Portovenere literally translates into “I bring Venus.” If you like Cinque Terre, the iconic 5 sister villages off the Italian Riviera, you’re going to fall in love with Portovenere. Less than 10 miles away from the “Five Lands” known as Cinque Terre, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Portovenere is the most beautiful- yet often overlooked. Befittingly named after the Goddess Venus, it’s perfect for those that are in the know.
FUN FACT: Not everyone knows it, but the Venus painting by Botticelli was from La Spezia : her name was Simonetta. Simonetta Cattaneo was born in Portovenere in 1453, more precisely in the hamlet of Fezzano on the Gulf of Poets riviera, and she was beautiful.– Do In Italy
Just ask the many famous poets and artists that came here for serenity and inspiration. The gulf and bay areas of this town are mesmerizing and we could see why it’s the place for peace and inspiration. Still today, visitors come to relax and get away from the overcrowded and tourist towns of Cinque Terre.
Today we’re going to be touring Portovenere and why you should add it to your itinerary when you visit the Ligurian coast of Italy. We only had a few hours to spend at this beautiful seaside village.
The 3 Hour Itinerary
If you only have a few hours in Portovenere, here is the 6 must see and do list!
- BAY OF POETS
- CHURCH OF ST. PETER
- LORD BYRON’S GROTTO
- DORIA CASTLE
- COMMUNAL CEMETARY
- HARBOR AND DINE
1. Bay of Poets
The Bay of Poets is surrounded by several seaside towns of Lerici, San Terenzo, Tellaro, Fezzano, Le Grazie, the Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto islands- but Portovenere is known to be the most beautiful. The Bay of Poets received its name for attracting renowned writers and their fascinating history with the town. Famous poets like Dante, Petrarch, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, and other writers loved keeping this gem all to themselves.
When Lord Byron swam across the bay of Portovenere in 1822 to visit his friends, Mary and Percey Shelley, who lived across the way- his bravery and strength took widespread notice. The 5 mile swim has strong currents and is along very sharp rocks that lie underneath. Ironically his friend Percey Shelley died from a shipwreck also in this very bay.
FUN FACT: “The Byron Cup swimming challenge” has traditionally been held every August, commemorating Lord Byron’s legendary swim across the Bay of Poets in 1822. A large number of swimmers register to swim the 7.5 km between Portovenere and Lerici.-Timeless Italy Travels
Here are some of the Bay of Poets’ best known and loved pieces of work.
DANTE was an Italian poet who wrote the Divine Comedy, an epic poem made of 3 parts: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise). They were written in the 1300’s. It’s standard lesson that evil is to be punished and good rewarded is still written in the world’s cultural fabric today.
PETRARCH was an Italian scholar and poet known as the “Father of Humanism.” His best known works are Canzoniere (“Songbook”) and the Trionfi (“Triumphs”)
LORD BYRON was an English poet and known to have written Don Juan, a satirical poem in the 1800’s and still very well known today.
MARY SHELLEY was an English poet and novelist who wrote the horror story Frankenstein in the 1800’s.
FUN FACT: Mary Shelley and Lord Byron were very good friends. While on a Summer trip in Italy, she came up with the idea of “Frankenstein” by taking on Lord Byron’s challenge to write the best horror story amongst their group of friends. She obviously won.
We captured this gorgeous video of The Bay of Poets
2. Church of St. Peter
Known as San Pietro’s Church in Italian, St. Peter’s Church has the best location on town. From this vantage point, we were surrounded by breathtaking azure sea. The church looks like a castle and has striped architecture from the Byzantine era. It independently sits on a cliff with unobstructed water views from every angle.
3. Lord Byron’s Grotto
Just below St. Peter’s Church, we saw Lord Byron’s Grotto. This is a protected area and observation deck that commemorates the Lord Byron’s infamous swim of 1822 that we discussed earlier. Looking below, there were many young sun bathers on the rocks. It’s good to know that the currents can be unpredictable in this area and to use caution if you wanted to swim in this bay.
4. Doria Castle
Doria Castle or Castello Doria, is located at the very top of Portovenere. This medieval military fortress dates as far back as the 12-14th century. The hike to the castle is quite steep, so just be prepared for the elevation. The hike is gorgeous and felt like walking in a storybook fairytale. The castle has an amphitheater and wonderfully preserved stone architecture as well as a vineyard.
5. PORTOVENERE COMMUNAL CEMETERY
Cemeteries can creep me out, but this one by the sea is one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen. I cannot think of a more peaceful and scenic gravesite I’d rather be buried in. The casualties are from WWI and those remembered are the Commonwealth soldiers.
Locally, it’s known as “Il Cimitero medievale” and is adjacent to the Church of San Lorenzo. It can only be reached on foot by following many steep stairways through narrow streets.
6. The Harbor and Restaurants
When we arrived to the harbor, it was breathtaking. We immediately noticed how clean the seaside village was. We also noticed there were no cars. Since we arrived by ferry, we were glad to not have driven to Portovenere. It is a non-vehicular town and there is no parking available inside. If you arrive by car, you will need to park on the outskirts of the town.
I think because no cars are allowed into town, it helps to keep it very clean. Even the public bathrooms were serviced, cleaned, and checked after each use. It was well worth the .50 euro. The locals sunbathe all along the harbor and rocky bay areas.
HOT TIP: It is highly recommended you take a boat, ferry, or train to Portovenere. It is a non-vehicular town and there is no parking inside it. Especially during peak season, any parking in the nearby outskirts is almost impossible. If you must drive, here is a guide of where and how to park your vehicle here.Travoodie Queen
There are many restaurants in Portovenere. When we arrived, we had lunch at Trattoria Tre Torri in the town center. Ligurian food is unlike the Italian cuisine we found in other regions of Italy. We hardly found any red sauce pastas in this region. It’s mostly seafood based stocks in their cuisine with a lot of pine nuts and anchovies. It’s not our favorite type of Italian cuisine, but it is a lighter fare.
Getting to Portovenere
We spent a week based in Genoa to see the Italian Riviera. I hear many good things about Portovenere and wanted a chance to see it. My hubby and I love poetry and were super curious about the elusive village named after Venus. We decided to take the ferry so that we could also admire the Ligurian coastline of colorful fishing villages.
Since we went during the Summer time, we did not want to take a car. As discussed earlier, Portovenere is a non-vehicular town and no cars are allowed inside this seaside village. The parking in the outskirts would have been a nightmare. It was either train or boat, so we decided to take a scenic route by ferry from Genoa to Portovenere.
It was almost a 3 hour boat ride that departed at 9am from Genoa and arrived to Portovenere at noon. We had 3 hours to enjoy at our leisure and then return promptly to Genoa at close to 6pm. The trip was quite scenic and full of colorful Italian seaside villages.
The route is not available everyday. For ferry tickets and all itinerary options, check out Il Golfo Paradiso. They have several ports and water transportation options available along the Ligurian Coast.
There are so many wonderful towns to see and experience when in the Italian Riviera. Portovenere is unique with a rich history and breathtaking locale. It is not difficult to see why it attracts and inspires the creative souls of the world. If you’re ever in the Ligurian Coast, we hope you’ll take the chance to see one of the most beautiful villages in the region.
For more Riviera inspirations, check out our post on Genoa, Italy and South of France!
If the Goddess Venus existed, it would be Simonetta Cattaneo. Simonetta was a young woman known to be Venus during the Renaissance era and was born in Portovenere. The most important and beloved paintings from the Renaissance is of her as Venus in the Birth of Venus by Botticelli.
By Sandro Botticelli – Adjusted levels from File:Sandro Botticelli – La nascita di Venere – Google Art Project.jpg, originally from Google Art Project. Compression Photoshop level 9., Public Domain, Link