Since almost all of the trails in Cinque Terre were closed during our visit, our hostel manager at Ostello Tramonti* suggested that we could hike down to Porto Venere from the village of Biassa via Campiglia. The hike would take about three hours and involve a mostly downhill walk that he assured us is equally, if not more, beautiful that those in Cinque Terre. Offering us a ride on our fourth day there, my sister and I happily accepted and this ended up being one of the highlights of my trip. Here are some tips for you if you do want to hike:
- 1 Portovenere Cinque Terre
Wear walking boots
Though not as strenuous as the hike we did in the Calanques, this trail is best attempted in hiking boots as well. There are many rocky and rugged areas as well as fallen trees you need to get through – so appropriate footwear is a must.
Portovenere Cinque Terre
We got drove up to the highest point of the path and pointed in the right direction, but I scarcely remember how to reach that point. If you want to do this hike as well, I would definitely recommend getting a GPS on your phone or a very good map.
Asking for directions first at your hostel or hotel would be a great idea too, though bear in mind that sometimes they might not give you the right information. This is Italy.
The path is relatively deserted, so don’t count on asking other people for directions. We went in July and only ran into four groups during the entire hike.
Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself on a road, because this path actually cuts and intersect and run along roads. It’s weird and confusing, but there is usually a red band on trees or light post to aid you. The most confusing part is when you are in the Campiglia town, just take the left when you see the church and you should be fine.
It’s well shaded, but still bring enough water and some snack
The path is very well shaded by trees, which provided an excellent cover for the scorching July Sun. But if you are going in the summer months it will still be very hot and you are not always going to be in the shade.
Bring a camera – because the view is SPECTACULAR
A large part of the trail runs along the west coast facing the sea, and you are so high up that it’s almost surreal. The geology of the region mainly consists of limestone, so the white dotted green hills are photo worthy in themselves too.
Hiking to Portovenere
We started our hike at around 10 a.m., though I would definitely recommend going earlier if you can. The first part is relatively easy: the key is to follow the sign to go to Campiglia first. My sister had a lot of fun singing along to our playlist on the trail, playing the songs out loud as there is no one around us, and taking logs and wooden pillars as an opportunity to take funny photos:
I know – it’s pretty hilarious (or childish)
We walked pass a marble quarry, with English information on signs outside as well as some residual blocks.
As soon as you begin to descend it is safe to assume that you are close to Porto Venere. The first sight that greeted us was the wall of the Dorian Castle and the bay between Porto Venere and Palmaria, which almost took my breath away.
But before we could get to the town, we had to face the monstrous staircase that had me cursing all the way down (my bad knees did most of the talking).
To say Porto Venere enticed me would be like saying Romeo had a small crush on Juliet. Though it lacks the rugged coast and quaint harbour of the Cinque Terre towns, Porto Venere has the same coloured houses by the sea and more.
With cute cobble streets, the formidable high wall of Doria Castle and the unexpectedly elegant Gothic Church of St. Peter that extended at one end of the town plus a hidden cove, it’s definitely an undiscovered gem.
A 12th-century addition, the Dorian Castle is situated at the north end of town and is best viewed from the hiking trail. It was named after the powerful Genoese Family that built it, and though in ruined condition its grey walls is still a sight to behold. We didn’t end up visiting the castle because we couldn’t find the entrance, which involves a long climb and, of course, a fee to visit.
Church of St Peter
Infamous for its two part structure, the Church of St Peter is made up of a 13th century Gothic and an older, Romanesque church that’s hidden under the Gothic one.
The white and black stripe of the church body makes it the most distinctive structure seen from everywhere. The matching interior of the church with its bronze door and airy design has a quaint charm to it.
So much that we saw a wedding preparation taking place.
Portovenere Town Gate
Dated back to the same period as the Dorian Castle, this medieval stone tower on the eastern side of town is much better preserved.
Dotted with a memorial plate for various Genoese exploits, despite being out of place among the colourful houses that nestled next to it, it somehow complimented the quaintness and quirkiness of the town.
Along the way to the Church of St Peter, you can dart out for a quick visit to the Arpaia Cave. A beautiful transition from the stones of the man-made wall to the folded layers of Mesozoic rocks that was deformed during the formation of the Apennines, you can admire the coastline perfectly from here.
However, there were piles of rubbish here, collecting at the cove so I would definitely not recommend swimming here.
Church of St Lorenzo
Standing between the castle and the Palazzata, the Church of St Lorenzo was built by the Genoese around the 12th century.With a sloped triangular front and a black and white striped central tower, it is the sibling of Church of St Peter.
This is the name for the row of slender, colourful row of buildings lining the sea front. Raised to a higher level, you can reach the confines of the old town through one of the long stairs that nestled between the buildings.
If castles and churches are not your thing, there are plenty of souvenir shops and gourmet restaurants nestled among the cosy town.
Un Mare di sapori
We had lunch at this excellent little seafood restaurant in the old town. I love the blue and white décor of the place and although the seats are a little crowded together, it wasn’t too bad.
We ordered mussels with gnocchi and a tuna carpaccio which tasted fabulous. It looked so good that the couple from the table next to us ended up staring at our dish the entire meal, which made for a slightly awkward but funny meal. But we are very happy with your choice.
Address: Via Capellini 94, 19025 Portovenere SP.
Opening times: Sun – Thurs 0:00 – 22:30, Fri – Sat 9:00 – 23:00
And if that isn’t enough for you, it boasts a stretch of pebbly beach or rocky pier for all to relax and take a swim. If you get bored of the town, which isn’t possible, then a short ferry ride away is the island of Palmaria; or you can hop on back to La Spezia or Cinque Terre.
Portovenere to Riomaggiore
If you are not one to hike – you can either take the bus from La Spezia or a ferry that you can also take at any of the Cinque Terre towns to this charming place. I would recommend at least taking one ferry ride because the view surpass even what you get from the hike, though of course lacking the high ground. Do board the ferry early if you want a good seat on the top deck to soak in the view.
You can get all the information you need here in terms of transport.
Where to Stay in Portovenere
If you decide that you like this town (and who wouldn’t?), here are some suggestions:
Mid-range: Go local and rent La Casetta Portovenere as a holiday home fill of Italian charms.
Splurge: right at the edge of the town center and near the beach, Grand Hotel Portovenere is an excellent choice and a heritage gem set in an old monastery. For the view lovers, Relais Santa Caterina might not be as spacious, but it’s a clean and modern stay as long as you don’t mind some stairs.
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