A Mysterious hike in the Portofino Natural Park – The Acqua Viva trail

Sentiero dell'Acqua Viva

In this article, I talk about the mysterious hiking trail of the Acqua Viva within Portofino Natural Park (Parco di Portofino). The Acqua Viva trail starts from Paraggi, a locality situated between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, and leads to the Mulino del Gassetta, in the heart of the Portofino Park. The hike is short (about 1.3 km) while still allowing you to discover a mysterious and secret area of significant cultural and naturalistic importance. For the Italian version of this article you might click here.

Technical Information

Distance: 1,3km (one way)
Uphill: 220m (one way)
Estimated time: 45 minuti (excluding stops)
Difficulty: Easy (Good level of physical training and correct equipment required)
Path Signal: Red dot on top of a red line

Additional notes: The trail could be slippery, especially after heavy rains or during the fall/winter season. It is advisable to wear suitable footwear, such as hiking or trail shoes, to ensure better traction on the ground. Bringing a walking stick can be helpful to maintain balance and provide additional support during the hike.

Profilo Altimetrico Sentiero di Paraggi dell'Acqua Viva
Mappa del sentiero dell'Acqua Viva a Paraggi, Santa Margherita Ligure


The route winds along the Acqua Viva valley until reaching the first of the mills in the local milling system, the Mulino del Gassetta. The itinerary is free from significant technical difficulties. Also, there are little deviations to the main path. However, the trail is mainly uphill and the presence of moisture is constant. Thus, during the autumn/winter period or after heavy rains, the path could be particularly slippery.

The stretch to cover is short, about 1.3 km. Along the trail, there are interesting informational panels from the Portofino Park, explaining the cultural and naturalistic importance of this route. The trail is suitable for those who want to take a stroll in the green on a less-traveled path. It is also a connecting route for a broader hike between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino within the Portofino Park.

The starting point is the Paraggi parking lot in Via Paraggi a Monte, Paraggi. The trail begins to the left of the Mandragola mill, a former restaurant awaiting for its new destiny. The informational panel located there will introduce you to the life of the mill civilisation. Throughout the route, follow the trail markers with a dot above a red line (see photo). In the initial section, you will encounter a small ford (with a prohibition of passage in case of weather alert ordinances), and then you will begin the ascent among the ruined remains of old mills as well as restored rural houses. At the end of the route, you will reach the Mulino del Gassetta (the Mill of Gassetta).

Sign of the Acqua Viva trail
Parco di Portofino
Ruins of old buildings on the path
Mappa del Parco di Portofino

The Mulino del Gassetta is the furthest upstream among the 35 mills that once existed. While also being the one of the last to cease activity, it is now a refreshment point with an adjacent picnic area. The restaurant is closed during the winter season. To check the opening days, you can consult the Portofinese website (which manages the site). In the picnic area, in addition to the last informational panel about the Acqua Viva trail, you'll find the ancient public stone washhouses, used in the past by the residents of the surrounding areas.

Getting back

The return can be made using the same route taken earlier. If you wish to follow a loop trail without deviating too far from the original path, once you reach the Mulino del Gassetta, you can continue towards the Gave locality (trail marker with a red cross) and then descend towards Paraggi (trail marker with 3 red dots). During my inspection, this trail was closed due to a landslide, and I couldn't verify the path. In this last section, there is, however, a deviation that leads to the Cervara Abbey, from which you can then continue to Paraggi along the waterfront.

Lo scorrere del Rio Acqua Viva a Paraggi, Santa Margherita Ligure.
Acqua Viva Stream
Lavatoi del Parco di Portofino
Public Stone Wash-House - Mulino del Gassetta

Cultural heritage and history

The Valley of the Mills is a short itinerary divided into 9 stages, starting from the locality of Paraggi, situated between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, and then extending into the heart of the Portofino Park. This valley was also known as the Valley of Acqua Viva (lit. translated as "living water" or "water spring"), due to the abundant presence of perennial water sources (16 springs) that fed the course of the stream.

The excursion provides the opportunity to explore the ancient system of exploiting water resources for the milling of cereals, chestnuts, and the pressing of olives. The presence of artificial conduits allowed the collection of water in specially constructed basins, which was then directed to the wheels of the numerous mills along the path through a chain mechanism. The water was channeled into the turret, from where it was directed into the feeding chute. The energy generated by the falling water allowed the movement of the wheels. After losing its power, the water continued its course through channels to feed the next wheel or proceed towards the basins of another mill.

The milling complex of Acqua Viva dates back to 1271 and is documented by the cartographer Matteo Vinzoni in his works from 1777. Until the 19th century, the mill system consisted of a total of 35 mills. Since 1915, the flow of the stream has been significantly reduced to supply the aqueducts of Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, marking the disappearance of the age-old milling destination of the valley.

The surrounding strips of land were once cultivated, primarily yielding products for the sustenance of families. Surpluses destined for trade were rare. The presence of mills contributed to sustaining the poor economy of the valley. Goods to be brought to the mills arrived from surrounding villages via mules. Local communities also brought their products by sea to the bay of Paraggi. Then, they would use the miles to take them for milling. Often, those transporting goods had to wait for several nights for their turn in the milling process. The miller was frequently compensated in kind, receiving a portion of the finished product or receiving aid for agricultural or construction work.

Ruins of old buildings on the path
Mulino del Gassetta
Mulino del Gassetta - Parco di Portofino

This article was written by Alberto Romano, Ligurian Hiking and Environmental Guide. The described route is the result of personal hiking experience in the area, and the content is protected by copyright. Readers are responsible for verifying the trails, official maps, and information before undertaking the excursion, and for assessing their own adequate preparation for the journey.

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