Palmaria is the largest of the three islands in the Gulf of La Spezia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the sea village of Porto Venere and the smaller islands of Tino and Tinetto, which we will explore in future blog posts (stay tuned!). Today we will discover Palmaria, whose name probably originates from the word “Balma“, meaning Cave, rather than from the dwarf palms that dot its territory.
Nature & Territory
A small channel called “Le Bocche” separates the mainland from this triangular island, which is part of the Porto Venere Nature Park.
Even though it is a small island (1,89 km²), Palmaria features different landscapes: the sides that face the gulf are covered in Mediterranean vegetation, while those that face the sea boast sheer cliffs.
Local flora is composed by about 500 species, mainly pines, holm oaks, lentisco shrub, strawberry trees, Montpelier cistus and thorny Scotch broom. Among the autochthonous and endangered flora are the Fiordaliso di Porto Venere (Centaurea veneris) and the Candytuft (Iberis umbellate).
Local fauna includes birds like the kestrel, the peregrine falcon, the sparrow hawk and the cormorant. Mammals in the area are composed of large population of different bats that live in the caves, and colonies of rabbits and goats. On Palmaria Island you will also find Europe’s smallest gecko, the endangered tarantolino (Phyllodactylus europaeus).
Hidden among the rocks are mesmerizing caves, most importantly the Grotta Azzurra and the Grotta dei Colombi. The former can be visited by boat, while the latter can be reached only by climbing down a rope from the cliffs. This might sound like a challenge for some, but it is worth your while: in fact, Grotta dei Colombi is one of the most important caves in Eastern Liguria for the paleontological treasures that were found here, including arrowheads, cooking items, polished shells and animal fossils suggesting that the cave was already inhabited during the Ice Age. These remains from the Neolithic era are now visible in the La Spezia Civic Museum.
The Regional Nature Park of Porto Venere recommends the most interesting walking tours to fully appreciate the island’s features:
Starting from Terrizzo, the area where ferries dock, we travel eastwards to the Fortified Battery of Umberto I, today known as the “Sea Fortress” built in the last century under the Savoy Administration of Count Cavour and used as a prison until the 1950s. After important restoration works, today the “Sea Fortress” houses exhibitions, conventions, shows and important cultural events.
Just before the fortress, the road forks and by turning right we can reach the eastern side of the island, virtually untouched by human intervention, along a path which winds its way through fragrant broom, wild orchids, delicately perfumed myrtle and other plants of the Mediterranean scrub. The road reaches Mariella Point overlooking the “Roccio Cave” and the Pozzale creek with its Portoro quarries. This precious black marble with light colored flecks was extracted until recently.
Starting from this point is the hill up to the “Island Peak” where we can find several caves, including Grotta dei Colombi, then on to the top of the island to the Semaforo Battery and Cavour Fortress.
On the way down, we walk through Aleppo and Maritime pines and we reach the northwestern point of the island. On the other side of the narrow sea channel, we can spot the unmistakable silhouette of the Church of San Pietro with the imposing limestone cliffs of Muzzerone rising in the background.
If your next dream vacation includes crystal-clear waters and clean beaches, wonderful weather, delicious food and pristine nature, art, culture and eco-friendly activities… consider booking your holidays in Porto Venere. The village enjoys a panoramic location on the Gulf of Poets, and you can easily move around by boat, car and buses. The Cinque Terre are around the corner and can be reached with daily ferries that depart from Porto Venere. Need accommodation? Have a look at the boutique Grand Hotel Portovenere right on the harbor.
Photo credits: Maurizio Pessione (maupes.wordpress.com), Agostino De Maio (fotoeweb.it), Michele (kinmare.blogspot.it), cittadellaspezia.com