Porto Venere (sometimes written as Portovenere) is one of Liguria‘s most picture-postcard harbour towns. Situated near the southern border of Liguria, Porto Venere guards the mouth of the Golfo dei Poeti (Gulf of Poets), a large and attractive bay famed for its connections to the Shelleys and Byron. The wooded island of Palmaria, which sits in the entrance to the Golfo, is very close to Porto Venere and a ferry service will take you across the channel.
The largest town in the bay, La Spezia, is a naval base with some museums of interest to the nautically-minded. On the opposite shore of the Golfo dei Poeti sits Lerici, with its large castle, where the Shelleys lived until Shelley’s death at sea.
Porto Venere tourist information
Porto Venere is popular with daytrippers; the town is fairly small and you can see the main tourist sights in a few hours. However, it’s also a calm and attractive place to stay, and using boats, buses and cars you can use it as a base for seeing more of the area.
Porto Venere tourist attractions include the striped church overlooking the waves, the Chiesa di S. Pietro. Built in 1277, the building sits on the remains of a sixth-century chapel, traces of which can still be seen. Earlier still, a temple to Venus (Venere) stood on the picturesque spot. Another church worth visiting is the Chiesa di S. Lorenzo. Further up the slope, this large church contains several fine works of art, as well as a sacred piece of timber (apparently various rich religious relics floated miraculously to the town, embedded in this beam). For the picnicker, there is a drinking water fountain outside the church.
In a superb strategic viewpoint high above the waves is the Genoese fortress, the Castello Doria (open mornings and afternoons; limited opening in winter). You don’t need to pay the entrance charge to the castle to enjoy excellent views; a pretty terrace below it looks over the sea and is a lovely spot for that picnic.
Down below the chapel on the headland, a sign points out Byron’s cave, the Grotta Byron, where the poet composed The Corsair. It collapsed last century, there’s just a pile of rocks to see now. When Byron was at Porto Venere one of his achievements was to swim across the gulf to visit his friends the Shelleys in Lerici.
Along the little streets you’ll find several take-aways where you can buy pizza and Ligurian specialities like focaccia, and some pleasant restaurants and bars line the waterfront. There is a supermarket just uphill past the Grand Hotel Porto Venere and the La Spezia bus stop.
The Porto Venere Tourist Information Office is located at Piazza Bastreri 7 (note that on the day Italy Heaven visited, neither the information office nor the Castello opened as advertised, and there was no explanatory notice). Ferries depart from Piazza Martiri della Liberta.
Good daytrips from Porto Venere include the Cinque Terre (the more energetic can try walking to Riomaggiore) and the naval museums at La Spezia. Lerici and San Terenzo, home of the Shelleys, are pretty towns worth a visit for their own sake as well as for their literary connections. In the castle at San Terenzo there is a small museum dedicated to Mary Shelley. Further up the Ligurian coast you’ll come to Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino.
The island of Palmaria is just offshore and is a marine reserve popular with nature-lovers and swimmers.
Porto Venere travel information
Get to Porto Venere
The handiest airports for this stretch of the Italian Riviera are Genoa and Pisa – both towns are connected by rail to the coast, and both are on budget airline routes from the UK.
Unfortunately Porto Venere’s location means that it is not on the handy coastal railway line. It is, however, linked by bus to La Spezia.
Porto Venere accommodation
There’s a decent choice of accommodation in and around Porto Venere, including villas and apartments to rent as well as hotels and B&Bs. Three options with sea views are the four-star Grand Hotel Portovenere, which has a convenient location with views over the harbour, the simpler, seafront Hotel Belvedere and the excellent Torre Porto Venere, a smart guest house with a sea-view terrace.
Useful external links