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Perched on the Gulf of Poets, the long enchanting harbour of Portovenere has been a haven for travellers throughout history, dating back all the way to the Romans, who first christened it Portus Veneris. Back then, it was simply a route through Gaul to Spain, but it's been a scintillating retreat for centuries since, throughout the Byzantine, Lombard and Genovese empires.
In modernity, this picturesque village has been famously popular with writers such as Byron, Shelley and DH Lawerence, and it's remarkably easy to see why. An iconic waterfront leads to a countless series of stone steps, and cobbled street, leading uphill to the township proper, which is an alluring blend of ornate terraced gardens and incomparable views.
Church of San Pietro
Originally consecrated in 1198, one of the first things you'll see approaching Portovenere are the towers of the Church of St. Peter looming majestically over the piazza Lazzaro Spallanzani. You'd be forgiven for mistaking this incredible monument for an island stronghold at first glance – the walls of the church merge with the sheer face of a rocky outcrop, giving them the appearance of imposing medieval battlements.
A huge wooden gate guards the interior, but that's where the military comparison ends. The main hall of the church is beautifully adorned with archways and black and white stripes throughout, creating a unique décor that is unlike any other chapel in Italy. To stand beneath its giant timber beams is to be completely awestruck, making it a worthy excursion for any cruiser.
The natural landscape surrounding Portovenere is inspiring to look at, but it's not just there to be observed. Plenty of island tours depart from Portovenere and explore the fantastic range of sea caves and hidden coves upon the coastline, some of which have been untouched by modern man. The Grotta Arpaia is just minutes away from the church of St. Peter, and was a favourite haunt of Lord Byron, who used to swim there every time he summered in Portovenere. During the afternoon, the bright light of the sunshine illuminates the waters of the cove, making it a transcendent experience should you decided to visit.
Palmaria is the largest island of the Liguria region, and is just a short ferry ride from the centre of Portovenere. The island is revered for its hiking trails, which have a multitude of scenic routes which pass through rock faces, mountain sides, and ancient buildings. Try visiting in the early morning in order to enjoy the panoramic views in complete serenity.
Near the main marina, you can find a small market which sells the freshest local produce, as well as not a few curios for your delectation.
Ristorante Della Baia has incomparable views over the seafront, but it's the fresh seafood that will bring you back to lunch here time and time again. An elegant décor and exceptional service complement an exquisite menu of scintillating crab, shrimp and prawn dishes, making it a priority sport for foodies.
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