Top Things To Do In Portovenere, Italy

Dubbed the “sixth” Cinque Terre village, Portovenere, about 30 minutes south, overlooks the Gulf of La Spezia, which is also sometimes called the Gulf of Poets. With charming blocks of pastel tenement houses staggered on the Ligurian coast, beautiful vistas, historic churches, an 11th century castle, and restaurants with incredible cuisine and very fresh seafood, Portovenere, Italy is a great escape from the crowds in Cinque Terre, or a perfect add on, and offers interesting sites and things to do.

Experiencing the spectacular views is one of the top things to do in Portovenere
Portovenere, Italy

Top Things To do In Portovenere, Italy

The name Portovenere comes from the Temple of Venus, or Venere Ericina, which once sat where Chiesa di San Pietro sits today. Legend is that Venus rose from the foam of the Sea.

The top sites include the following.

Chiesa di San Pietro (Church of St. Peter)

Built on rocky promontory, overlooking the sea, is beautiful Chiesa di San Pietro. It almost looks like a castle, but instead is a Roman Catholic Church. The facade is unique, striped in black and white marble, quarries nearby.

It’s located about 500 m from the Portovenere’s main square, so easy to access.

Chiesa di San Pietro is one of the top things to do in Portovenere
Chiesa di San Pietra from Doria

Make sure to walk up around the church after visiting for the stunning panoramas.

Chiesa di San Pietro is one of the top things to do in Portovenere

It’s also impressive from the sea, so make sure to take at least one ferry rider here. I personally love how the black and white marble coordinates with the rocks below.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo (Church of St. Lawrence)

11th century San Lorenzo church, built over what may have been the site of the Temple of Jupiter, offers more stunning views of the area. This church is also made of striped black and white marble, quarried nearby.

Chiesa San Lorenzo is one of the top things to do in Portovenere
Chiesa di San Lorenzo

You will walk near this church, and its spectacular views, on your way to Doria Castle.

Castello Doria (Doria Castle)

The castle at the top of the mountain, Doria Castle, built in the 12th century, offers the most spectacular views of Portovenere. Especially looking down upon Chiesa di San Pietro.

The upper section has Casa del Catellano, where the ‘captain of the people’ lived in the 1500’s, to protect them. The lower section has the Sala Ipostila, which is where ancient greek temples once stood.

In later years, during Napoleon’s time, it served as a political prison.

Doria Castle and Byron’s Grotto

Byron’s Grotto, or Grotta del’Arpaia

Named after famed poet Lord Byron, this cave is located below the castle. Byron spent time here in the early 19th century and meditated here, drawing inspiration for his work. Legend also says that he would swim almost 5 miles (8 km) across the bay to Lerici, to visit his poet friend Shelley. Sadly, Shelley died in a boating accident during a storm not far from here.

You can wander down the rocks, passing through a gate with a plaque honoring him, and walk or swim along the sea. The footpath to get there is near Chiesa San Pietro.

Aperatifs in the Palazzata A Mare

The main plaza, known as the Palazzata a mare, is full of charming cafes overlooking the sea, making it a perfect place to relax and have a Spritz Aperol, Compari, or some other Italian aperatif. Although there are interesting sites in Portovenere, this town is more about kicking back and enjoying the Italian lifestyle in a beautiful setting, unspoiled by too many tourists.

Visit the Archipelago of Portovenere

Just a short ferry ride away, about 5 minutes, is the archipelago of Portovenere, composed of three islands.

Palmaria Island

The largest of the three islands in the archipelago of Portovenere, and the only one you can visit (except on rare occasions). There are frequent ferries from Molo Doria in Portovenere to Terrizzo on Palmaria.

The island has a rocky beach near the port area that overlooks Portovenere. There’s a well-known restaurant called Locanda Lorena, overlooking the sea, and a hiking path you can take up Palmaria for spectacular views of Tino island.

On the southern side of the island, you can find Pozzale, the old marble quarries, a second restaurant, Il Pozzale, and a small rocky beach.

The western side of the island has a Blue Cave, which can be visited by boat.

Tino Island

Usually closed to tourists, as it’s mostly military, Tino island opens to celebrate the feast of San Venerio, annually, on September 13. This feast celebrates the life of Saint Venerius, the patron saint of the Gulf of La Spezia. He lived here as a hermit, and later an abbot, in the 1st century.

There main sites on Tino include a colorful lighthouse, San Venerio, a small museum, and a ruined monastery.

Madonna Bianca in Front of Tino Island

Tinetto Island

Only 100 meters from Tino Island, this rock island has the ruins of a 6th century monastery. About 20 m south of Tinetto is a the statue Madonna Bianca, that safely guides seafarers.

Key Festivals

In addition to the feast of San Venerio on Tino (above), there is also is the festival of Madonna Bianca. Held annually on August 17, thousands of candles light up the sky around Chiesa San Pietro in Portovenere.

This festival honors Madonna Bianca, the patron saint of the village. Legends says that in the 16th century, a white light lit up a painting of the madonna (which is why is is called white madonna). Shortly thereafter, a plague affecting this area disappeared. Click here for a video showing how captivating this spectacle is. I have not seen this event, but definitely want to!

How To Get To Portovenere

Part of the reason Portovenere is not overrun by tourists is that it’s not easy to get to. Surprisingly, there is no direct train, as there is between La Spezia and the villages of Cinque Terre. The options are ferry, bus, hiking, and driving.

Boat: Frequent trips run from La Spezia, and the four Cinque Terre towns that have a port (all but Corniglia).

Bus: Regular buses run from La Spezia to Portovenere, taking about 35 minutes. From Cinque Terra, take the train to La Spezia first (10-20 minutes).

Hike: You can hike from Riomaggiore, the southernmost Cinque Terre town, to Portovenere. The 8.3 mile (13.3 km) trail takes 5-6 hours. Search for it on AllTrails, which rates it as moderate trail.

Drive: You can drive from La Spezia, but parking can be expensive as many lots charge by the hour. Talk to your hotel before deciding to drive.

Fort Umberto, Portovenere

Other Top Spots in Italy

From Portovenere, Cinque Terre is the perfect option. You can visit, and hike, between the 5 charming villages. The vistas from each are truly spectacular. Combine this with the small-town Italian charm and fantastic food, and you can’t beat it.

A little further north is the port town of Genoa. This melting pot city was the birthplace of both Christopher Columbus and Pesto Pasta, which I thought I didn’t like until I tried the REAL version.

Heading south, you can’t miss Florence, with its iconic Duomo, and outstanding Renaissance art. And, of course, Rome is a top highlight in Italy. The Colosseum, archeological sites, history, architecture, and food are top notch, making this one of the world’s top travel destinations.

Heading south of Rome, the ruins of Pompeii and Hurculaneum, are less than a 3 hour drive. One of the world’s top archeological sites, it’s fascinating to wander the streets and homes frozen in time almost 2,000 years ago. This is one of my all time favorite places!

South of Pompeii, highlights include the idyllic beauty of the famed Amalfi coast. And, from there, the jaw-dropping beauty of Capri, is just a ferry ride away.

Sicily, off the tip of Italy’s boot, is full a fascinating cities and sites. While the lovely Aeolian islands are scattered north of it. They’re fun to ferry between and explore one-by-one. I explored a few and hiked up the volcanic island of Stromboli for some adventure.

On Italy’s east coast, Venice is a top highlight. I loved wandering its lovely side streets and watching the gondoliers gliding along the canals.

To see all the highlights of Italy, as well as understand how to get around, safety, scams, logistics, and more, to help you plan your trip, see my Italy Travel Guide.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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