It is easy to see why the beautiful Cinque Terre coast has inspired many books, poems and films. Rocky coastline. Colourful villages perched on the side of hills. Friendly people. It is truly an artists paradise. Lord Byron and Shelley Keats were two of the famous writers who found inspiration there.
Although not one of the five fishing villages of the Cinque Terre, Portovenre is well worth a visit. Located between La Spezia and the start of the Cinque Terre is this small fishing village is most famous for the grotto that poet Lord Byron took a dip in. It is also rumoured that he swam from here to visit his best friend, and fellow literary artist, Shelley Keats who lived in the next village. A beautiful oasis, the grotto is overrun by tourists in the summer lazing on the rocks or swimming in the sea. This is despite the signs that warn against swimming in the area. However, if you do want to laze on the rocks be sure to get there early for the best spots.
The grotto is located in very close proximity to two other worthy places of interest. The Castello Doria built in the 12th century for the wealthy Doria family and within the fortification is the church of St Pietro. These landmarks can be seen from the water and look impressive against the skyline. I did go inside the church and was fortunate to see a couple who were planning their wedding with the priest. It was so beautiful to watch as one admires the inside of the church and reminds us that there are still happy moments in the world.
The narrow streets of Portovenre are hidden away behind the harbour, but one should make a point of exploring as much of the town as possible. These narrow streets harbor a variety of small specialty stores, restaurants, bars and cafes. Okay, you will also find many hot tourists here taking shelter from the summer heat.
It is probably the busiest with a maze of tiny streets, beaches and a walking trail. The main reason for visiting in the summer is to go to the beaches. Walk along the shoreline and soak in the atmosphere. You will find a lot of families here enjoying a day out together. But don’t expect golden sandy beaches or clear blue waters. A more accurate picture would be grey sand and cloudy water, however once in the water it is warm, I wouldn’t recommend swimming for too long. The good news is that there are outdoor rinse showers to hose yourself down after a swim.
For those not interested in the beaches, take a walk through the town to the Parish Church of St Giovanni Battista which dates back to 1244. Take a moment to gaze up at the beautiful rose window. Also worthy of a visit are the Castello and the aurora tower. The Castello is a gorgeous sight of ancient ruins that date back to 1245. While the Aurora Tower is relatively new, 1500s, and provides great panoramic backdrop against the sea.
Arrive by boat and get your workout by climbing the stone steps a short distance to the main town. Again, the walking trail is a must for the best views, but for the more relaxed tourist there is a beautiful church of the same name as in Monterosso (St Giovanni Battista) but built a century later in 1340. Note the human and animal figures that decorate the south wall. There is a procession of a fox, wolf and rooster referring to medieval tales of Reinardo the fox.
There is a beach on the other side of the boat pick up zone and again in the summer it can get busily crowded. The water is a little clearer here and more blue than it was in Monterosso.
My favourite of all five villages and the one with the most inspirational aura. A fairytale bay and tiny houses perched on the side of the hills. The Castello Doria is the perfect place to get a panoramic view of the coastline. Perfect also to sit and write above the summer crowds. The 1.50 euro entry fee and the climb to the top is worth it once you see the views. The Castello dates as far back as 1080 and is the oldest fortification on the Cinque Terre.
While living in Italy Lord Byron wrote many of his famous stories, including the famous Don Juan, inspired not only by the beautiful Italian countryside but also the affairs he had while there. He was the bad boy of the literary world in his time.
A visit to the Cinque Terre is a magical journey of inspiration for any writer, artist or photographer.