Portovenere is a charming off-the-beaten-track sea village that is neighbors with the famous Cinque Terre. It is located in the Gulf of La Spezia, which is also known as Gulf of Poets because it captivated many artists and poets throughout history, including David Herbert Lawrence, Percy Bysshe Shelley, George Sand, and Lord Byron. 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.
There are many gems for you to explore and fun activities for you to enjoy in the Gulf of Poets. Here is a selection of Top Ten things for you to do and see in Portovenere and surroundings.
1. Stroll along the harbor
Portovenere’s promenade is very picturesque. On one side you have the sea and Palmaria Island across the channel known as Le Bocche. In the water you will spot grid patterns formed by poles, floats and ropes that are used for mussel farming. On the other side, your eyes feast on the beautiful and colorful palazzata, a row of tall buildings that are attached to each other. The area around the harbor is full of panoramic cafés and restaurants where you can sit and have an aperitivo or a local meal.
2. Shopping in the carugio
A narrow street runs along Portovenere’s historic center, towered by the ancient colorful buildings. This carugio is full of artisanal boutiques and food shops. Here you can find handmade pottery, shoes and jewelry, as well as fresh pesto and focaccia – among many other things. On one end of the carugio you can admire a medieval gate built in 1113, while the opposite end leads you to Chiesa di San Pietro.
3. Visit the Churches of San Pietro and San Lorenzo
When you first arrive in Portovenere, you are struck by its distinctive silhouette featuring the colorful buildings and ending with a majestic promontory that is topped by the Church of San Pietro. Consecrated officially in 1198, this is a simple yet beautiful building, both inside and outside. Portovenere is also home to the Church of San Lorenzo or Sanctuary of the Madonna Bianca, in honor of the local patron saint, of which it holds a legendary painting.
4. Be inspired by Byron’s Grotto
Lord Byron loved this evocative bay, which was his favorite meditation and relaxation spot in the Gulf of Poets. You can admire the panorama of the sea and Grotta Arpaia from an observation deck, or if you like scuba diving you can also explore the cave with an underwater visit. This location is part of the Protected Marine Area of Portovenere.
5. Enjoy the views from Doria Castle
This majestic fortress was built between the XII and XIV centuries, and played an important strategic role during the Genoa Republic. The views from up here are simply amazing! Explore the castle and its surroundings to imagine and relive the history of the place.
6. Sail around the Islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto
From the harbor you can take the public transport or a taxi boat to sail around the islands of Portovenere. On Palmaria Island you can trek along its paths, swim in its beautiful bays, and dive in its grottos. Tino cannot be visited because it is a military territory. However, in occasion of St. Venerio, patron saint of the Gulf of La Spezia, this island can be visited by tourists twice a year in September. Tinetto is little more than a rock; still, from the sea you can spot ruins left by ancient religious communities.
7. Pretty neighbors along the Gulf of Poets and Cinque Terre
One of the advantages of Portovenere is that – unlike Cinque Terre – it can be easily reached by car. If you have your own car or have rented one, you can enjoy a panoramic road trip along the Gulf of Poets, pit-stopping in beautiful villages like Lerici, Tellaro and San Terenzo (where Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley chose to live in 1822). You can also stop in the larger city of La Spezia. If you wish to visit Cinque Terre, you have 3 options from Portovenere: you can catch the ferry that departs daily from the harbor between April and October; you can reach La Spezia by car and then get the train; or you can rent a motorboat or a yacht.
8. Join Traditional Events
Depending on when you visit, you will have the opportunity to enjoy local celebrations. Some of the most remarkable are the torch-lit Festival della Madonna Bianca on 17 August, the Festa di San Venerio in September, and the Palio del Golfo, a historic regatta where all the villages of the Gulf of Poets compete against each other.
9. Be Sporty
The breathtaking nature provides the perfect landscape for a number of sports and activities: sailing, canoeing, and diving in the waters of the Protected Marine Area of Portovenere; but also free-climbing in the Muzzerone Cliffs, and cycling and trekking in the Regional Nature Park of Portovenere.
10. Delight your taste buds
If you love wine and food, in Portovenere you can join traditional yet ever-exciting foodie activities such as wine tasting and cooking classes. Winery visits can be enjoyed in prestigious local family businesses. And if you want something unusual and exclusive, you can also enjoy a boat tour of La Spezia’s Oyster Farms, complete with tastings of fine local delicacies and wines on board.
About the author: “Discover Portovenere” is a blog that shares news, events and travel tips about the Gulf of Poets.