Portovenere. The one that really got Italy under my skin. For years, I have read about the Italian Riviera and dreamt about visiting this dreamy locale. In particular, the quaint pastel towns of the Cinque Terre have been super high on my travel list. When it came time to plan our travels in Italy, the Ligurian coast was a no-brainer.
I set my sights on Portovenere for a few reasons. I loved the idea of the Cinque Terre, but since our travel was planned for June, right at the beginning of high season, it wasn’t just a matter of finding a suitable place to stay in our budget. I couldn’t help but think about recent accounts I’d read about these lovely five towns being practically overrun with tourists, so crowded that it verged on unpleasant. I was really after that authentic Italian experience, what I imagine the Cinque Terre feels like in off season, or maybe about 8 years ago! After doing a little research, I landed on Portovenere, sometimes touted as the “sixth terre”, just a little ways south-east of Riomaggiore and only a half hour drive from La Spezia. I found a fantastic airbnb right on the waterfront, and was immediately sold.
We arrived on a rare drizzly grey day in early June. Our awesome airbnb host picked us up from the La Spezia train station and drove us along the winding coastal road bordered by the most lush green vegetation. Our apartment overlooked the Gulf of Poets, with tree-covered Isola Palmaria across the bay, and Spiaggia Arenella with it’s colourful green and yellow umbrellas practically on our doorstep.
Even in the misty rain, the Riviera’s telltale row of pastel buildings bordering the waterfront immediately won us over with it’s inherent charm. We wandered along the waterfront to the western tip of town, where the Chiesa di San Pietro looms high on a rocky precipice. Strikingly clad in black and cream marble stripes, the 13th century church is surrounded by crumbling walls and rocky paths overlooking the sea.
With 360* views out across the Ligurian Sea and the Gulf of Poets, the lookout beside the church is the perfect place to gaze out at the incredible natural beauty of the neighbouring cliffs and sprawling sea. The church overlooks Byron’s grotto, where the English poet is said to have sat for his daily meditation. It was here that he set off and swam across the Gulf of Poets to visit fellow poet and friend Shelley, in nearby Lerici.
After exploring the craggy coast, we walked back to town through narrow back alleys, colourful houses stacked on the hill with laundry hanging off the back porches. This is one of my favourite things about Italy — the crowded little houses on tiny streets, lush plants and herbs overflowing from terracotta planters, colourful laundry out to be dried in the sun. I love imagining the ritual of everyday life in these small Italian towns, daily trips to the market for the freshest ingredients for your meals, morning coffee on the back patio, a walk by the sea in the afternoon. Perfect bliss.
We wound our way to Portovenere’s main street, lined with quaint shops, grocers and osterias selling local delights. The street is jam-packed full of goodness, including the most delicious fresh focaccia, olives, and local fruit to make the perfect picnic lunch. We also picked up some of the region’s specialty pesto for dinner, along with trofie pasta, specifically shaped to hold the pesto in it’s slightly twisted form. I have quite literally never tasted pesto so incredibly perfect, and likely will never eat pesto again, it was so good. (until we return to Liguria, of course!)
I can’t say that I’ve ever fallen for a town as hard as I did for Portovenere. We spent an amazing five days immersed in the culture of the town, thoroughly enjoying everything it had to offer. It was here that we ate the most incredible mussels we’ve ever tasted (Portovenere is famous for their cozze) and discovered the joys of an authentic Italian aperitivo. We visited nearby towns and the island of Palmaria, relaxed on beaches, and simply enjoyed the coast for all it had to offer. I’ll be back soon with more from our time in Liguria, but for now here are a few more photos of Portovenere!