Portovenere Italy: noble and colorful
From downtown Genoa, where we start the engines of our car, Portovenere is just a distant dot lost on the navigator screen, and nothing more. Ahead of us, almost two hours of highway always in repair with endless roadworks that reduce it to one lane, and then narrow tunnels, patches of olive groves interrupted only by flashes of a distant sea that seem to say "be patient my dear, we will meet soon".
Portovenere, while we drive we think about the day we are going to spend there, it's a prelude to the satisfaction and the deligtht that awaits us. Emotions for the beauty of the sea, elation for those bright colors, sighs for a day between alleys and fish markets that is always too short, paths at the edge of the sea with hearbreaking views. Few times, as in this small port, Liguria manages to express its beauty with such perfection. We are in the Gulf of Poets, after all, and the magic is everywhere, all the way from Portovenere to Tellaro and Lerici and beyond.
Portovenere Italy map
The history of Portovenere it is unique as its position, so strategic at the entrance of the gulf of La Spezia, that it always looked perfect as a settlement. And so Portovenere, since its foundation, in Roman times, was always successful for centuries in its naval and defensive vocation.
Over the centuries, Portovenere has also been much more than a simple landing place. It was an important base for the monks that had important monasteries on the islands of Tino and Tinetto. In this gulf always on the border of different regional powers, Lombards and Byzantines, Genoese and Pisans and Aragonese clashed. And in addition to its military function, this magnificent port has played an important role in trade, especially wine and marble.
Eventually Portovenere had to pass the scepter of local center of power to La Spezia: we are at the time of Napoleon and from now on the role of military stronghold will become completely the prerogative of La Spezia. For Porto Venere in modern times all that remains is the task of winning the hearts of tourists and defending the good name of Liguria, and this is a mission that is perfectly accomplished...
What La Spezia has never been able to snatch from Portovenere, of course, are the beaches and the splendid sea. A sea where you can forget the problems of everyday life, get soaked and unplug from everyday worries. At least on a visual, sensory level: the Portovenere beaches are beautiful to see, but not the most convenient. In fact, they are mostly pebble beaches and rocky coves, to the great joy of Katerina who has always preferred them to sandy beaches.
In Portovenere "center" there are four main beaches make it by right in our guide, here they are:
Calata Doria beach
The first of the beaches of Portovenere perhaps it actually doesn't even deserve to be called a proper beach, it is just a handkerchief of sand more to get your feet wet than anything else. It is located right on the main square - Calata Doria - squeezed between the pier and the tiny ferry terminal of the town. The water is clean and some use it for bathing: but we recommend doing it only when there are few boats around, or in the low season. In these moments, enjoying clean water with little confusion around Calata Doria will be a balm for the soul!
Arenella Beach bathing establishment)
Arenella is the beach of the bathing establishmentArenella Beach. Like all the other beaches in Portovenere, this enchanted village is small and access to the water can be a bit difficult. There is in fact a stone wall to divide the umbrella area from the shoreline. In any case, as it is easy to imagine given the location, the Arenellas are a rather elegant establishment, well maintained and glamourous. But how could it be otherwise, in such a spectacular location?
The Arenella beach is located 400 meters from the center of Portovenere and the view over Palmaria from here is priceless. Its yellow-green umbrellas are so colorful and smell of summer in a way that we just love it!
Free beach of the olive tree (Spiaggia libera dell'OIivo)
This is beach is the most popular of the Portovenere beaches. Access to the sea is the classic Ligurian one, with flat pebbles, in some places larger but in most places very small, making it very convenient for sunbathing even with a normal beach towel. Given the position inside the gulf, protected from the open sea by the island of Palmaria, the water of the beach is always calm and sheltered from the wind.
The Olive tree beach of Portovenere (spiaggia dell'Olivo) is small, but pleasant and, also thanks to our Italian creativity we were able to find enough space to put the beach tent even if the place was full or almost full..
Andrea and Katerina were surprised by the cleanliness, which couldn't be taken for granted for a very popular free access beach. Last but not least: we also really appreciated the couple of free-use showers placed at the ends of the beach!!
Sporting Beach is one of the most classic bathing establishments in Portovenere. We think it's a great place, so inviting with its neat and clean white pier. You can come there not necessarily to swim, but also just to have a beer next to the beach or have an aperitif under the umbrella. And when you get hungry, the menu is wide and varied for all tastes and with prices in line with what you pay in places like this here in Liguria.
The Mirella is the other superclassic of the beaches of Portovenere. A beautiful beach and sea that do not know how to disappoint, it is free entry, rather large and enclosed by some characteristic landings. The free Mirella beach has no showers, and it's the only big minus we can find. Otherwise the water is clean and crystalline as it should be, and it is probably here that those who intend to go to the beach in Portovenere without going to a club should head first.
Mirella Beach is located right next to the Le Terrazze establishment, which also has a large double swimming pool, and behind the car park of the same name. Recommended!!
Portovenere: the beaches of Palmaria island
The beaches we have just talked about are beautiful but they are not the only ones. To enjoy the best colors that the Ligurian sea can offer, there is in fact one more resource: just facing Portovenere it's the island of Palmaria..
On the Palmaria island there are at least three beaches worthy of note, for us even among the most beautiful in the Gulf of Poets: we are talking about the pozzale beach, Cala fornace, and the dry beach.
The Pozzale beach, also known as Cala Pozzale, is one of those beaches that can only be accessed by sea, fortunately not only by private boats but also thanks to the boats departing from La Spezia and Portovenere.
Cala Pozzale, with smooth and sensual pebbles, is set in an environment of exceptional beauty. It appears as a paradise between small rocks and its surroudings with pines and myrtles, which to us, obsessed with Greece as we are, is very reminiscent of the suggestive blue green of Antipaxos in Greece. Including goats!
Cala Fornace is a small and suggestive beach on the Palmaria island (in front of Portovenere), made of gravel and pebbles and half-hidden by a rocky cliff, made even more interesting by the short distance that separates it from thee Batteries of Cala Fornace, military installations dating back to the late 1800s. We have chosen to name Cala Fornace, above all, because the water it is truly an emerald color which is very difficult to find elsewhere!
Secco beach of Portovenere
The Secco beach is, needless to say, in Punta Secco. This beach is just opposite the buildings of Portovenere, it almost feel like you could swim there. But don't try it, there are too many boats moving around and currents that could surprise you. Il Secco is a sandy mixed gravel beach, spacious and easily accessible by boats, equipped with sun beds and umbrellas and equipped with a restaurant. The sea of Secco beach is not bad, but we recommend that you have rock shoes with you to better enjoy entering the water. Transparent sea like never before!i!
Portovenere Hotel: where to sleep
Portovenere, not betraying the expectations related to the name (Port of Venus), is so beautiful and refined that obviously it reflects a bit in the price of the hotels, but also in their type and level. In Portovenere it is worthwhile to choose where to sleep in advance, to guarantee style and tranquility at the correct price. We have chosen the accommodations of This is Liguria, trying to satisfy all budgets and without giving up our identities. From the b & b for young couples in love, to the deluxe hotel, to the family holiday home. You are welcome to look with us where to sleep in Portovenere and we hope that everyone can feel at home as much as we do in our territory!
Parking in Portovenere is certainly among the painful notes to be counted whenever you decide to reach the town by car, at least on weekends, on beautiful sunny days, and when the desire for a walk by the sea becomes irresistible for the inhabitants of La Spezia, Lunigiana and neighboring districts. That is very, very often...
Without turning around, when you happen to be here on the wrong day, the parking in Portovenere it's a nightmare! Let's see how to mitigate the stress, starting with logistics.
The road from La Spezia arrives directly in the town center, and indeed ends here, in a small square with an adjoining taxi stop and bus stop. We are right next to the pier from which ferries leave for the Cinque Terre and for the tour of the three islands. Then, still one-way, it returns along the coast for a couple of km before returning two-way towards La Spezia and Le Grazie.
Finding parking in Portovenere therefore means finding a hole in correspondence with this circular road. One nice thing is: you won't have to worry too much about parking near the center, indeed any location along the road will do. This is because there is a parking bus that runs more or less continuously around the ring.
Usually once you find a spot, you pack your things, pay at the parking meter, reach the first bus stop and after a short wait, here it is the bus ready to deliver us on the seafront of perhaps the most beautiful town in Liguria. Parking in Porto Venere costs about 2.50 euro, while the cost of the bus ticket that you get along the way is a few cents per person, really well spent.
It should be noted that along the road that returns from the center of Portovenere towards La Spezia, Via Olivo, there are a couple of larger car parks: they could be preferable, also because here the road is flat and reaches the center with a beautiful walk just next to the free beach of Olive Tree (Spiaggia libera dell'Olivo). If you park here it will not necessary to get on the "parking bus".
The tour of the 3 islands of Portovenere
The tour of the 3 islands of Portovenere it is the classic excursion in which hikers who come to Portovenere for the first time try their hand. Tino, Tinetto, and the Palmaria. 45 minutes of beauty, complete with a tour guide, in which you never get off the boat and in which the eyes will not have a second respite..
In fact, in the tour of the three islands of Portovenere there will be to observe the typical landscapes that the Gulf of Poets can offer, both those sculpted by nature, and those that the hand of man has been able to shape, such as the typical cultivations of mussel muscles, the infinite fortifications soldiers linked to the vicissitudes and fortunes of the La Spezia arsenal, or the black marble quarries of Portoro. But also the lighthouse of the island of Tino - which competes with those of Brittany - and the ancient monastic cells of Tinetto island.
The tour of the 3 islands of Portovenere therefore, in less than an hour manages to condense all this together with the spectacular natural caves of Palmaria, the mouths of San Pietro, and the romantic Byron cave. The latter, then, is crouched right next to cliffs that are reminiscent of the beautiful coast of the Greek island of Zakynthos. Yes, that very land of other poets, from Foscolo to Edgar Allan Poe. It is certainly not a coincidence!
Portovenere and surroundings
The beauty of Portovenere is that not only the place is beautiful, but it is just a piece of a magnificent puzzle, which includes the Gulf of La Spezia and why not the Cinque Terre. A holiday in Liguria in these parts really allows you to never get bored and at the same time to visit unique and beautiful places every day, and with little difficulty in moving.
The surroundings of Portovenere, in fact, both within the Gulf of Poets and beyond, can even be reached on foot, or with a short trip by ferry. By car the horizons of La Spezia and Lunigiana, of medieval Sarzana and - how can we forget - of the Versilia beaches, just beyond the regional border, open up. Ready for a new journey in that Tuscany that from Portovenere is just on the other side of the Gulf..
Le GrazieLe Grazie is the small village that you meet along the road - called Napoleonic because it was he, the Bonaparte, who wanted to build it - which is today the provincial SP530 that connects La Spezia and Portovenere.
Le Grazie, a village that suddenly appears at the umpteenth bend, unexpectedly strikes you for its beauty, which immediately invites you to stop. A nice appetizer that immediately makes us understand what awaits us in Portovenere. In the evening, then, it is beautifully illuminated. At Le Grazie, whose life mainly revolves around the Navy base, there are also some interesting things to see, among which the Roman villa of Varignano : an archaeological area that preserves the oldest oil mill in Liguria!!
LericiLerici is the second superstar town in the Gulf of Poets, the eternal sentinel, the ever-present companion, Castore and Pollux. The two locations look each other in the eye, Portovenere with the head to Liguria and the Cinque Terre, Lerici with its back to Tuscany. Lord Byron in 1822 took the challenge to swim from Lerici to Portovenere, with an epic crossing that went down in history. We will talk more about Lerici on the page dedicated to it but for now it is enough to say that among the things to see if you are in Portovenere, Lerici is definetely one. If you the time and desire, to see them on the same day is good and right, even if only to decide which one is the most beautiful of the two!
CampigliaCampiglia is that unknown village that everyone knows in the area, especially hikers and those who love trails. Campiglia, in fact, is famous as an intermediate destination, because it is located exactly halfway on the path that connects Portovenere to Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre.
Campiglia, for those who know Liguria well, will be a lucky association, it reminds us a lot of San Rocco di Camogli. Both boast a splendid sea view, both are a small and delightful town. Campiglia is a balcony overlooking the sea, a small square where you can stop for hours, in the evening, to chat. Sitting on a bench and staring at the moon reflecting off the silver waves. In short, a bit cliché but it always works..Try.
For Andrea, Campiglia is that place to stop for a drink before continuing training on the route of several local trail running competitions. Katerina is a place of day dreaming: how wonderful it would be to live here .. but who can convince Andrea to abandon his roots under the Genoese lantern?
How to get to Portovenere
There are several ways to get to Portovenere and probably the car is the worst of all, even if the most immediate. Not only because of the usual Ligurian problem of parking, but also because recently the status of Ligurian motorways always borders on something between neurasthenia and a narrow escape. Despite this, its proximity to La Spezia makes Portovenere a very easy destination to reach both from Genoa, from Tuscany and from the Po Valley thanks to the legendary Cisa truck road, now better know as the autostrada A15 Parma - La Spezia.
In any case to get to Portovenere by car you have to exit the motorway at La Spezia and then it will be about 16 km of road: be careful, you have to cross downtown, and this means queues and traffic lights!
How to get to Portovenere by trainThe train to Portovenere is always good, you are never wrong: just get off at La Spezia and continue for the last stretch by bus. Unfortunately, the bus does not stop in the square in front of the station, which is too narrow to be the terminus of all lines. It is necessary to continue a few hundred meters up to Via Garibaldi even less than 10 minutes on foot where the bus line number 11 / P stops.
The 11/P bus La Spezia - Portovenere travels with a frequency that varies from 30 minutes to 10, just remember that it will be only every hour after 8 in the evening. It costs 3 euro per person
Portovenere ferryGetting to Portovenere by ferry is both an intelligent and fun idea. Funny because come on, unless you live in Venice it's not like one takes the ship every day to go to work. Intelligent because it avoids the problem of parking and, if well planned, gives the opportunity to combine a visit to Portovenere in Lerici, Riomaggiore, or some other of the Cinque Terre. Or maybe Levanto, from which a boat leaves for Portovenere in the morning and always returns to Levanto in the evening around 6pm
The ferry rides to Portovenere, of course, are many the in summer, and end only in winter: excluding the period from November to March, it is always possible to use this means of transport to get to Portovenere!
There are several shipping companies that deal with ferries to Portovenere, at whose sites you can always find updated timetables.
Camping sites Portovenere
How is it to go in camping in Portovenere? Possible, but with organization. In fact, there are no campsites in this municipality, but only in the surroundings and neighboring areas. More suitable choice, for camping lovers, is Lerici, already projected outside the Gulf of Poets but still within it and really within reach of the thousands of campsites in Versilia.
To go with a motorhome in Portovenere the enterprise is a bit different. There is a bit of hope to find a place in the paid parking with parking meter, shared with cars and buses: there are 5 motorhomes spaces, but no service. It is located in Via dellOlivo, the beautiful seafront road that runs along the beaches of Portovenere just past the central square, and starting to go back in the direction of La Spezia. The cost, if it hasn't changed since the last time, is around 3 euro per hour.
Boat rental in Portovenere
Given the natural position of Portovenere at the end of the magical Gulf of Poets, a protected offshoot that protects the islands of Tino, Tinetto and Palmaria, there is no better idea to visit Portovenere than to rent a boat and sail the waves to discover this wonderful coast.
There are many local companies that allow boat rentals, usually boats up to 5 meters that do not require a boat license to be rented daily, with or without a driver.
The prices of the boat rental in Portovenere they also vary depending on what you intend to do: for example, there will always be the opportunity to try fishing trips, or other activities proposed by the skipper or rental agency, but let's take a standard example.
We at This is Liguria calculate that the starting price is about 110 for half a day for a boat that can accommodate up to 6 people, which becomes 150 for the whole day. Price that will go up depending on the type of boat rental i you are looking for here in Portovenere. You can easily spend up to 600 per day, however that is to be expected for powerful 250hp inflatable boats that can comfortably carry even 10 people.
Portovenere with kids
Many ask us whether Portovenere is an ideal destination for a holiday with children in Liguria or not. The answer is the famous maybe.
In fact, it all depends on what kind of children your little ones are, how old they are, and what kind of holiday you have in mind for them and your family. If you were planning to build castles on soft sand ... well it is obvious that there are much better places than Portovenere. Somewhere close here in Liguria, certainly Lerici and Levanto but also Monterosso: all places that are more suitable than here for holidays with children.
Portovenere with children, however, turns out to be a winning card to play maybe later ... when the heirs are already a bit more grown up, nearly teenagers. In this case, Portovenere will be the perfect choice for active family holidays full of always new things to do and see, between an excursion in the park in the Cinque Terre and a day on a rubber dinghy in search of the most hidden coves of Palmaria. The latter, speaking of excursions, is a real gem, with a beautiful and well-structured network of paths & trails able to stimulate and entertain the whole family.
Portovenere in one day
Portovenere is small, and let's say that to explore it well, in its historic core between the Palazzata a mare, the church of San Pietro and the Byron cave, you can easily get out of it in half a day. For this Portovenere is a beautiful day trip destination , that is of course if you are located in a place that is not too far.
How to make the most of your time once you have conquered... a parking spot?
- You must necessarily start from Calata Doria, the gateway to the town. Here are a couple of coffe shops, and after an energizing coffee, nothing better than ...
- continue along the sea, next to the Palazzata a mare. It will be happen just on its own, even without our words: the end of the pier, with perhaps the most photographed and desired church in Liguria, San Pietro, is a snake charmer.
- After the first surprise, the checklist to which we recommend referring, and without having completed which it would be a real shame to leave in the evening, is the same that contains all the best of what there is to see in Portovenere. Here it is!!
What to see in Portovenere
Portovenere, all its beauties in a few meters.
Church of San PietroThe Church of San Pietro is the symbol of Portovenere, its jewel, the great pride. Right on the tip of the peninsula where the town stands, this church that looks like a fortified bastion or, depending on your point of view, a film set or maybe both, attracts the visitors and conquers them step by step. Unsurprisingly, this is also one of Italy's most desired places where to get married.
Built in 1198, the church of San Pietro di Portovenere is as beautiful during the day as in the evening, indeed, in the evening, if possible, it becomes even more magical, romantic, shining with a thousand lights and full of an atmosphere full of suspense.
Andrea took a long time, in the years of their love story, to bring Katerina to Portovenere and her first reaction, at the sight of the church of San Pietro, was but you are crazy not to have brought me here before! Don't make the same mistake please .....
Building by the seaThe Palazzata a mare is the very postcard of the things to see in Portovenere. Just this makes the image of the village in the world. Typical Ligurian houses, with bright colors of amaranth, ocher, apricot, canary yellow. As if it had come out of Van Gogh's Provençal period canvases, indeed with the same Dutch inspiration if you like, given the rows of houses with tall and narrow facades that have made Amsterdam famous around the world. Here, the palazzata of Portovenere is like this, but it tastes of pesto and salt and the Mediterranean, for which she wins.
The best view of the Palazzata di Portovenere is from the pier of the ferry terminal, but the best shot is the one you decide to give it, walking next to it and climbing on the stones that protect the seafront from the storms, and turning your back to the sea in search of the perspective as personal as possible.
The door of the BorgoThe Porta del Borgo is the entrance that looks like it came out of a movie about the Templars of the medieval village of Portovenere. It looks a lot like the Porta Soprana the gate to the Genoese historic center, and crossing its threshold is the prelude to the wonderful main alley, via Capellini. An alley that will be a must to photograph in every corner, in search of the most delightful square, and the most characteristic alley. Via Capellini is also the main culinary artery of the town and in the evening it will be pleasure to walk next to the restaurants and choose where to indulge in food. Next to the Porta del Borgo we find the pro loco of Portovenere and the beginning of the path to Riomaggiore, which climbs very steeply right next to its walls.
Lord Byron's GrottoAh, Byron's cave. How we like these places that indelibly melt their soul together with that of one person only. The Byron cave is actually called Grotta Arpaia and is one of the many that characterize the coastline in this particular stretch of Liguria: the island of Palmaria, for example, can boast 36! The Byron cave is one of the most sought-after things to see in Portovenere and can be accessed from a door near the church of San Pietro, going down a few steps, and identifying with the magic..
The church of San LorenzoThe church of San Lorenzo is located in the historic center of Portovenere and is even older than the church of San Pietro, dating back to about l’A.D 1130. It is a church that houses the icon most dear to all the inhabitants of the place: a painting of the White Madonna, whose feast is held every 17th August and which we will talk about shortly. Its history reminds us of that of the beautiful Panagia Chozoviotissa in Amorgos, our favorite Greek island. Like her, it seems to have come directly from the sea, protected by a trunk of the Lebanese cedar tree..
The Doria castleThe Doria castle still stands mighty above Portovenere and is one of the most essential things to see in the Gulf of Poets. It is especially so for the view you can enjoy from up here, which sweeps across the Gulf of poets, on Palmaria, on the island of Tino with its lighthouse, and so on and so forth. Only from here you can enjoy the entirety of this corner of Liguria and frame everything in one click.
Reaching the entrance to the Doria Castle is almost a climb of stairs. Entry is not free and may or may not be worth it depending on how interested you are in constructions of this type. However, the ticket costs only a handful of euros so, if there is time, a visit does not hurt so much your finances: it will only increase the satisfaction of a visit to Portovenere.re.
The windmills (former watch towers)The two windmills, which were also used as watchtowers, are located along the slope that leads to the entrance of the Doria castle. They are interesting constructions and above all of photographic inspiration, just that little bit more to bring home that different shot than usual, such as to increase the nostalgia when we start looking at the old photos on the sofa!!
The path to Riomaggiore
The one between Portovenere and Riomaggiore, a path of 15 km and 6 hours of walking that Andrea and Katerina have traveled recently, complete with a little son in the mountain backpack - and of which you will find the track on Strava here - is a part of the fantastic Liguria Trail , in the section that connects Portovenere to Monterosso..
It is seen by many as the most beautiful path in the world, and who are we to disagree? Expect 6 hours of walking. It's a moderately hard path, especially the first part uphill, with some slightly exposed sections overlooking the sea. However, it is a path suitable for everyone and this advise comes from someone who has a lot of vertigo and this case had no particular issues.
The Portovenere - Riomaggiore path is always very popular and the peculiarity is that halfway there is the village of Campiglia, perfect for a regenerating stop, a lunch, or if you are too tired, the terminus of the bus that leads to La Spezia, from which then with another bus you can return to Portovenere by cutting the route by half. The others will continue to Riomaggiore passing the Colle del Telegrafo, with a view that becomes gradually more splendid, between the vineyards of Sciacchetrà and the infinite sea on the horizon.
The path between Portovenere and Riomaggiore offers magnificent views all along the route and is also equipped with a kiosk before Campiglia, ideal for a fruit juice or an energizing sandwich!
The White Madonna of Portovenere
Each year, the highlight to mark on the calendar is August 17th. on that date, the feast of the White Madonna of Portovenere . Above all, her miracle is celebrated, dating back to 1399, the year in which an old icon depicted on a tree trunk suddenly changed color, stopped wearing its blackened features and folded his hands as a sign of prayer.
The icon of the Madonna that became white still today can be seen in the church of San Lorenzo. August 17th, in Portovenere then, is a total party. Magic is unique, almost feverish.
Tip: that evening you have to go up to the Doria castle and observe the Church of San Pietro and all its promontory from above, which will be completely lit in a thousand lights and torches. It will be a sight to be enjoyed at least once in a lifetime.
Opinions of Andrea and Katerina
In short, after all this talk, what remains in our hearts and minds of Portovenere is a collection of sensations, but above all the awareness that some places are different from others. Predestined by the God of geography, they take in history and beauty, accumulate it, and release it all in one fell swoop as soon as you visit them. In over 1000 years, Portovenere is after all still the same: it defends Genoa and Liguria, glorifies it in trade and makes it great in the poems of foreigners, it hosts our soldiers and is a champion tourist destination. We wouldn't be the same without it.