Arriving by train, among steep vineyards and crystal blue waters, it’s not hard to understand why so many poets, writers, painters and many more in need of inspiration have made this land a catalyst of their creativity.
The coast of Liguria is one of those places that catches all your senses, and if you are sharing a visit with your beloved one it will definitely catch your heart too.
We visited Gulf of La Spezia and Tigullio Gulf as part of our trip to Cinque Terre.
We visit Italy quite often and know for sure that wherever you travel there is always, always something to see. This is why we decided not to limit our vacation to the overcrowded Cinque Terre (which does not make Cinque Terre less amazing). We wanted to “expand” a bit the geography and have a look at the other areas as well. If you have already read our review of Cinque Terre, you probably got an idea of all the organizational details of our trip. To reach Portovenere and Portofino you will encounter some additional costs for train/bus/ferry tickets which are not included in the price of the Cinque Terre card.
Having that said, you can actually use the card to go all the way to La Spezia! As you arrive to the train station you might think that it’s not a very attractive-looking place but wait until you go into the city itself! On contrast with the Cinque Terre villages, La Spezia is a proper city, one of the main Italian military and commercial harbors. But when you think of a port city you never expect it to be so full of colors as you find here. Also, you see the amazing bay with a view that combines the beauty of the sea with the Italian navy fleet.
From La Spezia we took a bus to Portovenere, our next point of interest.
Day 4: Portovenere
Portovenere is not part of the Cinque Terre, but it is so much worth a visit!
The romantic stone-made church and the display of luxury yachts create an interesting contrast which will surely trigger a reaction in the eyes of the tourist. I have had the luck to visit some amazing places in my life, but I would definitely rank Portovenere among the most romantic ones I have ever seen. I was especially touched by the church of San Pietro, right there on top of a little hill, overlooking the bay on one side and the narrow channel with Palmeria Island on the other side. I must be honest, I have more reasons which link my heart and soul to Portovenere. The day my girlfriend and I visited this place marked exactly 5 years of our story since we first met. It was weeks that I was waiting for this day.
I did my very best to hide my anxiousness, but ultimately the moment came. All of a sudden, I found myself trembling like a scared child, perfectly knowing what was about to happen and equally unaware of the storm of emotions that was about to flow through my body. When the little church eventually started playing the bells with the tune of the wedding march, I reacted promptly. That was the signal, it was what I had been getting ready for, I knew exactly how to act… What I ended up saying however had absolutely nothing to do with what I had been rehearsing in my head for days. I had just been pervaded by emotions, but I still managed to get those few words out:
“Will you marry me?”
The ring was there, shiny and beautiful, my hands shaking, my girlfriend and her astonished face…few seconds of silence felt like a lifetime. And when I heard the reply, we both exploded into an overflow of joy. Scary, beautiful, emotional. The fearful moment was over. She said yes.
We’ll get married folks!!
(editor’s note: i’m so happy for you guys!!!!!!!!)
Alright, alright, this is a travel blog, you might be wondering how to get to Portovenere. It is relatively easy. As said, first you can make use of your Cinque Terre Card (or buy a train ticket) to reach La Spezia. Once out of the station you need to walk a few minutes to Via Cavour. Buy a 1,5€ bus ticket in the local “tabaccheria” (marked with a big “T” outside the shop). The bus 11/11P takes approximately 30 min to reach Portovenere. The ride is quite panoramic on the curvy road that goes along the coast, passing by a couple of bays and harbors, before reaching the Portovenere town centre. We didn’t look into renting a car because it’s just so much more interesting to get a feeling of local life using public transport.
Apart from a beach for kids, there is no big sand beach in Portovenere but you can stay on the rocks along the bay, get some sun and have a swim as well. The area is very beautiful, there are a lot of cute places to take photos and many restaurants you can chill in. Liguria takes pride in being the pesto land. So pasta with pesto is the thing to try at least once when you are visiting and compare whether the one you make at home is any different. The best snacks we tried were focaccia with pesto and stracchino cheese and focaccia with squacquerone cheese (also called focaccia “tipo Recco”). We thought the word squacquerone was quite funny but the man selling the focaccia did not share the laugh. So lesson learnt – one thing not to joke about is food.
If you have time, you could also take the opportunity to visit Palmaria that is across the channel from Portovenere. Apparently, there are a few wild and picturesque beaches on the island. There are regular boats that connect Portovenere with Palmaria, but if interested, you should definitely check in advance on the options. We didn’t have enough time to make a trip over there, so unfortunately I can’t share so much, but bear in mind that the island is quite big, so moving from one side to the other can mean a couple of hours hiking each way. So plan your trip well ahead and check all the transportation options (including ferries that connect Palmaria directly from La Spezia).
On top of Portovenere there is a well-preserved castle – Castello Doria. Looking at the photos online I regret that we took only one-day trip and didn’t have time to go there. Next time we go to Portovenere (and that is a place to go more than once), the castle visit is definitely on the list.
I already described San Pietro church that stands right on the cliff in the end of the peninsula on which Portovenere is situated. As you take a walk along there, check out the other side of the cape. It’s all black volcanic rock, beautiful to see how it’s being washed by the waves. You will also see the so-called Lord Byron’s Cave, as the whole area was apparently loved and visited by many prominent personalities of the past. This is why the Gulf of La Spezia is also called the Gulf of Poets. I don’t want to bore you with all the list of names of celebrities of the past, let’s better jump to our next location which is still favored by many of those rich and famous.
Day 5: Portofino
On our last day of vacation in the area, we decided to head north and visit one of the most known places – Portofino. This picturesque and “bijou” harbor has attracted celebrities and artists for more than a century. British and Northern European aristocrats began visiting Portofino in the late 19th century, with more and more expensive waterfront villas being built over the next hundred years. If you are curious on which celebrity has been spotted in Portofino, check this list 🙂
Reaching Portofino is relatively easy. You can take a train to Rapallo or to Santa Margherita Ligure and then continue by ferry (alternatively there is a bus service from Santa Margherita to Portofino but ferry is so much better!). Remember that your Chinque Terre card is valid only until Levanto, so you would need to purchase a separate ticket after that. The trip with the ferry is very pleasant and gives you a chance to enjoy the staggering views of the harbours on arrival. With approximately one ferry per hour, you have enough flexibility to pay a short visit to Rapallo and/or Santa Margherita Ligure, which are equally delightful and romantic. Pay attention to the time of the last ride from Portofino (around 6pm depending on the season).
Portofino is a lovely harbour and is definitely worth a visit, but don’t be misled by its fame…the place is still quite small and you should probably level up your expectations before visiting. Best photos are from the Church of San Giorgio. The small square in front of it provides a great view of the harbour, so you can have some fun checking out the huge yachts, who they belong to and where they arrived from. We saw a yacht that had a helipad with a helicopter on it and then the side door opened and a smaller boat came out from inside the yacht! For us it was enough of fun so we decided to skip the castle (Castello Brown), but if you are interested the entrance fee is 5€. A tip: walking approximately 10 min in the same direction as the lighthouse you would spot a path winding between the gardens towards a small but cosy beach. Don’t expect much, but if you are looking for a refreshing experience from the heat, you should have a swim there!
All in all I think finding enough words to describe the sensation you get when you travel to Rapallo, Santa Margherita and Portofino is truly hard. All the amazing views that open up around you just give you a taste, but you would need a longer stay to enjoy the full meal. Check out our photos to get some inspiration. We will definitely return there again…the question is whether we’ll find you there too..