Portovenere, Italy – The Cinque Terre’s Hidden Gem

As one of the most beautiful towns on the Italian Riviera, Portovenere is a destination you need to check out. With everything there is to see and do in Portovenere, it’s genuinely one of the region’s hidden gems, especially considering it’s not as well known as the more famous Cinque Terre. To help make your trip planning easier and ensure you have time to knock out the best things that the town has to offer, we’ve come up with the 7 best things to do in Portovenere.  

Located about an hour’s drive from Cinque Terre, Portovenere is known for its beautiful harborfront promenade and incredible vistas of the Ligurian Sea. But that’s not it. Go beyond the colorful facade of the harborside buildings, and the town welcomes you with open arms. Stay at a 5-star hotel, explore the archipelago by the sea, learn how to cook authentic Ligurian cuisine, and explore the areas stunning hiking trails. Portovenere has it all! 

Let’s take a look at some of the best things that the Cinque Terre’s hidden gem, Portovenere, has to offer in 2021. It’s a trip that you don’t want to miss!

The Grand Hotel Portovenere

Grand Hotel Porto Venere, Portovenere, Italy

If you’re visiting Portovenere and want to live the life of Italian luxury while you’re in town, there aren’t any better options anywhere nearby than the famous Grand Hotel Portovenere. This 5-star luxury hotel is the best place to stay in Portovenere and arguably one of the top places to stay anywhere in Cinque Terre. With the endless amenities, top-notch service provided, and luxurious suites, it’s well worth the nightly price if you want a taste of luxury.

Starting at around $300 – $400 per night, it certainly isn’t cheap to stay at the Grand Hotel Portovenere. But if you’re willing to splurge a little for the best lodging experience possible, you won’t even think twice about how much you’re spending. And with its location being just minutes away from the heart of Portovenere, you won’t find a better place to stay.

Let’s go over just a few of the things you can expect to have access to during your stay. The Grand Hotel Portovenere is located right on the water, so many of the rooms offer sea views that are breathtaking in their own right. WiFi is free, and you might even have your own terrace overlooking the sea, perfect for getting some work done in the morning while sitting looking out at the endless blue sea. There’s also a bar and restaurant on-site, a nearby spa, and friendly service. This 5-star hotel is a luxurious option while you’re visiting. What more could you ask for?

Archipelago By The Sea

Archipelago By The Sea, Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto Islands near Portovenere, Italy

While you’re visiting Portovenere, don’t think that you need to stay on land in the small town when you’re there. Instead, consider visiting the nearby archipelago and getting a taste of a few of the smaller islands nearby Portovenere and Cinque Terre. Just off the coast of Portovenere, there’s a small group of three islands — Tinetto, Tino, and Palmaria. Tinetto and Palmaria can be visited regularly by the public, but Tino is off-limits except for two days out of the whole year.

The island of Tino is a military territory that is populated and operated by the military and usually off-limits to the public, butf you’re in Portovenere during mid-September, the island of Tino is opened up for the festival that celebrates San Venerio. So if you get the chance to visit the island, take advantage! It’s such a history-rich island that’s so difficult to visit that you need to take the opportunity if you can get it. 

But as previously mentioned, the other two islands — Tinetto and Palmaria — are open to the public. That said, Tinetto is a tiny island that is home to some ancient ruins. It’s typically just seen as part of a boat tour rather than visited in person. But Palmaria is the biggest of the three islands and is well worth the visit. Palmaria is one of the best ways to spend a day on your Portovenere vacation, as you’ll get access to some of the best beaches and spots for swimming, diving, and snorkeling anywhere in Cinque Terre. 

Ligurian Cooking

Charming seaside restaurant serving Ligurian cooking, Portovenere, Italy

While you may not realize it, you’re likely already familiar with Ligurian cooking. This wonderful cuisine has spread throughout the world thanks to its iconic dishes which include focaccia bread, pesto, and cioppino. As legend has it, minestrone and ravioli are also of Ligurian origin. And let’s not forget the wonderful seafood. Liguria is, after all, on the sea, and the region is known for its incredible fish and seafood dishes. So be sure to enjoy as much delicious Ligurian cuisine as you can.

While you’re in Portovenere, consider not only trying some of the local food but even cooking some of it yourself by joining a cooking lesson right in the heart of town! One of the top restaurants of Portovenere, Palmaria Restaurant, offers cooking lessons at the aforementioned Grant Hotel of Portovenere. Learn how to cook the fantastic food of the region and pair it with the perfect glass of wine as you learn how to cook one of the best meals of your life.

If you decide to join the two-hour cooking course, you’ll be in for a real treat. Chefs from the Palmaria Restaurant will show you how to create a delicious Ligurian meal consisting of potato gnocchi, Liguria-style pesto, and an Italian dessert to top it all off. After the lesson, you’ll then be treated to a meal of your own at Palmaria Restaurant. The food will be delicious, and you’ll get panoramic views of Portovenere that you won’t find anywhere else! 

Trekking Paradise

Hiking in Porto Venere natural park, near Portovenere and Cinque Terre, Italy

Anyone who loves exploring on foot, either through the narrow streets of the town center or hiking in natural parks and taking in all their beauty, should consider visiting Portovenere. That’s because Portovenere is one of Liguria’s trekking paradises, offering visitors more places to walk and more things to explore on foot than many of the other towns along the coast. How you spend your days walking will depend on what you prefer, the bustling streets of Portovenere or the peaceful hiking trails in the Porto Venere Natural Park, which are far less busy than the tourist-filled hiking trails of Cinque Terre.

Let’s start with exploring the streets of the medieval town on foot. When you see pictures of Portovenere, you likely think of the colorful buildings lining the shore of the harbor. But behind this colorful facade is a medieval town entered through Porta del Borgo. Inside this part of town, you’ll find several narrow streets that are packed full of boutiques and shops, offering visitors just about anything they can imagine. And then, of course, don’t forget about walking along the harbor itself and taking in the pretty water views!

Colorful buildings on historic street in Portovenere, near Cinque Terre, Italy

And last but certainly not least, Portovenere and its nearby Portovenere Regional Natural Park provide its adventurous visitors with numerous trails through the region to hike. Arguably the best of all the trails will take you from Portovenere to the nearby town of Riomaggiore. Along the way, you will get some of the best views from anywhere in Cinque Terre. The water, the cliffs, the flora around you. It’s a breathtaking hike that you won’t forget. 

Explore Doria Castle

Doria Castle near Portovenere, Cinque Terre region, Liguria, Italy

While you’re enjoying your day trekking through the streets of Portovenere as suggested just above, you might come across a few peculiar sets of steep staircases leading to something up high that you can’t quite see through the buildings and foliage. Let that curious urge convince you to climb the stairs and see where they lead. Eventually, you’ll emerge high up, right on the grounds of the incredible Doria Castle, which is well worth spending the time to visit. 

One of the oldest buildings not only in Portovenere or even Cinque Terre but the entire Italian Riviera, Doria Castle, was constructed well over a millennium ago between the 7th and 9th centuries. Check out the ancient architecture and construction that’s managed to survive all these years, it’s truly astounding to look at. Overlooking the Bay of Poets — which you’ll read more about shortly — Doria Castle not only offers a great example of amazing architecture but will also provide you with amazing views!

For a small entrance fee of just a few bucks, you can explore the castle grounds and venture into the beautiful gardens. Surrounded by the greenery and various species of flowers, you’ll be transformed into a world of peace and serenity. From the gardens, look out over the endless blue water and the true beauty of the Italian Riviera and Cinque Terre. The Doria Castle is an absolute must for anyone visiting Portovenere. 

Home to Incredible Churches

Church of St Peter, Portovenere, Italy

Like many other Italian cities and towns, Portovenere is home to some incredible churches that are worth visiting during your stay. Checking the architecture, the design, and the lavish decorations inside these ancient structures should be on anyone’s shortlists when they’re pretty much anywhere in Italy! And Portovenere is no exception. As home to both the Church of San Lorenzo and the Church of Saint Peter, you’ll want to spend a few hours at the very least dedicated to checking these religious landmarks out. 

After you finish exploring Doria Castle as suggested above, right next door you’ll find the first of the two churches on our list — the Church of San Lorenzo. Also known as the Santuario della Madonna Bianca, this church is not as grandiose as some of the others that you’ll find in Italy, but it is still well worth taking some time to look at. Getting its name (Madonna Bianca) from the patron saint of Portovenere, the White Madonna, this church is celebrated among the people of Portovenere and holds a special place in their hearts. 

If you’re wanting to see something a bit more impressive in terms of architecture and design, check out the Church of Saint Peter next. Referred to as San Pietro Church locally, this building looks much more like a castle than a church from afar. Spend some time walking around the outside and taking all its beauty in. Then head inside and see an ornate statue of its namesake, St. Peter, as the focal point of this amazing iconic structure. 

Dive into Lord Byron’s Grotto

Byron's Cave aka Byron's Grotto in the Bay of Poets near Portovenere, Italy

While you’re visiting and exploring the aforementioned churches, you might catch a glimpse of an observation deck looking out into the gorgeous blue waters. If you walk over to that observation deck and look out over the edge, you’ll get incredible views of the Bay of Poets and the amazing Lord Byron’s Grotto. Previously known as Grotta Arpaia, Lord Byron’s Grotto is the perfect combination of breathtaking views from afar while offering visitors the chance to swim in the warm blue waters in which it resides.

The Bay of Poets and Lord Byron’s Grotto have a bit of interesting history as to how they got their names, which makes it an even more intriguing place to visit and go for a swim while you’re staying in Portovenere. The Bay of Poets was so named due to the English poets who used to visit this place and use the water’s beauty as inspiration to help them write incredible works of art. Lord Byron was one of the leading poets of the Romantic movement and used to stay here. He’d swim across the bay to visit another poet, Shelley. And that’s how the grotto and the bay got their names; they are bathed in the romance of poetry. 

These days, Lord Byron’s Grotto is not only incredible to look at, but it’s also one of the best places in Portovenere to swim, sail, or go for a dive. Explore the piercing blue waters inside the grotto go for a relaxing swim. Consider renting a sailboat or going on a sailboat tour through the Bay of Poets to get some of the best views of the area. But if you’re in the water here, be mindful of the strong currents that can pop up at times unexpectedly!

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