alfonso Bruzzo, who owned a villa in the “Bay of the Cannon”, was offered a caretaker only for night duty: his name was Emanuele Gimelli, a boatman, Alfonso asks Costanza information about this person. She makes enquiries, even though the Village is small and everyone knows each other “very closely”. After a period of time the Count, who was a client of the restaurant goes to eat there and Costanza approaching him says: “You had asked me information about a person, I made enquiries, it seems that when the son of the american pilot Lindbergh was kidnapped, this person was in America”. This dialogue was said in genoese dialect, therefore it goes something like this: “Quand u Phan rapiu u figgiu du pilota Lamber, ue u l’ea pe Meriche.” These anecdotes at Portofino are very common and they seem really funny stories, but they deserve to be told for the good taste of the clients: today the “Delfino” is a top restaurant with foreign and high class clients. A restaurant that gave publicity to Portofino was the “Gritta”: Built by Lorenzo Raggio in 1953, this american-bar opened on the Marconi Quay and was quickly known by the arstists, who in those times, visited the Village; Raggio was a brilliant person, a true play-boy, a rich person, who was lucky to be in contact with these people in his american-bar, he also knew foreign languages very well and remained on the crest of the wave until he died. For years, the “Puny” restaurant was all the rage and is often mentioned by newspapers and published in magazines.


The owner Luigi Miroli is a descendent from a shipowner’s family, the “Buggi”, and is son of an artist, because his mother Evangelina Schiaffino called “Vange”, was daughter of Santa, owner of an old restaurant that was already open on the Marconi Quay last century: the “Vange”, immediately after the second world war, had an idea to open the “Al Navicello” restaurant that, with her family, ran for a period of time. After a short pause, her son returned to the old family profession and, with much ability, still runs the restaurant today. The restaurant is frequented by characters that, at Portofino, have much in common, even though they were of a higher rank: these clients also change like the public exercises depending on fashion’s good taste. At “Puny”, good taste has existed for a long time: apart from being a good manager and a clever entertainer, he has created a restaurant where not only do you eat well but you can spend a quiet relaxed evening. I remember when I had taken guests to supper at “Puny”: after supper, they thanked me for having taken them to that restaurant, not only for the food, but also for it’s pleasant owner. Because of these people I have made a distinction, but I don’t want to forget all the others who work hard in the restaurant business, apart from the importance and prestige, of the restaurants, snack bars and grocery shops. These restaurant owners, who try to beat each other, invent very appetizing dishes that the clients come back “for more”: in fact, it’s impossible to forget “U Batti’s” shrimps, “Tripoli’s” rice, “Concordia’s” soup, “Mario’s” fish with pine nuts, all restaurants that, for food quality and service quality, don’t second anyone, the results speak for themselves. This is the same for everyone else who works at Portofino and tries to do better than the other: publicity is made up of this. Thanks to Giovanni Carbone.

Portofinoa World apart.