Hi Frugalistas! I love getting emails from readers. Especially when it’s an email that asks an interesting question. My Cinque Terre posts are quite old now, but are still very popular. My post on day tripping from the Cinque Terre to Portofino is particularly popular. So when reader KS contacted me to ask about whether she should stay in Portofino or Cinque Terre, or somewhere else along the coast, it seemed a perfect opportunity to explore this question with all Frugalistas.
My short answer is,
It depends on what you are after from your trip and what your budget is.
When I visited the area, my intention was definitely to visit the Cinque Terre. I wanted to wander authentic back lanes and vineyards. I wanted to admire ocean views. I wanted to eat local sea food and drink local wine. I decided I wanted to be in the middle of the “action” and stay in one of the villages so I could go for a walk down empty streets before breakfast. But, I also wanted to check out how the other half live and go to Portofino.
While I didn’t stay there, I suspect you could do the same in Portofino.
But, and it’s a big but…….
Portofino is seriously expensive.
My appetiser (entrée) sized seafood lunch in Portofino cost the same as the vast seafood soup entrée (main course) dinner I ate the same night in Manarola. Gelato in a cone was about twice the price in Portofino. And let’s not even think about the price of hotels……
Portofino is undeniably beautiful. It is like staying in a glamorous resort or on a 1950s film set. I half expected to see Ava Gardner or Elizabeth Taylor coming out of the Hermes or Missoni boutiques. Set on a bay, its waters are calm and pretty. Visit Portofino for beaches perfect for swimming, and hotels with smart looking swimming pools.
The Cinque Terre on the other hand is, well, more homely. The waiter in your restaurant is likely to be related to the owner. Washing will be hung out on balconies to dry. There are little markets, and black clad nonnas chatting in doorways. In Portofino, the only children I saw were on school excursions. In the Cinque Terre they played soccer, and rode their bikes. It was like staying in a village, because that’s what it actually is.
The only real beach at the Cinque Terre is in Monterosso (and as an Australian, I wouldn’t say it’s a good one). The coast and the scenery is definitely more rugged. Vineyards hug the mountains. There is not a posh looking villa in sight.
It also depends what you want to do. If you are a serious walker and want to hike, then yes, definitely base yourself in the Cinque Terre. For some people, that’s the whole point of the Cinque Terre. If you want to lie by the pool and work on that tan or hit the shops, then maybe Portofino is more “you”.
So, should you stay in Portofino or Cinque Terre?
Personally I like both Portofino and Cinque Terre. Each is a beautiful and charming destination in its own right. But as a frugal first class traveller the Cinque Terre is definitely more my style. Relaxed, informal and of course, just so much cheaper, I think you can’t go wrong staying in the Cinque Terre. Because frugal first class travellers know how important it is to have an occasional splurge, staying in the Cinque Terre for most of your stay, then spending one night in Portofino would make a lovely splurge experience. (If you are heading on further south, do it in reverse, and go from Portofino to Cinque Terre).
Travelling by train from the Cinque Terre to Portofino, there seem to be plenty of other pretty towns where you could base yourself. If neither the Cinque Terre nor staying in Portofino are your style, do some research and see what may suit you better.
If you’ve been to both the Cinque Terre and Portofino, which do you prefer? Is there anywhere else along the coast that ticks the boxes for you?