I headed out to Portovenere with a good friend of mine in July of this year, as a sort of belated birthday present to myself. Honestly speaking, I had never seen nor heard of Portovenere until picturesque images of its beautiful beaches and vibrantly painted houses began popping up on my Instagram feed late one evening. Situated just south of the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riveria, this village was charming beyond belief and had a really relaxed, stress-free vibe to it which ultimately left me feeling the same!
Portovenere itself, with its picturesque houses sitting neatly on the Gulf of the Poets, is actually a UNESCO world heritage site. The Church of San Pietro (St. Peter) is a Roman Catholic church situated on rocky cliffs overlooking the sea. Officially consecrated in 1198, its typical Genovese gothic style is not hard to spot as its absolutely huge and overlooks the entire of portovenere. During the day it got quite crowded here but I loved it at night when it would transform into an incredible outdoor cinema! If you’re heading out to Cinque Terre next summer and fancy watching an international film under the stars then take a look here for more information. Overlooking the Gulf of Poets and the Cinque Terre is the landmark Doria Castle, built for the extremely wealthy Doria family in 1161. In case you didn’t know (and I certainly didn’t until I visited) the Doria family were very politically strong and influential, particularly when it came to the military and economy within the republic of Genoa from the 12th century to the 16th century. Although much of the castle has eroded and fallen apart overtime, there is still an air of richness and magic that stems from its broken-down ruins and the views of the sea from its highest point (if you can get to it) are just breathtaking.
What and Where to eat
Portivene Un Mare di Sapori is something of a seafood specialist, boasting a menu of freshly cooked creamy pesto pasta dishes and mussels in red sauce amongst plenty of other fishy dishes! The prices are a little on the steep side but the view and the friendly staff are well worth the money! I would definitely recommend trying one of their freshly made pizzas, to die for!
Il Gambero is a much more low-priced and family themed restaurant however it does have a much simpler menu in terms of the amount of food offered. But don’t let that put you off, every single thing is freshly prepared and cooked from scratch and if you can nab yourself a seat on the outside terrace, you’ll get a beautiful view of the harbour (best enjoyed as sun sets!).Their ravioli and pan fried fish is unbelievably tasty! Ristorante Pizzeria Il Timone seemed to be a bit of a local favourite and was actually recommended to us by our host. He suggested we book a table in advance as it could get very busy in the evening but we decided to just wing it and turn up. Surprisingly we actually managed to blag ourselves a cosy spot right by the kitchen, despite it being very crowded indeed. I had the fresh baked salmon with potatoes and to be honest I was a little let down by the portion size, it was literally tiny (but that might just be because Im generally used to eating king-size portions). Their pizzas however, looked and smelt amazing and were HUGE, like, massive. My friend made a much better choice than me and ordered a seafood pizza for herself which tasted absolutely incredible.
As it is only a small village, you may not be surprised to hear that there is not much in the way of shopping in Portovenere. As an authentic and more traditional Italian holiday spot, you’re definitely not going to find any shopping malls or even a high street. No no no, this place is as rustic as it gets but thats what makes it so great as it means what you definitely WILL find are lots of tiny little local shops selling some of the most amazing handmade souvenirs and typical food. Bajeicò, meaning basil, is run by a lovely woman called Laura Massa who harvests basil leaves from her own plantation before working her magic and creating the most delicious pesto sauce. The guy working the front till (who’s name I cannot for the life of remember) was kind enough to give us a little taste and honestly? Its pesto like you’ve never tasted it before. I recommend you give it a try as she Laura has lots of other tasty foods on offer too! Stroll around a little more and you’ll find more shops selling some high-quality clothing and shoes, particularly leather handbags and belts, and others selling locally-inspured souvenirs such as sea shells, ocean-scented candles and of course, postcards.
The world-famous Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore, Manarola,Vernazza, Corniglia and Monterosso al Mare) are just a ferry boat ride away from Portovenere. Alternatively you can take one of the many trains which frequent La Spezia Station, both come at an incredibly low cost compared to the average price of travel in the UK! (particularly London). The Cinque Terre is home to some of the most dramatically beautiful coastal scenery you will ever see in your life so its we’ll worth the trip! Its also been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997 and in a bit to keep it as untouched as possible (apart from its thousands of tourists every year!) cars have been banned from driving along its winding roads for over a decade!
If you’re not as inclined to venture too far away from the comfort of Portovenere then why not try visiting its neighbouring islands, Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto? To find out more about travel times and costs, click here.
Best of the beaches
Monterosso beach (Fegina) is definitely at the top of my list of the best beaches to visit! Unfortunately I’m not alone in my rating and subsequently, it was pretty jam-packed with tourists and locals when we arrived. Situated in the new part of the village, Monterosso’s long sandy beach and clear blue sea is absolutely breathtaking and is also conveniently located next to a promenade of restaurants and souvenir and ice-cream shops. Vernazza beach is in the harbour of Vernazza and is quite small as far as beaches go but the sea is an unholy blue! You’ll also find lots of little fish swimming around all of the colourful local fishing boats and vibrant houses make for a truly gorgeous setting. Colombo (Lerici) neatly squeezed in between the villages of Santerenzo and Lerici is slightly more commercialised but is also worth checking out. As is Baia Blu and Le Terrazzo which is conveniently just a 5 minute drive from the centre of Portovenere.