Every visitor that reaches Portovenere for the first time is awe-struck by its amazing landscape with its colorful buildings, picturesque harbor and rugged promontory protruding into the sea like a huge ship. The view evokes emotions even in travelers who visit the village in additional occasions! Gazing at this spectacular panorama and immortalizing it in your travel photos is already an activity in its own right. But, needless to say, there are many more things to do in Portovenere: the town is small and most of its attractions are within walking distance or a short boat-ride away. Let’s find out together.
1. Enjoy the dolce vita on the sea promenade
Stroll along the pretty harbor: on one side, you have the sea and Palmaria Island across Le Bocche channel, while the other side is “walled” by the characteristic buildings: they are tall, colorful and attached to each other. Sit down at a seafront café or restaurant and relax. Order your favorite drink or food, or find out about what the locals prefer and try it.
2. Visit San Pietro Church
At the end of the promenade, you encounter Portovenere’s majestic promontory topped by the Church of San Pietro. At a distance, it almost looks like a fortified castle, and it is the first thing you notice about Portovenere if you are reaching it with the ferryboat. It was consecrated officially in 1198. The building is very pretty and simple both outside and inside, where it hosts a statue of Saint Peter.
3. Meditate like Lord Byron
From San Pietro Church you can easily reach an observation deck next to Grotta Arpaia, also known as Byron’s Grotto. The English poet loved this evocative bay; it was his favorite meditation and relaxation spot on the Gulf of Poets! If you like scuba diving, make sure to pay an “underwater visit” to this cave, which is located within the Protected Marine Area of Portovenere.
4. Shop in the carugio
Before entering the historic center, on the promontory you will find a statue of a woman looking out into the open sea: she represents Mother Nature and was created by artist Scorzelli. Next, the path will lead you into the carugio, or the narrow street that is typical of the Ligurian Riviera. Here you can visit many artisanal and food shops (click here to know more about Artisan Workshops in and around Portovenere). If you reach Portovenere’s historic center from the opposite side of the carugio, you enter it from its medieval gate built in 1113.
5. Feel glorious at Doria Castle
Along the carugio, you will spot narrow, steep staircases that lead you up the hill. Choose one and explore the alleys up to the Doria Castle. 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! Explore the castle and its surroundings to imagine and relive the history of the place. Along the panoramic path between the Doria Castle and the Church of San Pietro, you will spot some cylindrical, ancient buildings: in their past they served as windmills and as watchtowers.
6. Learn about the local myth of the Madonna Bianca
Enjoying yet another spectacular location next to the Doria Castle is 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 (read more about the story of the Madonna Bianca & the amazing traditional event that takes place on 17 August of every year). The building was erected between 1118 and 1130.
7. Visit the Roman Villa of Varignano
(Note: The video is in Italian, you can scan through it to have an idea of the excavation works and ruins)
Portovenere includes two smaller fractions called Le Grazie and Fezzano, which are located between Portovenere and La Spezia. These seaside villages are charming and deserve a visit too. You can reach them by car, local transport or by boat. One hidden, off-the-beaten-track gem is the Roman Villa of Varignano (Le Grazie). Dating as far back as the I century B.C., it was initially a rustic complex for the production of olive oil, and then turned into a residential country house until the VI century. Today it hosts an archeologic museum.
8. Seasonal activities
Things to do in Portovenere and surroundings can vary according to the season in which you visit. There are obvious summer choices like diving, swimming and being at the beach (click here for Top Beaches in Portovenere). But there are also a number of activities that you can enjoy all-year-round: visiting wine cellars and vineyards (read about one example: Ca’ Lunae Winery), wine tasting, cooking lessons, sailing, shopping in the nearby larger towns, attending local traditional events, relaxing at a spa like Portovenere Wellness…
9. Sail to the Islands
From the harbor of Portovenere you can take the public transport or get a taxi boat and sail around the mesmerizing islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. On Palmaria you can trek along its paths, swim in its beautiful bays, dive in its grottos, relax at a beach club or restaurant (read all about Palmaria Island). Tino cannot be visited on foot because it is a military territory. However, in occasion of St. Venerio, patron saint of the Gulf of La Spezia, this island can be visited by tourists twice a year: on 13 September and on the following Sunday. Tinetto is little more than a rock; still, from the sea you can spot ruins left by ancient religious communities.
10. Tick them off the list: Cinque Terre
The world-famous Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare) are just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Portovenere. You can reach them with the ferryboat directly from the local harbor of Porto Venere, or get there with the frequent train services from La Spezia Station. If you are planning a vacation in the Gulf of Poets and 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. Close to all the action, yet set off the beaten track! If you are on a tight schedule, see our top tips for Visiting Portovenere and the Cinque Terre in 48 Hours.
What are your favorite things to do in Portovenere?
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