It is located in eastern Liguria, on a peninsula which opens the entrance to the Gulf of the Poets. In 1997, together with the islands of Palmaria, Tino, Tinetto and the Cinque Terre, was inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
How to get to Portovenere?
- by car – Portovenere is located at the very tip of the peninsula:
– motorway A12, you exit in the la Spezia-motorway exit and then follow the signs to Portovenere (road SP530); more details: https://www.autostrade.it/en/home
-Aurelia SS1, you have to follow the direction of La Spezia and then, when you reach the city, follow the signs to Portovenere (SP530). In that part of Liguria, Aurelia doesn’t lead along the sea but instead goes through the forests and little villages (offers nice views anyway).
After the first roundabout of Portovenere, the road will start going down. Along the downhill, you can find a lot of blue parking lots (1,50€/h) that continue almost to the town centre. If you park there, you can take a bus, which goes from the parking places to the town centre (1€ round trip ticket). There is also a parking place in the centre (under the roof) which costs 2,50€/h but it is not very big so very often it is full.
- by train – the nearest railway station is in La Spezia Centrale and from there you should take a bus or ferry
- by bus – line 11 / P – the bus ticket costs € 2.50. Buses run every half an hour and the journey takes about 30 minutes. Remember to buy a ticket in tobacco shop (Tabacchi) because on a bus board costs much more.
- by ferry – the company Consorzio Marittimo Turistico Cinque Terre offers the trips from La Spezia to Portovenere and Cinque Terre. They go from 1st April to 1st November; ticket costs 4€/7€ for round-trip ticket; the ferry station is located on the La Spezia’s harbour, at Passeggiata Costantino Morin. More details: http://www.navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it/en
The name of the town comes from the Temple of Venus (Venere Ericina). In the ancient times, it was located on the tip of the peninsula, where now Chiesa di San Pietro (Church of Saint Peter ) stands. According to the tradition, Venus was born from the sea foam. At the tip of the peninsula of Portovenere the waves, breaking against the rocks, are forming a lot of foam. The name of the ancient temple and of the town probably cames from that.
In the past, Portovenere was a fishing village. During the period of Byzantium, it became a military fortress, which was completely destroyed in VII century. In XII century it became part of the Republic of Genoa, and after that, in 1861, of United Italy. In XIX century the town became a popular holiday destination for holidaymakers, including celebrities such as English writer Lord George Gordon Byron.
In the summer of 1516 Portuguese galleon, which sailed to Rome, sank off the coast of Portovenere. On the board, there was an animal which at that time stayed unknown in Europe: Asian rhino. It was a gift from the King of Portugal to the Pope Leo X. Rhino indeed drowned, but once his remains flowed on the surface of the sea, it was fished out, then stuffed and sent (this time by land) to the Pope.
German painter Dürer read about that first specimen of a rhino in Europe. The description of that strange animal fascinated him so much that he drew his etching. Currently, this drawing can be admired in the British Museum in London.
After you’ve arrived, you are in the centre, in front of the sea. You are probably going to take pictures of the colourful tenement houses, that are faced on the little, charming port and the island of Palmaria.
Your tour starts from the place that immediately attracts your attention in Portovenere:
Chiesa di San Pietro (the Church of St.Peter)
It was built in XII century, replacing the previous temple of Venus. Inside there is quite dark and modest. On the right side of the entrance, you can see the foundations of a previous structure. The advantage of the church is that it is an excellent viewpoint. You can go to one of its terraces (be careful, the stairs are very slippy !!!) and admire a fantastic view of the open sea, as well as Ligurian and Tuscany coast (on a clear day you could see even Corsica!).
Moving away from the church, along the remains of its walls, you can go down to the small, rocky beach. During summer you can swim there, while in the cooler months you can enjoy the view of the Byrons cave. You can also stay close to the statue of Mother Nature (finished in 1989 by Italian artist Scorzelli) contemplating the Ligurian Sea.
After returning to the town, go up the steps you find on the left, that leads you to the church of St. Peter. Passing next to the remains of the old windmills (ones they were also scout towers) up to the top, to the Castello Doria.
Castello Doria (Doria Castle)
Entrance: € 5
Open hours: 10.00 am-5.00 pm
Nowadays, the castle is, in fact, the ruin of a medieval fortress structure. It was built probably in XII century and was destroyed many times during the fades between Genoa and Pisa. Through the ages, it was a residence of the leaders of the town. Inside you can visit the column hall and an apartment, where the leaders were living.
Turning down to the town you will find another church:
Chiesa di San Lorenzo (Church of St. Lawrence)
Which is also known as the Shrine of the White Madonna. The second name of the church comes from a painting that you can see inside the building, showing the Virgin Mary with the Child. She’s called “white” because of a very pale complexion. The legend says that during the plague epidemic of 1399 a man named Lucciardo, went to the church and asked Mary to free the town from the epidemic. According to the legend, the colours of the painting flashed and then the epidemic amazingly finished. That legendary event is commemorated every year on August 17th during the evening procession.
When you continue walking down the stairs, along with the medieval walls, you will come to the main street of the town, via Capellini. Here you can find EVERYTHING !!!! 😉 Souvenirs, handicrafts made by local artists, restaurants, hotels, ice-cream and tourists 😉
Are you hungry??? No problem, you will eat very well here. You can choose between numerous locals in the harbour with a sea view, or in via Capellini, in the shadow of old fishing tenement houses. As always I recommend you to check the menu list before entering, avoiding bad surprises. However, we are not in Portofino, so the prices here are rather normal.
What you definitely should try here (because this part of Liguria is really famous of them ) are the muscles (cozze). They prepare them in thousand ways: Cozze alla marinara (mussels steamed), spaghetti allo scoglio (with clams in pasta), cozze ripiene (mussels in breadcrumbs and baked in an oven) … all fantastic, fresh and very typical !!!
If you are going to visit eastern Liguria, maybe famous Cinque Terre, for sure you should visit also Portovenere. It’s worth seeing it!