Portovenere is very close to Cinque Terre, but it is, in general, less visited compared to Cinque Terre. However, when we visited Portovenere for the first time, we were so surprised by its beautiful landscape, its colorful buildings, picturesque harbor, labyrinth streets, and many interesting sites. Even in the summer holiday season, it is such a quiet town. I have to say I like it more than Cinque Terre after our family spent a day there.
The other good thing is that most of its attractions are within walking distance. You can easily plan a visit for just a couple of hours. If you finish reading my post, you would probably have an idea to stay there for a couple of days. So what are the things to do there?
Strolling along the nicely paved promenade
Stroll along the Via Olivo to enjoy the views of the characteristic buildings and Palmaria Island across Le Bocche channel is a must. The characteristic buildings are attached to each other and form a tall colourful wall. Some buildings are as high as 6 stories. Though they look like pretty seaside houses, these iconic buildings were originally built as a defense mechanism – a fortress protecting the inner town and castle.
San Pietro Church
At the end of the promenade is the Church of San Pietro perched atop rocks. This Gothic and Romanesque style Catholic Church was built in 1256. The building is very simple but quite pretty. It hosts a statue of Saint Peter inside and has a beautifully decorated door. Below the church is a nice restaurant with several tables only. With panoramic views across the ocean, down the coast and across the harbour, it’s definitely worth a pleasant visit.
Lord Byron’s Grotto
From San Pietro Church walk back towards the Doria Castle, you will pass a rustic door on the left side. Walk through the door, you will easily reach an observation deck of Byron’s Grotto of the Bay of Poet’s. The English poet Byron loved this bay. It was his favorite meditation and relaxation spot. Lord Byron often stayed here and used to swim across the bay to visit his fellow poet Shelley.
The distance Lord Byron had to swim across the bay is quite far. When we were there, it was a sunny and clear day. The sea was aqua blue and shimmery. Lots of locals were sunbathing at the grotto, and a group of people was learning scuba diving. But when it is a windy day and the waves crash against the rocks, it is not suggested to swim there.
The Doria Castle
After Byron’s Grotto, you will spot a narrow steep stairway that leads you up to the hill to the Doria Castle. On top of the hill, you will have panoramic views of the Bay of Poets and church San Pietro. On a sunny day, it is also a nice picnic place.
The castle stands on a rocky plateau featuring steep walls and mighty archways in local stone. This majestic fortress was built around thirteen centuries and played an important strategic role during the Genoa Republic.
Church of San Lorenzo, the local myth of the Madonna Bianca
There is another spectacular location next to the Doria Castle, the Church of San Lorenzo. 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 building was erected between 1118 and 1130.
Visit the carugio
The stairs in front of San Lorenzo lead you down the hill and to a labyrinth of picturesque alleys. The upper area of this part is a residential area. Between the narrow alleys, there are tiny courtyards for the locals to relax. It is well worth getting lost in those picturesque alleys and stairways.
The narrow alleys finally lead to ancient carugio , which is called Via Giovanni Capellini. Most of the typical shops in the village are located here. Here you can visit many craft shops selling craftwork and food shops selling, for example, self-made pesto. I can always find something new to look at on every trip I take in such town. Some venues offer high-quality made-in-Italy products. They have also attracted many VIPs to pass by. The shopping street is a pedestrian zone, winding, cobblestone alley, typical of the Ligurian towns. At the end of the shopping street is the town gate.
Relax at a seafront cafe or restaurant
It is time to sit down at a seafront café or restaurant and relax. There are a handful of restaurants offering Pizzas, seafood, and meat dishes. The pictures from their menus are all attractive. We had a meal at a seafront eatery and tried some delicious pizzas. One pizza uses pesto sauce, a typical sauce used in local recipes.
We watched the fishing boats bobbing on the nearby water and the world walking by. It is such a peaceful scene that we hope time would stand still.
Swimming in the UNESCO sea
After the lunch break, we could not wait to swim in the UNESCO sea. The seaside near the car park at Via Olivo is quite calm. People can swim in a dedicated area. So did we. The water is warmer than we expected and there were only a few kids swimming in the sea. Part of the beach is covered with rocks. You have to be careful when you enter the water because the stony ground is very slippery. It is recommended to wear water shoes which are commonly used for swimming, paddle boarding, snorkeling, and beach activities.
In the afternoon the beach clubs were not well occupied. According to the information in front of the beach clubs all facilities were booked out. Many Italians have gone home for the break.
Other things to do
One of the day trips from Portovenere is to visit the three islands: Tino, Tinetto and Isola Palmaria. Tino is a military island, and Tinetto is just a tiny rock with some ancient ruins. Isola Palmaria is the biggest island of the three. It’s dotted with caves, beaches, and walking paths. Take either a scenic boat tour or a taxi boat, you can reach the islands during the summer time. Being part of Portovenere, the three islands form a UNESCO site.
In general, if you are planning a vacation in Cinque Terre, but would like to escape from hordes of tourists and rather enjoy a more tranquil break, Portovenere is the perfect base for your journey.
As many of you choose Florence, Milan, Lucca or Pisa as the base for the trip to Italy, you can join tours from these places to visit the area. For example, the Cinque Terre and Porto Venere Tour from Florence. You will discover a corner of paradise on a tour of Porto Venere and the colorful villages of Cinque Terre, with round-trip transportation from Florence. Marvel at the five villages suspended on steep cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea.
Where to stay
As there are more things to do and see in Portovenere, it would be ideal to stay there a day or two. One hotel with the best location is Torre Porto Venere.
Right next to those colourful buildings at harbourfront there is a historical tower which is a hotel now. That is the hotel Torre Porto Venere. It is a tower hotel which is in front of the harbour. This property has one of the best-rated locations in Portovenere. The major sites are all within a few minutes of walking distance.
How to get to Portovenere
You can take bus 11/P from La Spezia train station to Portovenere. This is the cheapest way to go there.
You can also take a boat ride to Porto Venere from La Spezia, Levanto, and Cinque Terre. The company Best Of Cinque Terre operates motor-ships to Portovenere as well as to other cities of Liguria. You can find a detailed motor-ship schedule and the boat routes on the company’s website. A boat tour is quite time-consuming if you have less time you probably should take other alternatives.
The quickest and easiest way is to drive there. However, it is important to know that the road to Portovenere is quite narrow and winding, so people with little experience of driving may feel insecure.
You can rent a car from www.rentalcars.com. The platform has many offers from different merchants and it is easy for you to compare the prices online.