Escape the city: things to do on a romantic weekend in Portovenere
What you’ll find below is a mini-guide to Porto Venere, one of the gems of the Levante Ligure. We put it together for first-time visitors and for those who were here a long time ago. We aim to provide you with ideas and travel tips, starting from where to stay and where to eat, to suit all budgets. You can easily indulge in the local fare at a reasonable expense, as long as you know where to go.
Italy is full of wonderful “hidden” little towns and villages to discover and explore. Looking for ideas for your romantic weekend getaway? No destination could be more appropriate than the place sacred to the Goddess of Love. As the story goes, this village is named after the sanctuary dedicated to Venus that, at the time of the ancient Romans, used to rise where the Church of San Pietro stands today.
Where is Portovenere located compared to Cinque Terre?
Portovenere is a seaside village that rises on the extreme tip of the Gulf of Poets: it caps and safeguards this splendid stretch of Ligurian coastline. The Gulf of Poets is a coastal inlet that overlooks the Ligurian Sea; it is located in the eastern part of the region, the area called Levante Ligure.
Reaching Portovenere is easy – the town is in a strategic position on the tip of the Gulf, right by Palmaria Island.
View of Palmaria Island from Portovenere. Photo by Andrea, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
History, nature, crystal clear seawater, delicious freshly caught seafood, and mussel farming are among the area’s main assets. Albeit less renowned than Cinque Terre, this area is just as fascinating and alluring. The main difference between the two is that reaching the Cinque Terre villages – Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Monterosso, Manarola, and Corniglia – requires more traveling, and once you do get there you’ll have to deal with throngs of tourists fighting to grab a table in the cafés, kiosks, and restaurants. Portovenere, on the other hand, is only 13 km from La Spezia, significantly larger and certainly better equipped than its Cinque Terre ‘cousins’.
Distances and travel time: depart from one of these main cities and reach the Ligurian village in less than 2 hours
A seafront village rising on a headland in the middle of the Gulf of Poets, part of a Natural Reserve and well-connected to the main Italian transport routes, is the perfect place for a day trip or a romantic weekend getaway.
One can easily reach Portovenere by car: it’s just a 2- to 3-hour drive from cities like Milan, Pavia, Piacenza, Parma, Prato, Florence… and even less if you’re driving from Genoa, Livorno, Pistoia, Lucca or Pisa!
If you’d rather travel by sea, Navigazione Golfo dei Poeti provides transportation to Porto Venere from Viareggio, Marina di Massa, and Carrara.
Distance between Milan and Portovenere: travel options
Reaching Portovenere is far from complicated. if you leave Milan at 5 pm and drive, you’ll be there by 8:30 p.m. at the most. This means you can start your romantic weekend on Friday, with a delicious seafront dinner. There are several different routes you can take from Milan. The one that goes through Genoa (A7) and from there takes you towards Livorno along the A12/E80 is no doubt the quickest.
Alternatively, you might want to drive to Parma and from there to La Spezia. It’s a longer journey, but foodies may well prefer it anyway, seeing as they can stop to sample some prosciutto or tortellini in Parma.
Traveling to Portovenere by train is easy and comfortable too. There are plenty of trains connecting Milan to La Spezia, and you won’t even have to take a “Freccia”, i.e. a high-speed train: a simple Intercity will take you to La Spezia in just about three hours, and from there you can catch a bus or a ferry to Portovenere.
Distance between Florence and Portovenere: travel options
Traveling from Florence is even quicker. You can easily drive, and reach Portovenere in about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Once you’re done in the office just swing by the house, grab your bag, and come dinner time you’ll be comfortably seated, gazing at the gleaming sea and relishing luscious muscoli (mussels).
If you’d rather not take the highway, you can choose to drive down the SGC FI-PI-LI to Pisa, and then along the Aurelia (SS1): you’ll be in La Spezia in about 1 hour.
There are other options too. The regional road SR 445, for instance, is a scenic loop that starts in Lucca and ends in Lunigiana. You’ll drive through Borgo a Mozzano, Barga, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, and Aulla and finally, cross the Apuan Alps and reach Porto Venere.
Traveling by train is also a good option from Florence, and both high-speed “Freccia” trains and regional ones make good time: a regional takes you to your destination in approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes, a “Freccia” in 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Once in La Spezia, you’ll have to take another means of transport to Portovenere: trains don’t get that far down!
From La Spezia to Portovenere
Once in La Spezia, you have at least three options to choose from. You can travel to Portovenere:
- By taxi (€15-€25)
- By ferry (€6)
- By bus (€2)
Taking the bus is no doubt the most cost-effective solution. Exit the La Spezia train station, walk to via Garibaldi (less than 10 minutes on foot), and take n. 11 to Portovenere. Alternatively, you can walk to Corso Cavour and take the P line. Both will take you straight to Portovenere for only €2.
Definitely the most scenic option. Ferries, which are handled by the Consorzio Marittimo del Golfo dei Poeti, take you to Portovenere in about 30 minutes. There is at least one every hour between 9 a.m, and 3 p.m. and one-way tickets cost €8 per person. Find timetables and price details here.
Where to park
If you’re thinking about driving to Portovenere your first thought is bound to be “where am I going to park?” “Are there parking lots in Portovenere?” and “how much do they cost?”
The municipality of Portovenere is divided into zones that go from P1, the area closest to the town center, to those that comprise the Le Grazie and Fezzano neighborhoods.
Needless to say, the P1 zone is the most expensive. In peak vacation season – i.e. between March and October – parking in this area costs €3 per hour between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. In the other zones, parking fees vary between €2 and €2.5 per hour. Buying a day pass that allows you to park in the P2 zone, which goes from Arenella to the second street of Via dell’Olivo, is certainly worthwhile. Parking at your hotel and leaving your car there for the duration of your stay is also an option. Find a full detailed map of Portovenere parking zones and fees here.
Where to spend the night in Portovenere: take your pick
Now let’s get to the best part of your weekend getaway in Portovenere. Over the years, this pretty village nestled among the rocks has worked on providing visitors with places to stay, and now houses many hotels, bed and breakfasts, and rooms for rent. You can find an overview of accommodation options in Portovenere and its surroundings below.
Byron’s grotto. (Photo by Davide Papalini, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
- Torre di Portovenere: A Bed and Breakfast located in a 16th-century tower, right at the town entrance. Here, one can admire the beautiful gulf scenery from a stylish, perfectly outfitted bedroom.
- Villa Castello di Portovenere: The mansions adjoining the castle have recently been converted into this villa. It’s a perfect place to take in the medieval atmosphere and, at once, enjoy one of the most marvelous views of the gulf from above.
- B & B La Lanterna: A small bed and breakfast located in a quaint alley in the historic center of Porto Venere, a stone’s throw from the sea. It features three rooms only, but they are spotless and have dainty balconies offering great vistas of the sea and the Gulf of La Spezia. Perfect for an escape from the city.
- Tra Cielo e Mare: A B&B strategically located in a green, cool, airy spot just a few dozen meters from the gateway to the historic center. The rooms are furnished in typical local style.
- B&B La Palafitta: A lovely bed and breakfast located just above Arenella beach. The view is stunning, as are the scents of sea and spices that come from the private garden. Added value: if you’re driving, you can park on the premises!
- La Tortuga Guesthouse: A guesthouse located close to “La Palafitta” that provides private parking. If you don’t want to leave your pets home alone, you are welcome to bring them!
- Bouganville Guesthouse: Offers guestrooms with private access to the beach. What else can one say?
If, on the other hand, you plan to be utterly spoiled and pampered, and enjoy your romantic getaway in Portovenere immersed in comfort, there are other accommodation solutions you can consider.
- Relais Santa Caterina: New, finely appointed guestrooms, each with its balcony offering spectacular views of the Gulf. You can have breakfast in your room, or in the garden among the olive trees.
- Residence Le Terrazze: A 3-star property with private parking (at an extra fee) and its own beach resort with a swimming pool, Le Terrazze Beach and Pool.
- Albergo Belvedere: A conveniently located 3-star hotel with spacious bedrooms and a rich breakfast served on the terrace.
- Albergo Ristorante Paradiso: A 3-star hotel in a convenient location, with immaculate guestrooms, parking facilities, and lovely sea views.
- Grand Hotel Portovenere: 5-star. This is where you want to stay if you’re looking for a blend of style, history, and top-end quality.
- Capitolare Suite Tower: If you crave privacy, the Capitolare is your place: an exclusive suite, furnished with all amenities, inside an ancient medieval tower.
Portovenere restaurants: Where to eat
Restaurants, pizzerias, street food
Your two-day getaway must necessarily include tasting the local fare: Ligurian specialties. You can’t leave Portovenere if you haven’t indulged in focaccia ligure, chickpea farinata, deep-fried sgabei, and anchovies, and feasted on fish and seafood. One weekend may actually not be enough to taste all the local delicacies and truly experience the cuisine of the Levante Ligure.
The area’s typical dishes have a very distinctive flavor, a blend of land and sea. The cuisine varies according to the season, hence one type of local specialty offered in the restaurants (veal cima, rabbit, chicken, octopus, stuffed mussels) prevails in one season, and another in the following. To make sure you taste a bit of everything (first and foremost spaghetti with mussels), you could plan your meals based on your vacation schedule.
You might, for instance, plan to explore the town in the morning and spend time at the seaside in the afternoon. In this case, why not try one of the famous Ligurian focaccias? You can get great ones at Pizzeria il Timone, which is near the marina and en route to the beach.
In the evening, you could treat yourself and your sweetheart to a delicious romantic dinner at Antica Osteria del Carugio, nestled in the town center’s winding alleys, or on the seafront terrace of the restaurant Torre di Venere.
Here are some insider’s tips on where to eat in Portovenere.
- Anciùa: gourmet sandwiches prepared with local ingredients, such as mussels and anchovies
- Focacceria Fatti una pizza: classic Ligurian-style stuffed focaccias.
- Forno de Mä: chickpea farinata, stuffed focaccia, jam tarts, and typical desserts.
- Rifugio Muzzerone: rising right above the village and accessible on foot only, offers homemade dishes at great prices.
But if you’re looking for the best, tastiest, most authentic focaccia we suggest you visit Il Timone, a pizzeria in via dell’Olivo, right in front of the marina. Besides a selection of pizzas, chickpea farinata and focaccias, you can order traditional Ligurian specialties to go!
The quality you’ll find at Ristorante Pizzeria il Timone stems from the staff’s passion and the care with which they handle the raw ingredients. Il Timone produces its own EVO and wine, and uses homegrown seasonal vegetables only, to ensure guests enjoy the finest and most genuine authentic Ligurian flavors.
Torre di Venere
Torre di Venere is a seafront terrace lounge-bar located steps away from the Church of San Pietro. Perfect for a romantic aperitivo.
Trattoria Tre Torri
Sea views, lush deep-fried seafood, and delectable antipasti. The Trattoria Tre Torri is located in piazzetta Bastreri.
Antica Osteria del Carugio
Roaming through the heart of the old town and down its fascinating windy carugi alleys, you’ll find a restaurant endowed with old-world ambiance. Here, one can soak up the village’s centuries-old atmosphere and typical food of Liguria enriched by local identity, charm and history.
If you want to treat yourself, make a reservation at Palmaria Restaurant, the restaurant of Grand Hotel Portovenere. You’ll have the chance to enjoy an apéritif on the terrace, and a candlelit dinner on the beautiful veranda overlooking Palmaria Island.