Right next to Cinque Terre is a hidden gem that has fascinated poets and artists over the centuries.
The Gulf of La Spezia, named after the main town on the bay, is also known as Gulf of Poets because it was praised by Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, George Sand, Petrarch and many more. Most of these writers and artists were just regular visitors, while others chose to live here for some time.
The charm of this bay remains unchanged even today! Here are our travel tips on what to see and how to discover the Gulf of Poets and its islands.
The villages of the Gulf of La Spezia
On the western end of the Gulf of Poets, neighboring the Cinque Terre, is Portovenere; while on the eastern end, towards Tuscany, is Lerici. The larger town of La Spezia lies in the middle of the bay, and it is the provincial capital of this part of Liguria.
La Spezia is a great transport hub, with trains that regularly depart towards Cinque Terre, Genoa and other cities in Liguria and around Italy. There are also ‘traghetti’ boats that connect you with Portovenere and Cinque Terre.
Fellini once said that “La Dolce Vita” was difficult to find in Rome, but in Lerici the “sweetness of doing nothing” was in the air.
Other villages that dot this side of the Gulf include Tellaro, Fiascherino and San Terenzo.
This is the area where English writers Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley had decided to live for some time, specifically in a beautiful white house called Villa Magni.
Their friend George Gordon (Lord Byron) preferred to stay in the opposite side of the bay, in what is arguably today’s protagonist of the Gulf of Poets, Portovenere. In fact, recently is has been recommended as a must-see destination off the beaten path by different travel journalists from CNN, The Telegraph and The Guardian, just to mention a few.
Portovenere and the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto
Also spelled Porto Venere, this village is a 4-hour hike away or a 30-minute boat ride from Cinque Terre’s Riomaggiore.
Due to its cultural landscape of scenic and historic value, Portovenere was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 along with its archipelago and Cinque Terre.
Portovenere’s promenade is very picturesque, characterized by the beautiful and colorful palazzata, a row of tall and thin buildings that are attached to each other.
The imposing Castello Doria, built between the XII and XIV centuries, dominates the village from its panoramic position. Across the harbor and Le Bocche channel are three islands: Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto.
To enjoy the most amazing views of Portovenere, of the archipelago’s rugged coastline and of the ancient fortresses, you can book a private boat tour around the islands of the Gulf of Poets.
This also gives you the unique opportunity to see the mussel farms, where the delicious local mitili come from. Make sure to taste some of the typical muscoli or mitili in one of Portovenere’s restaurants.
On Isola Palmaria, the largest of the islands, you can hike along a ring trail that goes all around the isle: as you pass through the Mediterranean vegetation, you will find panoramic spots from where to admire beautiful cliffs and the unique silhouette of Portovenere.
During summer, you can take a break with a refreshing dip in one of the coves that you find along the way.
Tino cannot be visited because it is a military territory. However, in occasion of St. Venerio, patron saint of the Gulf of Poets, this island can be visited by tourists twice in September.
Tinetto is little more than a rock; still, from the sea you can spot ruins left by ancient religious communities.
If you do the private boat tour around Portovenere’s islands, you will learn about the strategic importance of the beautiful forts that you encounter along the way, including the iconic Torre Scola. This pentagon-shaped tower was part of the defensive system of the Republic of Genoa to protect the Gulf of Poets in the 16th and 17th centuries.
For more ideas and tips on this area, read our article Top 10 Things to see and do in Portovenere.
How to explore Cinque Terre and the Gulf of Poets
Are you intrigued by the bay that inspired so many artists? One relaxing and convenient way to discover the Gulf of Poets is to combine a visit during your break in the Italian Riviera.
BeautifuLiguria proposes a 4-day experience that includes a walking tour of the Cinque Terre villages, a visit in Portovenere and a private boat tour around the islands. Have a look at the day-by-day itinerary of the Cinque Terre and Beyond Tour.
More Tips and ideas?