Palmaria: the biggest island in the Liguria region

What? Islands in Liguria? Yes, of course, they are tiny, but they exist. 

This region is famous not only for the olive oil, the food and the intriguing holidays you can spend in Cinque Terre.

Isola Palmaria, together with Tino and Tinetto, are the islands comprised in the Arcipelago Spezzino (also called Arcipelago di Portovenere or Isole del Golfo della Spezia). Close to the worldwide known 5 Terre, the southern part of the Liguria region displays true gems and hidden perspectives, outside of the mass-tourism routes.

The Gulf of Poets was once the Gulf of Pirates

As for the presence of some of the most important romantic English poets (Lord Byron, Percy Bishe Shelley, just to name the most famous ones), the gulf standing in front of the city of La Spezia has been called (and it is still called) Il Golfo dei Poeti

But for a certain period of its history, this corner of the Ligurian Sea was the Gulf of Pirates, rather than of Poets. Raids by privateers, merchants, and pirates took place on these seas at the end of the 18th century. 

At that time the Republic of Genoa had lost some of its power and was encircled by rivals such as France and Piedmont. Sea battles took place – various nations and financed privateers were involved. The French against the British and the Savoy; the Savoy against the Genoese and the Frenchs; the English against all. 

An exemplary story of those times evokes the figure of the Pirate Bacicio do Tin. He was first in the service of Napoleon against the British fleets, then he reached the rank of Count of the Island of Tino. His actions provoked many kinks and six nations’ armies were trying to capture him. In the end, he was captured and hanged in Portovenere. But his treasure was never found, so experienced divers who nowadays dive in these depths hope to find traces of it.

palmaria island
View of the Palmaria Island from the Portovenere hilltop.

The island in front of Portovenere: the Palmaria

Here we are immersed in these incredible pirate stories, whose scenarios are the islands in front of Portovenere: Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto. When in Portovenere, casting your eye toward the sea, you will notice an island – it is Palmaria Island, the largest of the islands in the La Spezia archipelago. It lies very close to Portovenere and can be reached by boat from La Spezia (30 minutes) and Portovenere (5 minutes). 

Isola Palmaria is a real jewel of the Ligurian Sea, hiding priceless treasures, not only the result of pirate robberies but also thanks to its biodiversity and the unmistakable beauty of its landscapes. 

How to get to Palmaria Island

Palmaria is not very far from Portovenere, and getting there is easy. Especially during the summer season, ferries to Palmaria are frequent. In addition, it is possible to organize day boat trips that will allow you to see also the smaller islands of Tino and Tinetto. 

Reaching Palmaria Island: ferries and schedules

It is possible to reach the island starting from different locations. For each of these, there is a ferry line, just like a bus. 

For example, if you leave from Portovenere, La Spezia, or Lerici, the Golfo dei Poeti Navigation Company has activated line 01, which will leave you at one of two landing points on the island: the one in Terrizzo or the one in Pozzale. 

Terrizzo is located on the northern part of Palmaria Island and is the busiest docking point, always open. Pozzale is a port used mainly during the summer and it is located on the southern side of the island, near the ancient Portoro quarries.

Here you can find the timetables and routes of the Golfo dei Poeti Navigation Company, valid from June 15 to September 4, 2022. Alternatively, you can consult the timetable page of their website.

Alternatively, la Cooperativa dei Barcaioli (Boatmen’s Cooperative) offers boat service between Portovenere and Palmaria Island working on three different points on the island: 

  1. Punta Secco (summer only), departing from Molo Doria every 30 min from 9 am until 6:45 pm;
  2. Terrizzo, connection available all year round;
  3. Pozzale, there is a beach surrounded by a cool pine forest. 

Ticket Cost

From Portovenere to Palmaria Island the cost of the ferry with the Poets’ Gulf Company is 3 euros one way (5 € A/R) while from La Spezia it is 8 euros one way (15 € A/R).

What to do on Palmaria Island: monuments and trails

Among the many hidden treasures on the island, one is the number of microclimates that allow it to host many different species. Thanks to the variety of its flora and fauna, Palmaria Island was declared a UN World Heritage Site in 1997. Since then it has been part of the Portovenere Regional Park. 

The west side of the island consists of towering cliffs and striking caves, such as Grotta Azzurra and Grotta dei Colombi, perfect spots for hiding chests! The inner part of the island displays the typical scents and colors of the Mediterranean maquis. You will find beautiful beaches on the eastern and southeastern areas of the island. Here the marble quarries and the fortresses reveal the man-made landscape.

How to move: The Palmaria Island trail 

Get on your feet comfortably! Palmaria is entirely walkable thanks to a loop trail that will allow you to experience its treasures step by step. This way you can stop and study the typical species of the Mediterranean maquis, take breathtaking photos from one of the many overhanging punti panoramici (views), or enjoy some treasure hunting!

The Palmaria Island trail leads you to visit some sites of historical and cultural interest such as the Umberto I Fortified Battery or the Fort of Cavour, which can be accessed via a path called “dei condannati.” The Fort of Cavour was a prison until the end of the 1950s. The island has a predominantly military history, due to its use in the Savoy era as a prison and military academy, as well as for defensive purposes.

Other sites of interest include Torre Scola, a fort located on a rock off Punta Scola in the northeastern part of the island.

Where to eat on Palmaria Island

There are not many places to eat on Palmaria. You will find only two dining spots on the island, three if we count the bar at Il Gabbiano beach. 

However, we have got a special tip for you! On the marina, right in front of the Cooperativa Barcaioli, you will find Il Timone! This restaurant offers focaccia, pizzas, farinata and typical take-out dishes prepared in convenient packages. The ingredients are genuine and the value for money is really good. If you don’t want to risk it, you could order something here and take it to the beach on the island.

Restaurants where you can eat on Palmaria

Il Pozzale

Small restaurant overlooking the sea inside the cool Pozzale pine forest. Spaghetti allo scoglio, fritters, fish all’isolana, penne agli scampi, and muscoli ripieni: this restaurant offers simple but genuine dishes that are based on the catch of the day. 

Locanda Lorena

Located just a short walk from the Palmaria’s Terrizzo landing, at this inn you can breathe in the sea air and savor the specialties of Levante Ligure. 

The beaches at Palmaria

If, on the other hand, your trip’s sole purpose is to relax and spend a day at the sea with the best of them, Palmaria Island has plenty of beaches that are just right for you! On this page, you will find a map of Palmaria’s beaches and their descriptions.

palmaria island italy
View of Portovenere from the Palmaria Island. Author Giorgio Galeotti, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Free beach and beach resort in Punta Secco

Right in Punta Secco, one of the summer landing places of the Cooperativa dei Barcaioli, you will find the first free beach. Attached bathing establishment, the beach of Punta Secco. The beach is pebbled and offers a splendid view of Portovenere! 

Beach resort Il Gabbiano 

This beach on Palmaria Island is well equipped with sunbeds and bar service to guarantee you a relaxing day at the beach, away from all worries!

Maiella Beach 

In the area of Batteria della Fornace, on the east side of the island, you will find this free beach not even marked in Google Maps. On this page, you will find a map of Palmaria’s beaches that can help you keep your bearings.

Pozzale Beach 

At the southern end of Palmaria Island, you will find Pozzale Beach, another ferry docking point, which can be reached either by footpath or by sea. This beach is wide and lined with pine trees, which makes it cool and sheltered.

Palmaria’s most beautiful beaches: caves and coves

If you rent a boat you can enjoy the beauty of this magical place and relive the island of pirates’ atmosphere. The entire western part of the island consists of very high walls made of white rock that reach a height of 188 m overhanging the sea. Sailing along this side of the island you will discover small coves and unique caves. 

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