Portovenere is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Portovenere's harbor is lined with brightly colored houses and narrow medieval streets lead up the hill to a castle. The main street of Portovenere, lined with shops, is entered through Portovenere's ancient city gate. There is a picturesque church on the promontory, once the site of a temple to Venus (Venere in Italian) from which Portovenere gets its name. Nearby is Byron's Cave in a rocky area leading to the sea where the poet Byron used to swim.
Portovenere sits on a rocky peninsula on the Gulf of Poets, an area in the Gulf of La Spezia once popular with writers such as Byron, Shelley and DH Lawrence. Portovenere is southeast of the Cinque Terre at the end of the Italian Riviera, in the region of Liguria. Portovenere is across the bay from Lerici, another village worth visiting. Three small islands are just off the coast from Portovenere.
See Portovenere and nearby villages on our Interactive Italian Riviera Map.
Getting to Portovenere:
The easiest way to get to Portovenere is by ferry from the Cinque Terre, Lerici, or La Spezia (on the main train line that runs along Italy's coast). Ferries run frequently from April 1. (ferry web site
There is a narrow, winding road leading to Portovenere from the A12 autostrada, but parking is difficult in summer. There is also bus service to Portovenere from La Spezia.
Where to Stay in Portovenere
Grand Hotel Portovenere
(book direct) is a 4-star hotel on the seafront in the center of town. Hotel Paradiso
(book direct) is a 3-star hotel also on the seafront.
Portovenere has been occupied since prehistoric and Roman times. San Pietro Church sits on a site that is believed to have been a temple to Venus, Venere
in Italian, from which Portovenere gets its name.
Portovenere was a stronghold of the Geneose during medieval times and was fortified as a defense against Pisa. A battle with the Aragonese in 1494 marked the end of Portovenere's importance. Portovenere was popular with English poets in the early nineteenth century.
San Pietro Church:
San Pietro Church originated as an early Christian building made of black marble dating from the 6th century. In the 13th century it was extended with a Gothic style addition, with bands of black and white stone, and belltower. Around the church is a Romanesque loggetta with arches framing the coastline. The church is surrounded by fortifications. There are fantastic views of the church from the path leading up to the castle (see picture
San Lorenzo Church:
The Church of San Lorenzo was built in the 12th century and has a romanesque facade. Damage from cannon fire, the worst in 1494, caused the church and belltower to be rebuilt several times. The 15th century marble alterpiece holds a small painting of the White Madonna. According to legend, the image was brought here in 1204 from the sea and was miraculously transformed into its present form on August 17, 1399. The miracle is celebrated each August 17 with a torchlight procession.
Portovenere's Fortress - Doria Castle:
The Doria Castle, built by the Genoese between the 12th and 17th centuries, dominates Portovenere. There are several surviving towers on the hill as well. It's a beautiful walk up to the castle and the hill offers great views of San Pietro Church and the sea. The castle is open to visitors in the summer from 11:00 and often has art exhibits.
Portovenere's Medieval Center:
One enters the medieval village through its old city gate (see picture
) with a Latin inscription from 1113 above it. To the left of the gate are Genoese measures of capacity dating from 1606. Via Capellini, the narrrow main street, is lined with shops and restaurants. Vaulted walkways, called capitoli
, and stairs lead up the hill. Cars and trucks are unable to drive here.
The promenade along the harbor is a pedestrian only zone. The promenade is lined with tall colorful houses, seafood restaurants, and bars. Fishing boats, excursion boats, and private boats dot the water. On the other side of the point is Byron's Cave, a rocky area where Byron used to come to swim. There are several rocky places where it's possible to swim but no sandy beaches. For swimming and sunbathing, most people head to the island of Palmaria, just across the strait.
Portovenere has three interesting islands just across the strait. The islands were once colonized by Benedictine monks and are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Excursion boats from Portovenere circle take trips around the three islands.
- Palmaria is the largest island and has nice beaches. It is accessible by ferry or boat taxi from Portovenere and the ferry from La Spezia stops here, too. The highlight of the island is the Blue Grotto, accessible only from the sea. Another interesting cave, Grotta dei Colombi, can be reached by a difficult hiking path. Finds from the Mesolithic period were made here.
- Tino is now a military zone is open to visitors on September 13 for the feast day of Saint Venerio. Tino holds the remains of the 11th century abbey of San Venerio.
- Tinetto is little more than a rock and is also a military zone. It holds a 6th century monastery.