Portovenere 101: the basics

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Once upon a time…

According to myth, Venus – the Roman goddess for love, beauty, desire and prosperity – was born of sea foam right in front of the Promontory of Punta San Pietro. A temple was dedicated to her, and the surrounding hamlet was thus called Portus Veneris – today’s Portovenere (also correctly written as Porto Venere).

Geography & Heritage

Portovenere is a sea village in the province of La Spezia in Liguria. It is located on the southern tip of a peninsula on the western shore of the Gulf of Poets (or Gulf of La Spezia). The surrounding pristine waters feature 3 small islands, called Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. Steep, uneven terrains and dramatic cliffs characterize the coastline, upon which colorful towns are perched.

“The layout and disposition of the small towns and the shaping of the surrounding landscape encapsulate the continuous history of human settlement in this region over the past millennium.” According to UNESCO, this area is a cultural landscape of great scenic and cultural value. For this reason Portovenere, the three islands and the Cinque Terre were designated as a World Heritage Site in 1997.

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History in a nutshell

The origins of the hamlet date back to the VI century B.C. with the Indo-European people called Ligures. The fishermen’s village became a naval base under the Byzantine fleet, before being destroyed by the Longobards in 643 A.D. In the following centuries, different powers ruled Portovenere, including the Republic of Genova, Napoleon’s France, and the Kingdom of Sardinia – before being annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Portovenere has been a destination for elite tourism for over a century, starting from the 1800s with illustrious figures such as English poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement, George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron).


Local attractions include a number of beautiful, historic monuments – all of which will be explored in future blog posts. This is just a brief summary of the most characteristic ones! The Sanctuary of the White Madonna is a Romanic-style Church from the XII century, while St. Peter’s Church was built on the site of the ancient Temple of Venus between the V and XIII centuries in a Genovese gothic style. Portovenere hosts one of the most majestic military architectures by the Republic of Genova, the Doria Castle (1161). There is also a Roman Villa from the I century B.C. (Villa Romana del Varignano) and its Antiquarium. The Byron, Azzurra and Tinetto Sea Caves are simply mesmerizing.

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Portovenere things to do

The breathtaking nature provides the perfect landscape for a number of sports and activities: sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, diving and snorkeling in the protected waters, which are consistently awarded for their cleanliness; free-climbing, cycling and trekking along the rugged coast and in the Regional Nature Park of Portovenere. Cooking lessons, wine tasting and guided visits in the typical terraced vineyards are also great fun!

Traditional events

Local celebrations include the torch-lit Procession of the White Madonna in August, and the Feast of Patron San Venerio in September. Portovenere also competes in the thrilling Palio del Golfo regatta.

Local cuisine

Seafood reigns supreme, with delicacies such as ‘muscoli’ mussels and oysters that are cultivated right in front of Portovenere, octopus, seabass and gilt-head bream. Traditional dishes include fried fish, codfish with olives and potatoes, ‘scabeccio’ marinated fish, ‘sgabei’ pancakes, focaccia, the ‘mesc-ciua’ legume soup, spaghetti with ‘muscoli’, trofie with pesto… Eager to learn how to cook these delicious dishes? Join a cooking lesson in Portovenere!

Your base from where to explore it all

Grand Hotel Portovenere is a boutique hotel overlooking the harbor and historic center of Portovenere. Located in a beautiful historic building that hosted the St. Francis Convent in the 1600s, it offers elegant rooms with views of the sea or of the inner courtyard, 2 luxurious suites with inimitable views, a restaurant with creative Mediterranean cuisine, a cool cocktail bar and even a wellness center. Garage parking (a real privilege in this part of the Italian Riviera) is offered free of charge for direct bookings! Visit the official website of Grand Hotel Portovenere.


Featured image credit: Portovenere by Aconcagua (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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