Portovenere, the pearl of the Poets Bay

A visit to Portovenere is now essential for those on the coast of La Spezia and Liguria. But, shockingly, only recently have the many travelers attracted by the well-known Cinque Terre known that the fishing village of the Gulf of Poets is certainly more fascinating than the more famous nearby destination.

Portovenere viewed from Palmaria Island Ph. Federico di Dio

In this story

Portovenere is not to be seen but to be looked at in its small and significant details. With the five famous villages, the town certainly shares a lot of history, and therefore the architectural and urban sty. Yet the unique shape of the coast at the end of the Gulf makes the fishing village special. Its “palazzata” of tall, narrow, and colorful houses overlooking the canal between the mainland and Palmaria Island is built on the last stretch of the Bay of La Spezia. On that last rock, when sailors greet the natural and safe port of the Gulf towards the open sea, the Romanesque church of San Pietro stands out, once a Roman temple dedicated to Venus from Erice.

The unique and spectacular position of the building has certainly been of great symbolic value over time, of evocative significance for all the men who have been able to admire the view from and to Portovenere over the centuries. As if that weren’t enough, the coast here rises to take your breath away in the white rock cliffs that rise against the sea in the direction of the Cinque Terre and the islands of Palmaria and Tino. From above, the town is watched over by the Muzzerone mountain and a little further on by the Doria fortress, which, like the church of San Pietro, continues the natural structure of the coast in the artifact. Finally, the walls descend towards the shore and close off the defensive complex, which in the Middle Ages used architectural construction and nature to protect against invasions by sea and land.

Portovenere, what to see?

The most helpful advice is to let yourself be captivated by the small tangle of the streets of Portovenere, without the risk of getting lost, but sure of getting lost in the charm made up of colorful houses, narrow streets, stunning views, corners of simple beauty. A little lost and fascinated, one can understand how the village is imbued. Indeed it is the cradle of maritime wisdom that characterizes the Gulf of La Spezia, in its shops, restaurants, fishermen’s nets, and small fishing boats on the waterfront of Calata Doria.

Seeing Portovenere from the sea is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Portovenere, to understand its structure. From a boat, you can enter the cavities of the coast, go around Palmaria island, and have some spectacular dives in the Byron cave on the other beaches of the village and its archipelago. It is possible to make many tours with motor or sailing boats, or, highly recommended, in a kayak.

For those who like trekking, we recommend instead arriving in Portovenere from above and admiring the magnificent profile of the village by going down to the sea and gradually immersing yourself in its beauty.

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Portovenere, what to see in 10 steps 

  • Go along the “Carugio,” the narrow central street of the village, onto which the doors of the houses of the “palazzata” overlook and open with small openings towards the sea
  • Visit the loggia of San Pietro, the ideal setting for Instagram.
  • Look out over the “Byron Cave,” dedicated to the poet who dived into it for his ambitious swims and characterized by spectacular nature.
  • Look out over the “Byron Cave,” dedicated to the poet who dived into it for his ambitious swims and characterized by spectacular nature.
  • Dive into the sea from the rocks on the Portovenere canal, in the shadow of San Pietro, like a real local
  • Visit the San Lorenzo Church and learn the Madonna Bianca story.  
  • Visit the cemetery with a panoramic view, one of the most beautiful in the world
  • Climb to the Doria Castle, rest in its moat, admire the view towards San Pietro, and go down along its walls.
  • Have an ice cream, an aperitivo, have a local breakfast on the lively promenade of fishermen and shipowners.
  • See the Tower of Portovenere, a 16th-century Guvardia structure.

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Saint peter’s church in Portovenere

It is said that where the church of San Pietro stands today, on the extreme tip of the coast, many centuries ago, there was a Roman temple dedicated to Venus, the goddess of beauty and sexuality. she was born from the foam of the waves. She was also the propitiator of strength and victory for the ancient Romans.

Many temples were dedicated to the goddess throughout the peninsula. Observing the building of the current church of San Pietro, it is easy to imagine that whoever conceived it initially felt the need to oppose the strength of the earth to the energy of the waves, sometimes so large and powerful against that rocky shore. The temple’s stone almost does not look like a manufactured construction; it seems to rise from the ground to ascend towards the sky, to look into the distance, blending nature and artifacts in a harmonious, strong, audacious whole.

A miracle of architecture that in the Christian era transformed the myth into devotion to the saint called to found the Church on a stone and with courage.

In the Middle Ages, an adjacent Benedictine monastery was built there. Then, during the Lombard reign, the custody of the ancient temple was entrusted to the San Colombano di Bobbio monks, who settled in the monastery and on Palmaria Island. The temple was dedicated to Saint Peter on July 19, 1118, by Pope Gelasius II together with the gift of a relic of the apostle. In the thirteenth century, the Genoese expanded the structure, a second church communicating with the ancient early Christian temple to form a larger building, which was seriously damaged during the First Italian War by the Aragonese artillery (July 16, battle of Portovenere). Bivouac for the Napoleons became the object of recovery and archaeological excavation until it became part of the General Catalog of Italian Cultural Heritage.

San Pietro in Portovenere (SP)

Where is Portovenere and hot to get

La Spezia and Portovenere are separated by about 14 km of the western arm of the Gulf of Poets; from that point onwards, the natural coast of the Cinque Terre and the Ligurian Levant begins.

To get to Portovenere, you need some basic information. The village does not have a railway and cannot be reached by train like the villages of the Cinque Terre, so it can only be reached by land and sea. During the day, the bus connections with the city of La Spezia and its station for those arriving by train are frequent and regular; the same cannot be said for the evening hours. The sea connection with Navigazione Golfo dei Poeti regularly passes through Portovenere. Here is also the sea connection to the Cinque Terre. The service allows you to enjoy a splendid view of the sea, but the company is active only in the spring and summer months and not in the evening. However, many private individuals offer the same service at all hours. If you arrive by car, remember that the village has few public parking spaces, and parking in the high season is often difficult. Traffic by car is circular; you arrive from Località del Cavo, where there is a large public car park from which a municipal shuttle leaves for the center. Continuing with the shuttle or your car, you take a ring road that “touches” the main square from which the pedestrian area begins. From there, one moves away from the historic center again towards the Olivo seafront, where there are various paid parking lots and garages, to return towards Cavo.