It's easy to get a bit gooey-eyed over Portofino, an old fishing village on Italy's Ligurian coast. For a start, there's the crescent of pastel-coloured houses perched on the edge of the glittering Mediterranean. Then there's the row of tempting waterside restaurants, the gentle ocean breeze and the background hum of cicadas from the pine trees that cover the surrounding hills. There's even a Gucci on the corner in case you forgot your swimming trunks. It's all so picturesque that it leaves even the most jaded travellers fumbling for their cameras.
So it should come as no surprise that Portofino is a favourite haunt of the world's superyacht owners. Aside from its sheer beauty, it's also ideally positioned, being just a short cruise from the popular moorings of Nice and Monaco and not too far from Rome, Corsica and Sardinia. Some small yachts can squeeze right into Portofino's harbour, though the superyacht crowd tend to anchor their vessels off the coast and pull up at the quay in tenders. Either way, yacht owners are some of the town's most regular visitors, with many making at least one annual visit on their boat.
But over one weekend this June, Portofino attracted even more yacht owners than usual, because it was the site of the Azimut Benetti Group's annual Yachting Gala. This two-day event attracts yacht enthusiasts from around the world, who gather to test drive the latest models from the shipyards and enjoy a knees-up on the Italian Riviera. It's like a small boat show, but only with yachts made by Azimut and Benetti.
Eighteen yachts have sailed into Portofino for this year's event, sixteen from Azimut and two from Benetti. The sister companies have a fair amount in common – both of them are established Italian shipyards and both are regularly voted as among the best in the world. Azimut has a larger range of boats, but Benetti allows for greater customisation of the vessels, sometimes building yachts entirely to the owners' specifications. But there's one key difference between Azimut and Benetti yachts: size.
“We build [yachts from] 93 feet [28.3 metres] up to 100-plus metres,” Benetti's CEO, Vincenzo Poerio, explains. Azimut yachts, on the other hand, vary from about 34 feet [10.3 metres] to just over 100 feet [30.5 metres]. So there's a little overlap, but not much. The biggest yacht here is a Benetti and, seeing as all of the boats are available to board, I hop straight on.
The Benetti in question is a 121-foot-long [36.9-metre] superyacht called Edesia. This boat is a Benetti Classic model, though saying that is slightly misleading, as all of the company's yachts are at least partly customised by their owners, so one Benetti Classic will never be the same as another.
From the dock, Edesia is almost immediately identifiable as a Benetti. She is enormous but elegant, made up of a series of curved lines and the large, wraparound windows that are one of the brand's defining characteristics. Edesia has three visible decks, and a series of portholes just above the waterline reveals a fourth floor of below-deck accommodation. A gangway leads over the swimming platform and into a large living and dining room on the main deck.
The interiors were designed by Zuretti and vaguely resemble a stylish bachelor pad, with all of the rooms fitted out in shades of grey. A short staircase leads down to the below-deck bedrooms. There are three double cabins, two twin cabins and two extra berths on board, so Edesia can sleep up to 12 guests. There's also additional accommodation for a small crew of seven.
There's even more living space and an open-air terrace with an additional dining table on the sprawling upper deck. Another floor up, there's the sundeck, which is ominated by a large Jacuzzi that's surrounded by fitted floor cushions. A few visitors are making themselves comfortable and stretching out in the sunshine, though everyone is waiting until a bit later in the day before having a dip in the hot tub.
On a more technical note, Edesia's hull and superstructure are both made from fibreglass. She's powered by two 1,450hp MTU engines, which allow a comfortable ruising speed of around 13 knots, though at full throttle the yacht can hit 15 knots. Edesia is built for long journeys, and is capable of carrying 42,500 litres of fuel and 7,700 litres of fresh water. If you stayed at a steady speed of 12 knots, she would be able to travel 3,400 nautical miles. That's further than the distance between London and New York.
So many guests want to have a look around the Benetti that a small queue has formed along the dock, so I slip off to have a look at the adjacent Azimuts. The Azimuts are significantly smaller, but they're also a lot faster. The Azimut 55S is particularly good fun, and can reach speeds of up to 36 knots, though we don't quite hit that as we circle around the quiet bay. The Azimut 70 is a little slower, but is perfect for a quick cruise down the coast to have a peek at Dolce and Gabbana's seaside villa, though even this larger Azimut is clearly designed for shorter trips than the oceangoing Benetti.
As the sun dips towards the horizon, everyone reluctantly leaves the boats and jumps into waiting cars to be driven around the headland, where tonight's gala dinner is being hosted on Paraggi Beach. Fashion designer Jeremy Scott is hosting his birthday party in the neighbouring restaurant, and both Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus are rumoured to be in attendance. But after a quick spot of celebrity spotting, everyone's minds drift back to boats, and several whispered discussions about yacht prices and delivery dates start on neighbouring tables.
The crowd tonight is a rather eclectic one. There are some Singaporeans on the next table, a couple of Americans at the bar, a crowd of mainland Chinese taking selfies on the beach and a gaggle of young Europeans running in and out of the sea. So now that there's interest from all corners of the globe, where will the next batch of Italian yachts end up?
“China is an important market, but Malaysia, Thailand, Australia – that part of the world at the moment has probably the best gradient of growth,” Poerio explains. “Their economies are going up and there's a young generation who love swimming, they love the sea because their fathers brought them to the Med and to other places in the world to enjoy yachting. They are the future.”