Portovenere is often considered the sixth Cinque Terre village on the Ligurian coast. It is connected to the Cinque Terre by the Cinque Terre National Park hiking trails and is also included in its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.However, the town has a distinctly different look and feel to it than the Cinque Terre villages. The Ligurian style homes form a longer barricade along the coast, built purposefully for military defense. They are unusually anchored on a rock on the backside, and are referred to as the “Palazzata.” The town also has its own castle, ancient mills, and grottos that set it apart from the other five fishing villages.
I had visited Portovenere initially on a mild fall day with Ryan, where we enjoyed a stroll along the coast and bought phenomenal pesto sauce at Bajeico, where an elderly lady whips up jars of this green sauce good enough to dip your focaccia. However, it was not until I returned with my friend Lauren that I really got a taste for all of the sites Portovenere had to offer.
We arrived in Portovenere in the late morning in February, the clouds hanging ominously above us. It was during the week in off-season, so the town was gloriously empty except for some local shop owners. This enabled us to enjoy the sites without the throngs of visitors usually clawing their way up to every view. The first thing that catches your sight is the church sitting upon the promontory. This was originally a temple for the goddess Venus built in 1198, for which the city is named after, but was later converted to the Church of San Pietro.
Right below the church is Byron’s grotto, named after Lord Byron who swam across the Bay of Portovenere. You can take the steep stairs down to the rocks where the waves crash into the cliffs and create some wonderful views of the surrounding bay.
We then made our way through the narrow streets, stopping in for lunch at Osteria il Carugio, where we tried some of the local spaghetti with pesto sauce, a Ligurian vegetable soup, and Torta di Genoa. At the end of the street, you can catch sight of the Town Gate and Tower, the original entrance to Via Capellini of the city. It is built on an ancient building over a thousand years old.
From there, you can climb the steps of the city center to the Church of San Lorenzo, which was built after the Church of San Pietro and is significantly larger than the latter. It is eerily beautiful and has a dark, medieval presence.
At the very top of the city walls is the Doria Castle that was built between the 12th and 14th century. It was unfortunately closed during the week but is one of the main landmarks that gives Portovenere its unique character.
Next to the castle are remnants the old grain mills, and behind it is the cemetery./mausoleum. The cemetery was unlike anything we had ever seen before. The pictures of the deceased are placed on top of the tombs. Many were stacked on top of each other, others were on the ground. Even in such a compact area, there were hundreds of graves. Despite this, it was a very peaceful setting with flowers planted throughout the walkways and overlooking a beautiful view of the sea.
Before heading home, I was determined to do some hiking on a path nearby. We had originally wanted to go to Palmaria Island, which was about a five minute boat ride from Portovenere, but the rain hindered our plans. However, there were many paths leaving directly from Portovenere, and we chose to hike up the closest path from the entrance of the town halls. After climbing for about fifteen minutes, we were greeted with spectacular views of the castle and surrounding ocean. We couldn’t stop taking pictures at every angle we turned!
We hiked for another 30 minutes (in the rain at this point), and eventually decided to turn back. As we approached Doria Castle in the distance, we were welcomed by a rainbow stretching from the Portovenere Piazza to the Doria Castle. I had never seen a rainbow so clear and so close in my life. It was so breathtaking and an absolutely perfect way to end our day trip to Portovenere!
Before I end the post, I needed to mention that we stopped at a little pizzeria called La Pia Centenaria in La Spezia, so Lauren could try the local chickpea pancake called Farinata di Ceci. I had tasted a few variations in the past, but this farinata was unbelievably creamy on the inside with a crispy crust. We also tried a local vegetable tart and……A NUTELLA FOCACCIA! I am capitalizing this because I think it was one of Lauren’s favorite thing she tasted on her entire trip. It reminded us of a nutella crepe, but with a tastier crust and more nutella. In other words, it was probably one of my favorite desserts I have had in Italy and is a reason in itself to return to La Pia Centenaria