Between the affacinating villages of the Cinque Terre and Versilia lies Portovenere, another pearl of the eastern Ligurian Riviera.
Portovenere is set on the western tip of the Gulf of La Spezia surrounded by a deep blue sea and washed by crystal clear waters.
Framing this extraordinary village are many beaches with clear waters where one can relax in tranquility and the three magnificent islands of the archipelago, Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, peeping out.
The village is very reminiscent of the villages of the Cinque Terre with its traditional colorful tower-houses, narrow carruggi, small fishing port, and wonderful medieval churches.
Perhaps the best way to discover Portovenere is to get lost in the narrow alleys of the village in search of characteristic sights and small restaurants and fry shops that tickle our appetites.
Portovenere is a perfect destination for a romantic vacation for couples, but it is also a destination that will please the most demanding sports travelers and explorers.
In fact, here it is possible to dive among the depths of the Ligurian Sea to discover incredible underwater flora and fauna.
But also explorations among lush Mediterranean vegetation and climbing white cliffs overlooking the sea.
What to see in Portovenere
All it takes to discover the best of Portovenere is a day and some good advice on what to visit.
Porta del Borgo
The most characteristic and interesting way to access the historic center of Portovenere is undoubtedly the village gate.
This ancient building, dating back to the 12th century and still perfectly preserved, is the historic entrance along the ancient walls.
The gateway bears the Latin inscription “Colonia Januensis 1113,” recalling just how in 1113 Portovenere was fortified by the Republic of Genoa, becoming an important bulwark against the Maritime Republic of Pisa.
Once through the door you will find before you in the carruggio full of stores, fry stores and many small stores.
This is Capellini Street, the main street of the village. Here, too, you will find the typical characteristics of the ancient villages of Liguria: a narrow stone road that makes its way through typical tower houses.
Palazzata a Mare
The Palazzata a Mare is a succession of ancient pastel-colored tower-houses built along the sea.
It is a kind of barrier between the downtown alleys and the Sea.
Against this backdrop these buildings look like all the other tower-houses typical of the Ligurian Riviera.
In Portovenere, however, they have a unique feature: these houses literally hang from the rock, built half on the waterfront level and half anchored to the rock.
To enjoy an ideal view of the Palazzata and to take magnificent photos, the best spot is definitely the pier, which can be reached from the Aldo Moro promenade.
Church of San Pietro
The church of San Pietro is the symbol of Portovenere and probably the first image that comes to mind when we think of this wonderful town.
The church of San Pietro is perched atop the promontory south of the village of Portovenere.
It overlooks the sea and seems to be one with the rocks of the headland.
This very old church has undergone modifications and transformations throughout the centuries. The structure we can admire today consists of two connected buildings.
The older one is Romanesque in origin, the other is Gothic in style, built in the 13th century.
The result is a unique and unforgettable monument due to its extraordinary location and its distinctive black and white stone facade, topped by the mighty bell tower.
Portovenere’s Doria Castle is an imposing fortress built on the hill overlooking the historic center.
This building represents a typical example of Genoese military architecture and dates back to 1160.
A pentagonal fortress with an austere appearance that testified to the power of the Republic of Genoa.
During the visit, this ancient building can be admired, although it is not a particularly valuable point of interest. You will, however, enjoy unparalleled views of the Sea.
Byron’s Cave is a 20-meter deep natural cavity between the castle walls and St. Peter’s Church.
It is undoubtedly one of the most striking and well-known attractions of Portovenere.
Its original name was “Harpy Cave,” but it was renamed so because it was said that Lord Byron was inspired by this magnificent place to describe the privateer’s cave, one of his most famous poems.
It is also said that starting from this cave Byron swam a good 8 kilometers to reach his friend Shelley in Lerici.
Diving in Byron Cave can be tackled by experienced swimmers as well as beginners. This easy dive gives an underwater panorama full of many fascinating species, such as crustaceans, anemones and many colorful small fish.
Mater Naturae is a bronze statue created in 1989 by sculptor Raffaele Scorzelli that depicts a shapely seated woman, a symbol of Mother Nature, fertility and abundance.
You can admire it along the path leading toward Byron’s Cave.
Church of San Lorenzo
The church of San Lorenzo is the most beautiful of Portovenere’s religious buildings.
This church was built in 1130 but modified several times over the centuries.
During the visit you can admire numerous works of art, but only one is really famous and has marked the life of the Borgo di Portovenere: The painting of the Madonna Bianca.
Legend has it that this work of art came to Portovenere in the waves of the sea in 1204 inside a Lebanese cedar trunk.
Both the White Madonna scroll and the cedar log can be admired inside the church of San Lorenzo.
A boat trip exploring Palmaria Island is a must-do experience during your visit to Portovenere.
Palmaria Island is the largest of the islands in the La Spezia archipelago and, compared to the islands of Tino and Tinetto, is the only one that can be visited.
This small island is beloved by travelers and locals alike for the beauty of its nature and the clarity of the waters that wash its beaches.
The eastern side of the island slopes gently down to the sea and is covered with lush Mediterranean vegetation.
The western side, on the other hand, is characterized by steep cliffs up to 188 meters high.
One of the best known beaches on Palmaria Island is Pozzale Beach, just across from Tino Island. This small beach is in a wild and uncrowded area of the island and is counted among the best beaches in Liguria.
In the same area you will also find some wonderful natural caves: the Blue Grotto and the Pigeon Cave both fascinating but reachable only by sea.
The villages on the island are Terrizzo and Pozzale.
Islands of Tino and Tinetto
The island of Tino a is located south of Palmaria Island and is recognizable by its triangular shape and nature, rich in Mediterranean vegetation.
It has been entirely under the jurisdiction of the navy for many years and is therefore restricted and closed to visits.
The only day it can be visited is September 13, the day of the patron saint, St. Venerio. On that date it is possible to visit it through excursions organized by the park.
The island of Tinetto is really very small. In fact, it has an area of just over half a hectare. The first monastic settlement dating back to the 6th century was built on Tinetto.
In front of the Tino rises from the waters a statue of the Virgin Mary with clasped hands looking out to the open sea. This is the Stella Maris, which rests on a rock outcrop called “Ccoglio del Diavolo” and indicates to you sailors a dangerous shoal.
Frazione Le Grazie
A few kilometers from the center of Portovenere you will find the hamlet of Le Grazie.
This is an ideal place for lovers of tranquility to enjoy its picturesque views of a particularly beautiful stretch of coastline.
The atmosphere in this village is much quieter than in Portovenere, and this hamlet is still very much tied to its ancient traditions.
Le Grazie is nestled in an inlet protected from winds and storm surges.
Here, too, traditional tower-houses with colorful facades dominate above the small fishing and sailing boat harbor.
A place of interest in Le Grazie is the Roman villa of Varignano an interesting archaeological site that preserves the oldest oil mill in Liguria.
Beaches near the center of Portovenere
Calata Doria Beach
La spiaggia libera dell’olivo
Palmaria Island Beaches
Pozzale Beach, also known as Cala del Pozzale is listed among the best beaches in Liguria.
This beach can only be reached by sea. If you do not have a boat, you can use boats departing from La Spezia and Portovenere.
Here you will find a beach surrounded by white limestone and classic Mediterranean vegetation. The view of the towering cliffs smoothed by the sea and wind will be truly impressive.
Cala Fornace is a very small but picturesque beach not far from the Carla Fornace batteries, a military installation from the late 1800s.
The bottom of the beach is pebbles and the water is a wonderful emerald color.
Spiaggia del Secco
At Punta Secco you will find the Secco Beach. Of the Palmaria beaches, it is the one closest to the Palazzata a mare in Portovenere.
Here you will find a beach equipped with sunbeds, umbrellas and a restaurant.
The sea is clear and the bottom of the beach is pebbles mixed with sand.
Where to sleep in Portovenere
There is certainly no shortage of places to sleep in Portovenere. There is a large hotel offer here, many B&Bs, room rentals, vacation homes and apartments for tourists.
Most of the hotels are mid-range, but there is also a luxury hotel with impeccable facilities.
On the other hand, it is more difficult to find cheap hotels, especially in summer and during holidays. To find the best low-cost solutions, it’s best to plan your holidays in advance and book your room right away.
Most of the facilities are concentrated in the center of the village and some in the hamlet of Le Grazie.
How to get to Portovenere
It is possible to get to Portovenere by car although it is definitely not recommended: especially in high season, parking lots are not numerous enough compared to the number of visitors who visit Portovenere every day.
If you are lucky to find parking however it will be metered.
Forgoing the car there are several ways to reach Portovenere conveniently and economically.
You can reach Portovenere by bus from the center of La Spezia and arrive at your destination in about 30 minutes.
Like all other coastal towns in eastern Liguria, it is possible to reach Portovenere by boat. If not the most comfortable means, it is certainly the most fascinating and scenic.
Boats depart during the warm season (Spring – Summer – Fall) daily from major locations in eastern Liguria and Tuscany.
On the other hand, it is not possible to get to Portovenere by train, as is the case in other surrounding towns, because there is no station.
What to see around Portovenere
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