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Portovenere Travel Guide

How to Visit the Italian Riviera Village of Porto Venere

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Portovenere picture, harbor, castle

View of Portovenere

by James Martin
portovenere picture, boat, harbor

Portovenere Harbor

by James Martin
portovenere pictures, church, san pietro

View of San Pietro Church and Byron's Cove

by James Martin

Why Visit Portovenere:

Portovenere is an Italian Riviera village known for its picturesque harbor lined with brightly colored houses and for San Pietro Church, perched at the edge of the rocky promontory. Narrow medieval streets lead up the hill to a castle. The main street, entered through the ancient city gate, is lined with shops. Nearby is Byron's Cave in a rocky area leading to the sea where the poet Byron used to swim. The town, along with the nearby Cinque Terre, is one of Northern Italy's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It's usually far less crowded than the Cinque Terre villages.

Portovenere Location:

Portovenere sits on a rocky peninsula in the Gulf of Poets, an area in the Gulf of La Spezia once popular with writers such as Byron, Shelley and DH Lawrence. It's across the bay from Lerici and southeast of the Cinque Terre in the region of Liguria. 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 from the A12 autostrada, but parking is difficult in summer. There is also bus service from La Spezia.

Where to Stay in Portovenere

Grand Hotel Portovenere (read reviews and book direct) is 4-star hotel in a former 17th century convent on the seafront in the center of town. Royal Sporting Hotel (read reviews and book direct), on the waterfront just outside town, has a swimming pool and restaurant and is a member of Charme and Relax. See Where to Stay in Cinque Terre for nearby hotel options.

Portovenere History:

The area 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 (or Porto Venere) gets its name. The town 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. In the early nineteenth century, it was popular with English poets.

What to See in Portovenere:

San Pietro Church: Perched on a rocky outcrop, San Pietro Church originated in the 6th century. In the 13th century a bell tower and Gothic style extension with bands of black and white stone were added. The Romanesque loggetta has arches framing the coastline and the church is surrounded by fortifications. From the path leading to the castle, there are good views of the church.

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 bell tower to be rebuilt several times. The 15th century marble alter piece 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: Built by the Genoese between the 12th and 17th centuries, Doria Castle dominates the town. 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.

Portovenere's Harbor: 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.

Islands: There are 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 take trips around the 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.

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