Portovenere (also spelled Porto Venere) is a sea village on the Gulf of Poets, a bay stretching on the eastern Italian Riviera between Cinque Terre in Liguria and Versilia in Tuscany. The bay is so named because – thanks to its pristine coastline and idyllic views – it has long been a favorite destination for artists and writers such as Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and David Herbert Lawrence. The landscape of great scenic and cultural value of Portovenere along with Palmaria Island and Cinque Terre, has led UNESCO to include this territory in the List of World Heritage Sites. In a territory of such beauty, what are the top 5 things to see in Portovenere?
San Pietro. Walk along the promenade as you admire the Palazzata (colorful tall and slim buildings) on your right, and you will reach Portovenere’s majestic promontory topped by Chiesa di San Pietro. This church was consecrated officially in 1198. It is a popular wedding venue. Despite its simple exteriors and interiors, its history and panoramic arches make it simply magical.
Byron’s Grotto.Leave the Church of San Pietro by taking the uphill road on your left. You will see a “door” with a sign dedicated to George Gordon Byron, simply known as Lord Byron. It leads you to an observation deck next to Grotta Arpaia (or Grotta di Byron). The famous English nobleman and poet would meditate in this grotto and draw inspiration for his literary works from this place. Nearby you will also notice Scorzelli’s beautiful statue of “Mater Naturae” as she contemplates the Gulf of Poets.
Doria Castle.Follow the uphill road and explore the carugio, or the narrow street that is typical of the Ligurian Riviera. Here you can visit many artisanal and food shops. On the left side you will spot narrow, steep staircases that lead you all the way up to the hill until you reach Castello Doria. 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.
San Lorenzo. On the way back to the harbor, stop at the Church of San Lorenzo for more spectacular views and to learn more about local culture and myths. It is also known as Sanctuary of the Madonna Bianca in honor of the local patron saint, of which it holds a legendary painting.
The Islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. From the harbor of Portovenere you can take a boat and sail around the mesmerizing islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. On Palmaria you can hike along its paths, swim in its beautiful bays, and dive in its grottos. Tino cannot be visited because it is a military area. 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 the ruins left by ancient religious communities.
Raffaella Monaco is blog and social media manager at Grand Hotel Portovenere