Porto Venere is a village on the Ligurian coast of northwestern Italy. It’s known for Porto Venere Regional Natural Park, a protected area with trails and dive sites. The Gothic-style Church of St. Peter sits atop a rocky headland. Nearby is the centuries-old Castello Doria, an imposing clifftop fortress with views of the Gulf of Poets – named such as it was the playground of people like Byron.
Typically described as a pretty fishing village with colourful houses lining the harbour, it sounded like an idyllic place to spend a night away from Lucca during the chaotic Lucca Comics & Games.
Whilst it was good to get away from the influx of 300,00+ people into Lucca, the gale force winds and furious seas made for a very different scene to what would typically be seen on the postcards.
Travelling along the Tuscan coast through La Spezia and around the bay was eventful. Being a couple of days after Tuscany had just declared a state of emergency, roads were blocked and there was plenty of stagnant water around. Fortunately the Magra River had dropped from its flooding a couple of weeks before, so we crossed without an issue. That said, the mouth was expansive and there was plenty of debris in the water and piles of driftwood along the nearby beaches.
Being out of season, parking a short distance out of the centre of town was free, so we left our little hire car and walked around the bay. The wind was howling and the waves were breaking but it wasn’t raining so we enjoyed the sea air. It was lunch time so we stopped at a small paninoteca for a sandwich before venturing any further. Braving the strong winds, we ventured up to the church, where we were rewarded with views over the sea and the so called Byron’s Grotto.
We had left home with a suitcase but had not booked anywhere to stay. On arrival in Port Venere, we both decided that this was the place we wanted to be. Being out on a headland on a single in/out road, it was quiet. So we booked a place, went back to the car to collect our bags and soon we were settled in our little place – and I mean little! It was part of a tower – very quaint but cramped (even by Italian standards?
Soon after, the heavens opened! And the wind howled! In spite of this, we ventured out for a drink at one of the waterfront eateries – less than 100m away. However we weren’t brave (or stupid) enough to move on from there, so after finishing our wine, we ordered pizzas for dinner. Some of the best pizzas we’ve had! It was good thing that we paddled back to our little nest when we did as at some point between then and the next morning, the waterfront was submerged and all the businesses were closed.
The Cinque Terre is a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. In each of the 5 towns, colourful houses and vineyards cling to steep terraces, harbours are filled with fishing boats and trattorias turn out seafood specialties along with the Liguria region’s famous sauce, pesto. The Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail links the villages and offers sweeping sea vistas.
We had visited the Cinque Terre about 10 years before, staying on one of the 5 villages, but as we’d arrived by train, had not had the opportunity to drive along the coast. So after backtracking along the in-out road, we drove along the clifftop road, enjoying the vistas of the villages below. By now there was a bit of sun and blue sky even if shrowded in some mist.
Whilst Porto Venere bookends the Cinque on one side, Levanto does the same on the other. As we had never been to the seaside resort town, we chose to go a little further and take a look. Once again, it did not look like the Levanto that would appear on the postcards. The swell had broken over the seawall and pieces of boats and other wreckage lay around. Once again being out of season allowed us to take advantage of free parking, so we parked on the seafront and took a walk.
We were fortunate to be able to take a different road home and enjoy the paths over the mountain. The backup of cars as we approached Lucca was far worse than expected and it took ages to get to the car parked. It may have been the last hours of Lucca Comics, but people were obviously making the most of it. The positive is that there was parking available. It was a bit annoying having to have our suitcase checked just to get into our city, but that’s what comes with living in a place that everyone else wishes to visit.