Cosa vedere nel Golfo dei Poeti- Portovenere-Porticciolo- Tramonto- Crepuscolo-barche-luci-riflessi

4 Villages to Explore in the Gulf of Poets

Are you considering spending a few days in Liguria and looking for some inspiration? Then, read this article and discover what to see in the Gulf of Poets with us!

Liguria is a marvelous region where you can effortlessly transition from the sea to the mountains within a few kilometers. From east to west, it’s a continuous sequence of small beaches, cliffs, and colorful villages dotting the entire coastline. In this article, we aim to show you what to see in one of the most beautiful areas of this region: the Gulf of Poets.

This coastal stretch near La Spezia has been a source of inspiration for great artists and poets since the 19th century due to its romantic beauty. Nowadays, the Gulf of Poets is often chosen by tourists as a starting point for excursions to the art cities of nearby Tuscany

As you decide, let’s start by pointing out what to see in the Gulf of Poets from west to east.

Ready? Let’s begin!

What to See in the Gulf of Poets: Portovenere

The first place that comes to mind when asked what to see in the Gulf of Poets is always Portovenere. This village, a UNESCO site along with the nearby Cinque Terre, has a unique charm. The historic center, perched on the promontory extending towards the sea, is a maze of alleys and staircases enclosed by medieval walls. Strolling through the streets, especially in the higher and less touristy part, allows you to savor the atmosphere of a bygone era. Venture among the ancient houses and charming squares without fear of getting lost; you’ll easily reach the most interesting places in Portovenere.

the Church of San Pietro, the Church of San Lorenzo and the Doria Castle

Among them, the most beautiful is undoubtedly the Church of San Pietro, built on the cliff overlooking the sea. Arriving by ferry, it almost looks like a fortress guarding the harbor. Once on land, you immediately realize it has nothing military but is, instead, a very evocative place. Here, the sea crashes against the rocks at its feet, creating the foam from which ancient people believed the goddess Venus was born.

The village’s name derives from this belief. The church reflects the Genoese Gothic style with characteristic black and white stripes. Additionally, it features a portico overlooking the Cinque Terre and the nearby Grotta di Byron. It’s said that Lord Byron favored this cave for composing his works.

What to see in The Gulf of Poets-Church of San Pietro-the Mills of Portovenere-reflections
Church of San Pietro seen from the Mills (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Also interesting to see is the Church of San Lorenzo, a beautiful Romanesque church located in the upper part of the village, offering a stunning panorama of the Gulf. Inside, you’ll find the painting of Madonna Bianca, the patroness of Portovenere, attributed to many miracles.

Higher up, the imposing Doria Castle, a fortress built by the Genoese to control the area against potential Pisan attacks. From there, you can undoubtedly admire the best view of the entire Gulf of Poets.

The Mills and the Palazzata a mare

Descending back towards the harbor, you might encounter the remains of two cylindrical watchtowers (the Mills), used in the past as windmills. The space in front of the windmills is the best spot to admire the sunset colors painting the sea around the promontory of San Pietro.

Heading towards the harbor, along the walls, you’ll reach the Palazzata a Mare, a series of old, very colorful houses. These typical Ligurian Riviera houses have a unique feature: they are literally hanging on the rock! Half of them are built at sea level, and the other half is on the rock, with the main street of Portovenere running parallel. To understand it better, step into one of the many establishments housed there!

Portovenere - Marina - Palazzata a mare - colorful houses - boats
Marina and Palazzata a mare (credit to _gee_ on Visual Hunt CC BY)

What to See in the Gulf of Poets: Palmaria Island

Another essential place in our itinerary to discover what to see in the Gulf of Poets is in front of the village: Another essential place in our itinerary to discover what to see in the Gulf of Poets is in front of the village: Palmaria Island (linked to a curious legend about its origin, discussed in this article).

The most relaxing way to admire its wild nature and caves is the “Giro delle Isole,” a boat tour around the island and the two smaller ones, Tino and Tinetto. If you prefer immersing yourself in nature, we recommend the Periplo dell’Isola Palmaria, a trail winding along the paths from the coast to the interior.(linked to a curious legend about its origin, discussed in this article). The most relaxing way to admire its wild nature and caves is the “Giro delle Isole,” a boat tour around the island and the two smaller ones, Tino and Tinetto. If you prefer immersing yourself in nature, we recommend the Periplo dell’Isola Palmaria, a trail winding along the paths from the coast to the interior.

For more information about Portovenere, read our article here.

What to See in the Gulf of Poets: San Terenzo

The second stop in discovering what to see in the Gulf of Poets takes us to San Terenzo. This small seaside village is often overlooked by tourists as it has become predominantly a beach destination. However, we believe it deserves at least a visit, even just for a stroll along the seafront, reminiscing about the romantic poets who stayed here in the 19th century.

Gulf of Poets - San Terenzo - Panorama - beach
Panorama of San Terenzo from the beach (Credit to alkutraes on CC BY NC SA)

The Castle

Dominating the small Bay of San Terenzo, you’ll see the silhouette of the Castle built on the promontory that closes it to the west. Santerenzini built it in the 1400s to defend against the numerous Saracen raids affecting coastal towns at that time. Reminding of these events is a small cave below the castle with the evocative name “Tana dei Turchi” (Turks’ Den). Today, the castle has become a museum hosting interesting art exhibitions.

Villa Magni

San Terenzo boasts many prestigious villas, both near the coast and in the wooded hinterland. The most intriguing one is undoubtedly Villa Magni. Overlooking the seafront, it doesn’t immediately reveal why Percy Shelley and his wife chose it for their stay in 1822. The structure is rather unremarkable due to its origins as a monastery of Barnabite monks.

However, its location in the 19th century made it a very characteristic and romantic place since there was no promenade at the time, and the villa faced directly onto the beach. Besides the Shelleys, their friend Lord Byron also stayed there for a few weeks.

In the following decades, to honor the English poet who disappeared in the waters of the Gulf of Poets, other famous writers visited, such as D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Gabriele D’Annunzio, and Sam Benelli.

For more information about San Terenzo, read our article here.

What to See in the Gulf of Poets: Lerici

The third stop on our itinerary to discover what to see in the Gulf of Poets is Lerici. This village has ancient origins, serving as a thriving port for both the Etruscans and the Romans. Later, it became a Genoese fortress in the Middle Ages, leaving numerous traces in both urban structure and buildings.

Its renowned beach tradition, on the other hand, began in the 19th century when affluent and cultured European figures started staying there for extended holidays. From San Terenzo, you can easily reach Lerici on foot. You can take the beautiful “From Castle to Castle” promenade that follows the coast, connecting the two castles of San Terenzo and Lerici.

The Tower and the Oratory of San Rocco

Lerici’s historic center is characterized by beautiful colorful houses and streets that are pleasant to stroll through. Here, your attention might be drawn to the silhouette of the Tower of San Rocco. Originally a Roman defensive tower, it became a watchtower in the 12th century and later, in the 16th century, a bell tower. In that period, an octagonal cusp with an oriental touch was added, making it very distinctive and recognizable.

Next to it is the Oratory of San Rocco, a small building erected in 1287 to host pilgrims traveling to Lerici along the nearby Via Francigena. Inside, it houses many interesting works by Ligurian artists, including a canvas by Domenico Fiasella.

Palaces in the City Center and the Castle

Lerici also boasts a historic center with palaces of significant historical importance. Among them is Ca’ Doria, a beautiful apartment where Andrea Doria also lived. Its furnishings and the architecture of the rooms recall those of Genoese noble houses of the same period.

Another important building is Ca’ Rugia. This tower house has mostly preserved its architectural features, such as the external marble staircase and the beautiful decorated sandstone balcony. Finally, closing Lerici’s harbor is the imposing structure of the Castle. Built by the Pisans in the 1200s and later expanded by the Genoese, it has retained almost entirely its external walls. Inside, you’ll find an elegant chapel in the Ligurian Gothic style dedicated to Santa Anastasia. The Castle frequently hosts very interesting art exhibitions.

Golfo dei Poeti-Lerici-small port-Castle-boats-colorful houses
Marina and Castle (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The “Butterfly of Light” and the Fiascherino Bay

Often left out in the list of what to see in the Gulf of Poets is the hinterland of Lerici and, consequently, Monte Caprione. This height was the first inhabited area of the Gulf, and megalithic menhirs with an astronomical function were discovered here. If you happen to be in the area during the summer solstice, we recommend witnessing the phenomenon called the “Butterfly of Light.” On this occasion, the setting sun’s light passes through a gap created by a megalithic formation, projecting onto a menhir and taking the shape of a butterfly. Truly beautiful!

Still outside the Lerici town but this time towards Tellaro, you’ll find the Fiascherino Bay. This location is a favorite for those seeking beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters. Additionally, it offers the most romantic sunsets in the Gulf, perhaps explaining why writer D.H. Lawrence chose it for his stay between 1913 and 1914.

For more information about Lerici, read our article here.

What to See in the Gulf of Poets: Tellaro

The last but equally interesting stop on our itinerary to discover what to see in the Gulf of Poets is Tellaro.

This small village closes the Gulf of Poets to the east and is reached by a single road. This peculiarity allows Tellaro to instill a great sense of peace and tranquility in its visitors, practically free from pollution. The village dates back to medieval times, with its foundation documented in the 10th century when a fortified outpost was built by the residents of Barbazzano.

However, the true development of the village was after 1348 when survivors of the plague epidemic abandoned Barbazzano to seek refuge on the rugged cliffs of Tellaro. Today, it seems unthinkable that such a wonder could arise from such a tragedy, inspiring poets like Montale and Attilio Bertolucci. In recent years, it has also deservedly become part of the club of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

Gulf of Poets-Tellaro- Panorama - Church of San Giorgio- Marina- Sunset- Cliffs
Panorama of Tellaro (Credit to Thomas Paal)

The Church of San Giorgio

If you ask what not to miss, we can only say that the entire historic center should be on your list of what to see. Wandering through the steep alleys immerses you in silence, interrupted only by the chatter coming from the harbor. Every corner of the village offers splendid views of the crystal-clear sea sparkling in the sunlight. Among the colorful houses, one building is sure to catch your eye: the Church of San Giorgio. With its pastel pink color and its position facing the sea, it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. Its placement is not accidental; the church was built in the 16th century around an ancient Pisan watchtower, which also became its bell tower.

Such a fascinating place could not go without inspiring a beautiful legend. The protagonist is a large octopus who, having seen the arrival of pirates, would have climbed to the top of the bell tower and rung the bells. Warned by their sound, the people of Tellaro managed to prepare for defense and repel the danger.

The Oratory of Santa Maria in Selàa

Continuing to explore the alleys, you will reach a terrace overlooking the sea where the former Oratory of Santa Maria in Selàa (selàa comes from the local dialect, meaning “on the altar”) is located. Since 1940, it has been a deconsecrated building, but originally, it was a military fortress and then, from 1660, became the seat of the Company of the Flagellants of Santa Maria. The church is so simple that its façade is adorned only by a marble effigy of the Virgin with two donors. Now it serves as a venue for temporary art and photography exhibitions and, for some years now, has been a highly requested location for civil weddings.

Relax in Nature: The Spiaggioni and Trails

In our opinion, the list of what to see in the Gulf of Poets cannot be complete without considering the natural heritage that surrounds it. Whether near the coast or further inland, there are spots where you can enjoy relaxation amid nature. Among these, we recommend the Spiaggioni, almost pristine sand tongues located east of Tellaro. You can reach them only by canoe, small boats, or through very challenging paths for experienced hikers. However, if you love isolated beaches, the Spiaggioni are perfect for you.

You can encounter other corners of nature by following one of the many trails starting from Tellaro and crossing a significant portion of the Regional Park of Montemarcello-Magra-Vara. Among these, in our opinion, the most suggestive and not too challenging is the one towards Lerici. This trail immerses you in the Mediterranean scrub and allows you to admire magnificent views of the Gulf.

For more information about Tellaro, read our article here.

Now that you have a list of what to see in the Gulf of Poets, all that’s left is to plan a nice trip and enjoy the beauty of this area.

Oh, if you want to stay in the Gulf of Poets in the best accommodations at the best prices, click here.

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Article Name
What to see in the Gulf of Poets
Planning a Ligurian getaway? Discover what to see in The Gulf of Poets with our guide! Uncover hidden gems and scenic wonders.
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La Scimmia Viaggiatrice