Portovenere or Cinque Terre?

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Portovenere or Cinque Terre: where to stay and what to visit while on vacation in Liguria’s Riviera di Levante? It’s a question that many travelers ask themselves, especially those who are eager to strike a balance between visiting iconic attractions and enjoying slow travel. If you want to travel to the eastern part of the Italian Riviera and are considering where to stay, this article might help you in your decision-making process.

At the beginning of the year, CNN included Cinque Terre in its article called “12 destinations travelers might want to avoid in 2018”. It explains that the five villages drew a massive 2.5 million visitors in 2015, leading authorities to pledge a tourist cap that was never put in place. Indeed, the concerns about mass tourism are real, especially for an area that is part of a protected nature park. Joe Minihane, travel writer for CNN Travel, Lonely Planet and Independent Travel, ends the article with an alternative to Cinque Terre: “Head south to the gorgeous town of Portovenere. With no rail access, it is less enamored by tourists and is all the better for it.”

staying in cinque terre

Traveler Experiences and Opinions

As the famous and respected Fodors Travel Guide explains, “the colorful facades and pedestrian-only calata (promenade) make Portovenere the quintessential Ligurian seaside village; it’s often referred to as the sixth town of the Cinque Terre, but it has half the crowds.”

This claim about Portovenere being just as wonderful as Cinque Terre, if not even more surprising, is made by many passionate travelers. For example, on the Slow Talk forum there is thread called “One Day: Portovenere or Cinque Terre”. The discussion starts with a user asking whether it is better to focus on 5 Terre or Portovenere for a one-day cruise in the Italian Riviera. All answers point to the lesser-known village:

“Honestly, I would concentrate on Portovenere. It is at least as interesting and beautiful as any of the 5 Terre towns. You can also take the ferry across to Palmaria island.”

“I would suggest a leisurely day in Portovenere […] A walk to the Doria Castle or San Pietro Church. Shopping along the Via Capellini or just wandering can take up a good portion of the day.”

“I LOVE Portovenere and could easily spend a day there—as we have several times.”

A delicate balance

The famous beauty of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia and Monterosso, has made these towns a “bucket-list” destination. It is understandable that tourists want to visit Cinque Terre: if possible they should not miss the chance to see such a unique and famous territory.

But something that is desirable is a bit more sensitivity and sustainability when it comes to travel, as Virginia Stuart-Taylor from The Well-Travelled Postcard explains. Too much mass tourism can end up destroying the unique places that we love to visit. It can also put a terrible strain on locals, who are unable to enjoy their villages due to the multitudes of tourists posing for photos in front of their homes or being rowdy in the streets. Yet, not visiting some places anymore would be disastrous for the communities that do depend on tourism income. And we would stop enjoying the positive aspects from intercultural experiences through tourism.

visit portovenere or cinque terre hotel stay
Many towns in Liguria have the same candy-colored houses and sea setting that make Cinque Terre famous. In the photo: Portovenere.

Though there is no definitive solution, there are some small yet big steps that can be taken in order to make travel more sustainable in Cinque Terre. For example, going off in discovery of nearby hidden gems that are still little known, such as Portovenere, Levanto or Lerici – and choosing these alternative villages for your hotel stay (read our tips for “48 Hours in Portovenere and Cinque Terre“). Another tip for Slow Travel is to plan a vacation in the off-peak season, for example between March and May, or between September and early November. Hotel rates and airfares are cheaper than in summer, and there are less tourists meaning that you can take your time when walking around, deal with less queues, and experience the local lifestyle in a more authentic way.

What about you? Would you choose Portovenere or Cinque Terre for your next stay in the Gulf of Poets?

What are your thoughts on sustainable tourism and slow travel? Comment below.

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