Porto Venere is one of the most fascinating towns in Liguria. With this guide, you will discover it among breathtaking landscapes and local food & wine!
Porto Venere (or Portovenere) is a small village in the province of La Spezia, in Liguria, on the border with Tuscany. Located in the famous Gulf of Poets, it is a charming fishing town that is part of the Cinque Terre National Park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Portovenere is world-famous for its beautiful colourful houses, ancient churches, old castle, islands and crystal clear sea, which will make you fall in love with this beautiful Italian pearl straight away!
Visiting Porto Venere will allow you to disconnect from the hectic pace of the city, offering peace and relaxation in an almost surreal place. For nature and adventure lovers, this gem offers boat trips, excursions both on land and at sea, visits to fantastic caves and much more.
Now, as you read on, I will tell you what to see in Porto Venere and what to do to best appreciate all that this destination has to offer!
What to see in Porto Venere? Wandering among the attractions
Visiting Portovenere is one of the things you should absolutely do at least once in your life. As already mentioned, together with the Cinque Terre and the three islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, this town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its colourful houses are one of the most important characteristics of the village, as well as its very narrow alleys, called “carrugi”, its monuments and of course its sea that offers breathtaking landscapes and sunsets.
If you are in Porto Venere, you should definitely visit:
- Porta del Borgo and historic centre
- Sanctuary of the Madonna Bianca (church of San Lorenzo)
- Doria Castle
- Byron Cave
- Church of San Pietro
- Palazzata a mare
- Palmaria Island
- Small harbour with locals
- Scola Tower
- Le Grazie hamlet
These are the main tourist attractions to visit and now I will tell you about them in more detail by dedicating a description to each of them.
1. Porta del Borgo and the historic centre
The historic centre of Portovenere can be reached by steep steps or by entering through the imposing “Porta del Borgo”, which dates back to the 12th century and is still intact. Entering the town, you will be immediately struck by the calm and peaceful atmosphere, typical of a small fishing village.
As you move through the narrow alleyways, you will be able to observe the beautiful coloured houses. Thanks to their height, they select the rays of sunlight that can illuminate the streets. I will tell you more about the monuments to visit in a moment, but first let me suggest that you lose yourself in the “carrugi” of this town, in order to discover fantastic views and breathtaking panoramas.
2. Sanctuary of the Madonna Bianca (Church of San Lorenzo)
In Porto Venere you have to visit the Sanctuary of the Madonna Bianca, also known as the Church of San Lorenzo. This Romanesque church, dating back to the 12th century, is the symbol of the town because of its history.
According to a legend, during the plague of 1399, a villager, asking for deliverance from the disease, turned to an image of the Virgin Mary, who lit up. The end of the plague was immediately attributed to the Virgin Mary. Since then, the painting has been transferred to the Church of San Lorenzo, which became a sanctuary and a place of worship and prayer.
The building offers a unique view both for those who observe it from the sea and those who observe it from land. Its structure is imposing and inside there are remarkable works of art that you definitely can’t miss!
3. Doria Castle
Near the Sanctuary of the Madonna Bianca, there is another architectural wonder: the Doria Castle. This building, located on a rocky hill, dominates the entire village of Portovenere. The castle, which can be reached by taking the street of the same name, is well preserved with its towers and walls. It will offer you views that you will not easily forget!
In Liguria, particularly in the province of La Spezia, there are the remains of ancient windmills. In Porto Venere you can see three of them: two at the base of the Castle and one at the gates of the town. The first, with their typical cylindrical shape, were later converted from mills into watchtowers, given their strategic position. As for the last one, called “Mulino di Campiglia”, it has kept its structure intact and is definitely worth a visit.
5. Church of San Pietro
Not sure what to see in Porto Venere? If you’re in this area, you can’t miss out on visiting one of the most famous buildings in the area. The Church of San Pietro is in fact one of the main tourist attractions thanks to its splendid position overlooking the sea. It will allow you to take memorable photos.
The entire church stands on the remains of a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Venus Ericina. The structure is divided into two buildings: a Gothic one and a Romanesque one, from different times but both very old. Are you wondering what to do in Portovenere? A visit to this Ligurian jewel is a must!
6. Byron’s Cave
Overlooked by the Church of San Pietro and the Doria Castle, this fantastic cave is a real gem of Porto Venere. The Byron’s cave, dedicated to the English poet who fell in love with this land, offers a breathtaking seabed full of fish, crustaceans and anemones. Inside you can go on excursions and scuba diving, as the seabed is at least twenty metres deep.
7. Palazzata a mare and the small port
Palazzata a mare is another of the many attractions Portovenere has to offer. It consists essentially of a chain of old, colourful houses overlooking the promenade that seem to be anchored in the rock behind them.
The best view of the Palazzata can be enjoyed from the small port, the only pedestrian area full of bars and restaurants where you can try the wonderful local food and wine.
8. Scola Tower
Located in the Gulf of Poets, this imposing 16th-century structure had a defensive function, along with other watchtowers.
Scola Tower, after being bombed and abandoned in the 19th century, was converted into a lighthouse in 1915. Today, given the condition of the tower, lush vegetation has grown on one open side, blending in with the building’s history. Although no longer in use, the tower continues to watch over this small fishing village.
9. Le Grazie hamlet
A few kilometres away from Porto Venere there is a small hamlet called “Le Grazie”. This small seaside village, in addition to fishing, is dedicated to the extraction of the famous Portoro marble, given the numerous quarries in the area. In this tiny town the small harbour, the Bastione del Varignano and the Villa Residenziale, dating back to Roman times, are the main attractions to see.
10. Palmaria Island
Palmaria Island is the largest of the three islands in Porto Venere and is also the only one with a small town called “Terrizzo”. The island offers enchanting landscapes and beaches, immersed in unspoilt nature and therefore not sandy but pebbly and rocky.
Palmaria’s main coves are Punta Secco and Pozzale. You absolutely cannot miss the fantastic Sentiero dei Condannati (Path of the Condemned) in the woods, a real paradise for trekking lovers.
You should also see the wonderful sea caves that populate the island, such as the Grotta Azzurra, the Grotta Vulcanica and the Grotta dei Colombi.
What to do? Sport, nature and much more!
The activities that this pearl of Liguria can offer are many: boat trips, a visit to caves or beaches, excursions, trekking and (of course!) a visit to the three islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto.
The most interesting beach in Portovenere is Bagno Arenella, located inside the Regional Natural Park of Porto Venere, a protected marine area. On the other hand, in Palmaria, in addition to the two beaches already mentioned, I recommend Cala Fornace. It can only be reached by sea, but it will give you a crystal-clear sea and unique landscapes that you will hardly forget.
For nature and sport lovers, there is no lack of paths for trekking or excursions, such as the beautiful “Sentiero dei Condannati” in Palmaria or the Sentiero nel Bosco and the Sentiero di via Mortea in Portovenere, all immersed in the green and in contact with the surrounding nature.
You cannot leave Portovenere without having seen the countless caves. The most famous is certainly the Byron’s Cave (Grotta di Byron) with its unique colours, but also the Grotta Azzurra, the Grotta dei Colombi and the Grotta Vulcanica, located on the island of Palmaria, are very famous.
In these caves, it is also possible to go diving or snorkelling thanks to the crystal clear water and the many species of fish, anemones and crustaceans that populate these environments. To visit the caves there are of course organised boat trips and, in some cases, it is possible to combine this experience with a tasting of local foods directly on the boat!
A must-do boat trip is to the three islands of Portovenere: Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, UNESCO World Heritage Sites! You’ll have the chance to see some of Italy’s best scenery amidst some truly unforgettable caves and seabeds.
Porto Venere is truly one of Italy’s jewels, and its location makes it a great starting point for visiting the Cinque Terre and other nearby towns such as Lerici and La Spezia.
Discovering local food & wine
Visiting a place also means tasting what it has to offer in terms of food and wine. If you are in Porto Venere, you must try pasta al pesto, the culinary symbol of Liguria.
The typical focaccia alla Genovese is also very important. It is a sort of bread-pizza with a soft consistency, seasoned with olive oil, salt, olives and tomatoes.
Another local speciality is the mussels or “muscoli” from Portovenere: mussel-like molluscs bred in the Gulf of Poets and along the coast of the town. They can be eaten fried, with spaghetti or even “alla marinara” with garlic, olive oil and parsley. Try them!
Don’t leave Porto Venere without trying the stuffed and fried zucchini flowers, the legume soup called “mesciua” and the traditional spoon dessert “bunettu de laete”.
The heroic viticulture of this area yields important wines, including Sciacchetrà and the famous Cinque Terre Costa de Sera, Costa de Campu and Costa da Posa.
How to get to Portovenere Italy
Considering that Porto Venere cannot be reached by train, in my opinion the best way to get there is by car, also to have more freedom and comfort in case you want to visit other nearby towns.
As an alternative to the car, you can easily use the bus or the ferry. For adventure lovers, Portovenere can also be reached through several paths on foot or by bicycle!
What to see near the town
Thanks to its strategic position, Portovenere allows you to visit some nearby towns such as La Spezia and Lerici, not forgetting the beautiful Cinque Terre.
I will now briefly describe the towns and small villages to see around Porto Venere.
A few kilometres away from our seaside village is Lerici, another pearl of the Gulf of Poets with its sea and breathtaking scenery. In this Ligurian town, you will have the opportunity to visit the imposing Castle, the Oratory of San Rocco with its tower and Villa Marigola. The hamlets of San Terenzo, Fiascherino and Tellaro are also worth a visit.
La Spezia is the second largest municipality by population. This city is located on the border with Tuscany and offers many attractions. If you find yourself there, visit the Cathedral of Christ the King and the Church of the Sacred Heart. As far as civil architecture is concerned, the Museum of the Castle of San Giorgio is definitely worth mentioning.
The Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre are five small fishing villages located in Liguria, between La Spezia and Genoa. Characterised by their charming coloured houses overlooking the crystal clear Ligurian sea, these enchanting villages are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Below is a brief description of these five marvelous Italian villages:
Monterosso is the largest town of the five, divided into two fractions by a promontory overlooking the sea. In this village, I recommend you see the Church of San Giovanni Battista, the Statue of the Giant and the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Soviore. The Festival of Lemons (Sagra dei Limoni) at the beginning of May is also worth a visit.
Vernazza is a real jewel of Liguria. Losing yourself in its alleys will make you fall in love with this town. Situated on the sea, the Church of S. Margherita d’Antiochia is a must-see, without forgetting the majestic Doria Castle.
Corniglia is located on a rocky promontory surrounded by vineyards and is the only one of the five municipalities not in contact with the sea. Accessible by a long flight of steps or the carriage road, it is a town surrounded by nature offering many paths with unforgettable views. Don’t leave this place without seeing the Church of San Pietro.
Manarola is a characteristic village perched on a promontory overlooking the sea. Its structure develops around the course of the Groppo stream, now covered. The most significant attractions are the Church of San Lorenzo with its bell tower and Via Belvedere. The latter ends in a panoramic balcony that will give you unforgettable images.
Riomaggiore is the last village of the five, dating back to the 7th century. It is immersed in unspoilt nature with its typical Mediterranean vegetation. Worth seeing are the Church of S. Giovanni Battista, the Church of San Lorenzo and the Castle of Riomaggiore. The Via dell’Amore path is also very charming.
Now that you know what to see in Porto Venere, all you have to do is set off. With Italia Delight, you can visit Portovenere and its surroundings! Take a look at the foodie break we propose and enjoy a trip to one of the most beautiful places in Italy.