We’re moving on to the region of Liguria, that enchanting crescent on Italy’s northwestern shore. Last spring, I spent a few dreamy days in Portovenere. The Romans believed that this spot is where the Goddess Venus rose from the sea. In early May, before the summer tourist crowds, it was heavenly.
A lovely way to get there is by ferry from La Spezia, bobbing past fishing villages on the Gulf of the Poets, and then the Portovenere harbor appears...Click here for ferry schedule–the ride is about 45 minutes.
Start your day with a buon capuccino at the Bar Lamia, right at the marina, where you can sit outside with the locals and enjoy the view. For the best focaccia in town, warm from the oven, head up through the stone gate, to Panetteria Nicla (Via G. Capaellini 84).
Then wind your way up to the Church of San Lorenzo, a grand spot built by the Genovese in the 12th century. The morning I arrived, five nuns were sweeping the marble floors, chanting the rosary in Latin, their voices echoing off the stones. Inside, to the right of the altar, check out the Miraculous Madonna Bianca. The story goes that on August 17, 1399, the painting changed colors and the Madonna’s arms moved. If you show up for the August anniversary, you’ll be treated to a torchlit procession to commemorate the miracle.
Grazie to Joyce Falcone, of the Italian Concierge, who gave me a tip for a delicious lunch adventure: Locanda Lorena. The restaurant is on Isola Palmaria, that faces Portovenere. I called them up, and they sent an 8-seater boat for me and a couple of other travelers. In minutes we were across the strait and docking right at the restaurant, where fisherman were unloading nets full of shellfish. Which is why I ordered the spaghetti con frutti di mare…exquisite. Splendid to sit either inside or outside under the pergola and finish with a pear and chocolate tart.
Back in Portovenere, the perfect spot for sunset watching is Byron’s Cove, tucked into the side of the promontory where the Church of Saint Peter was built over Venus’s temple. Settle on to a rock for the awe-inspiring show.
For dinner, a fancy option is Trattoria Tre Torri (Piazza Bastreri 9, 0187 790477, closed Wed), for great seafood and homemade pasta.
Or for folksier, go to the best of the osterias on the main drag of the old town, Osteria del Carugio (Via Capellino 66, 0187 790617, closed Thurs AND closes early for dinner–around 8:30 when I was there). Here you can order Mes-ciua, a typical soup of chickpeas and grains, and be serenaded with folk songs by owner Antonio Clerici.
I loved staying at La Lanterna. a charmng, easy on the budget Guest House, where every room comes with a terrace that overlooks the harbor.
Also, the tourist office in Portovenere, (Pro Loco Porto Venere), set at the entrance to the stone-arch-gate, is fabulously set up to help you with your stay in Portovenere and travels farther north into the Cinque Terre and beyond…