Tall pastel-coloured houses, seven or more floors high, edge the picturesque harbour overlooking the Golfo dei Poeti where Byron and Percy Shelley once swam.
With numerous ferries from La Spezia stopping at Portovenere on their way to Cinque Terre, it’s a great base from which to explore the area. When I visited many years ago, this stunningly picturesque corner of Italy was not so well known and although the ferry to the other villages was busy, it was easy to get away from the crowds once ashore. Not so these days, or so I’ve heard. The best time to be there is after the day-trippers have gone home. But I can understand why it is so popular. Each village of the Cinque Terre has it own charms, and together with Portovenere, they are a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most picturesque coastlines I’ve ever seen.
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Built by the Romans as a stepping stone between Gaul and France, Portus Veneris, as it was then known, has seen many come and go over the centuries including the Byzantines, Lombards, Genovese and Napolean, all eager to take advantage of the harbour’s natural defences. The village’s name may refer to a temple to the goddess Venus that once stood where the church of Peter the Apostle now stands looking out to sea.
Above the village, the fortress, Castello Doria stands proud. Its origins are uncertain but it was rebuilt in 1161 and has seen numerous alterations over the years. Today it hosts art exhibitions and is a popular location for weddings with views across the harbour, the nearby islands and the Gulfo dei Poeti in the east, and to the north-west, the Cinque Terre.
How to get to Portovenere and the Cinque Terre
The nearest airports to Portovenere are Pisa, Florence and Genoa.
From Pisa you can catch a train to La Spezia and then a bus on to Portovenere. The total journey takes around one and a half hours or longer depending on which train you take. You can find all the details including prices and times here.
Alternatively, you can hire a car at Pisa airport. It’s a little over 60 miles and takes around an hour and a quarter to drive there.
Where to stay in Portovenere
Hotel Belvedere is a lovely moderately priced hotel overlooking the bay, set one row back from the water’s edge on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi. Hotel della Baia is a good choice if you are on a tighter budget or even the hotel, Ostello Portovenere, which gets good reviews. If you are seeking something more luxurious, then it has to be the Grand Hotel Portovenere also on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi overlooking the marina in the historic centre of the town.
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Where to eat in Portovenere
For local cuisine, it has to be Portivene Un Mare di Sapori on Via Giovanni Capellini. For a special occasion try Palmaria Restaurant in the Grand Hotel. the food is excellent and the views sublime.
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