Lerici and Portovenere: Two Ligurian Coastal Beauties You Must Visit!

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While the internationally renowned Cinque Terre are spectacular places to visit on the Ligurian coast of Italy, they can be overrun with tourists. So much so, that stepping onto a carriage in the train that runs between the villages can make a can of sardines seem like a McMansion.

When we visited the Cinque Terre, I wanted a haven to start and end the days, so that we could spend some time in a less touristy part of Liguria. So I booked us into a hotel in the little town of Lerici, just a few miles away, on the Ligurian coast. Our time in Lerici and the nearby town of Portovenere was some of the most beautiful and serene we spent in Italy.

Lovely Lerici

Lerici is located on the Golfo dei Poeti (Gulf of Poets), so called because its beauty enticed the likes of Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who had a home near Lerici, and Lord Byron, who lived in Portovenere. For me, Lerici was like the calm before and after a storm, with barely any tourists and a very relaxed vibe. Be warned, though: although not yet on the international map, it is very popular with Italians. So it is best to avoid visiting during the European holiday months of July and August, if solitude and serenity are what you desire.

The Bay of Poets in Liguria, Italy

The beautiful blue waters of the Golfo dei Poeti

Lerici, and the neighboring town of San Terenzo, offer beautiful coastal walks and sandy beaches (some free, some not). There are opportunities to hike, if you are so inclined, on trails that are much less crowded than those on the Cinque Terre.

Like other Ligurian coastal towns, Lerici has pretty colorful houses overlooking the picturesque harbor, and a magnificent castle that towers over the town and  bay. The town of San Terenzo also has a castle, and the castle-to-castle walk along the water, about two miles each way, is beautiful. From the castle rooftop, you get great views of the bay. It has an elevator, if you do not fancy climbing all those stairs to the top!

The pretty pastel houses on Lerici

The pretty colorful houses on Lerici

The castle on Lerici overlooking the Bay of Poets

The castle on Lerici overlooking the Bay of Poets

The waterfront walk between Lerici and San Terenzo

The waterfront walk between Lerici and San Terenzo

View of Lerici from the waterfront walk between Lerici and San Terenzo

View of Lerici from the waterfront walk between Lerici and San Terenzo

We walked a stretch of this promenade, from Lerici Harbor to the start of San Terenzo and back each morning and evening. It’s a popular route for the passeggiata, so you will see many locals out enjoying the sea air in the evenings. It is especially pretty after the sun sets and the lights of the towns start to come on.

View from the waterfront at Lerici

View from the waterfront at Lerici

The neighboring town of San Terenzo

The neighboring town of San Terenzo

In Lerici, we enjoyed one of the most memorable meals of our trip to Italy. We had dinner at a small restaurant called Il Frantaio. It requires a bit of a climb up the narrow Via Cavour to get to this restaurant, but the food is well worth every step of the climb!

Il Frantaio in Lerici

Il Frantaio in Lerici

My vegetarian trofie pasta with Genovese pesto, made in the region where it originated, was superb. My husband raved about his seafood platter. We ended on a warm fruity dessert topped with a crusty crumble that was delicious. We split dessert, and to this day, my husband rues the fact that we didn’t each get our own!

Trofie pasta with Genovese pesto, green beans, and potatoes

Trofie pasta with Genovese pesto, green beans, and potatoes

We didn’t get to hike when we visited, but the hike from Lerici to the nearby fishing village of Tellaro through the Parco Naturale Regionale di Montemarcello-Magra-Vara is supposed to be beautiful. It’s a shaded trail that passes through meadows and olive groves, and offers spectacular views of the water. On our next visit, exploring places near Lerici, such as Tellaro and Ameglia, is definitely on the agenda!

Pretty Portovenere

From the harbor at Lerici, you can take the ferry across the Golfo dei Poeti to Portovenere. We took the ferry on a beautiful sunny morning, with the waters of the bay sparkling in the light.

Portovenere has a little harbor where fishing boats are anchored. There is a row of colorful vertical houses along the waterfront, looking out onto the bay. These houses are called la palazzata, and the close vertical design was meant to be a defense for the town. The waterfront is lined with cafes and shops, and after our exploration of the town, we took an espresso break at an outdoor table at one of the cafes, enjoying the water views and the activity at the little harbor.

La palazzata, vertical houses on Portovenere

La palazzata, vertical houses on Portovenere

The pièce de résistance in terms of sights on Portovenere is the Chiesa di San Pietro, a little Gothic church built on a rock high above the water. The walkway, with steps, leading up to the church is spectacular, with stone arched windows that offer gorgeous views of the Ligurian Sea. On the way back, all of the sparkling beauty of the Golfo dei Poeti lies below you as you descend.

The Chiesa di San Pietro in Portovenere

The Chiesa di San Pietro in Portovenere, viewed from the water

The Chiesa di San Pietro in Portovenere

The Chiesa di San Pietro in Portovenere

Stone arch window at the Chiesa di San Pietro in Portovenere

Stone arched window at the Chiesa di San Pietro in Portovenere

Stone arch window at the Chiesa di San Pietro in Portovenere

Stone arched windows at the Chiesa di San Pietro in Portovenere

The Ligurian Sea, from the Chiesa di San Pietro

The Ligurian Sea, from the Chiesa di San Pietro

The Bay of Poets, viewed from the Chiesa di San Pietro

The Bay of Poets, viewed from the Chiesa di San Pietro

Portovenere also has a castle, the Castello Doria, with superb water views, and a second church, the church of San Lorenzo. There are three islands that you can see from Portovenere: Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, and there is a boat tour from Portovenere that covers the three islands.

La palazzata, vertical houses on Portovenere

Castello Doria on the hill, with the vertical houses of Portovenere and the town gate in the forefront

Getting to Lerici and Portovenere

Neither Lerici nor Portovenere has a train station. You can get a bus from La Spezia to either of these places. You can drive to both, park in the designated parking lots and then explore the towns. You can also take a ferry from La Spezia or any of the Cinque Terre (except Corniglia) to Portovenere or Lerici. Ferries also run between Lerici and Portovenere. Boat ferries generally operate from early April until the end of October.

We really enjoyed our time in Lerici and Portovenere. Their laid back vibe and beautiful surroundings make these towns truly appealing destinations if you plan to visit Liguria.

Do you have a favorite Italian coastal town? Comment below to respond!

 

 

 

12 comments on “Lerici and Portovenere: Two Ligurian Coastal Beauties You Must Visit!

  1. I always thought I’d stay in Manarola, but you make a great case for Lovely Lerici! It sounds so much less traveled than the towns that are reached by the train stations, and oh that dinner sounds heavenly – I’ll keep in mind what your husband said about no halves on the dessert!

    • Thanks, Rebecca! Manarola is gorgeous, as are the rest of the Cinque Terre, but I found Lerici charming and relatively serene. And yes, Il Frantaio is a gem!

  2. Love this blog. Italy has so many great places to visit and having been to Sorrento and Positano recently and actually enjoyed Praiano more, I can see a lot of parallels with your time in Cinq Terre. Cheers for this – will definitely use it. Adrian

    • Thanks so much, Adrian! That sounds like our experience exactly! I hope you visit the Ligurian Coast, it’s beautiful but quite different from the Amalfi Coast.

  3. Thank you Dhara for this informative post. We are hoping to visit Europe again in 2019. Cinque Terre is on my bucket list. With your information I will plan to visit Lerici & portovenere. Your photos are beautiful. The scenery / towns look fabulous. And great to hear there are walks available & not so busy. Just what we want ?? Thanks for sharing the info

    • Hi Estelle! Thank you so much for stopping by. You will love Lerici and Portovenere for their relatively unspoiled, serene charm. The Cinque Terre are amazing and you will love them all! The Ligurian Coast is a beautiful part of Italy.

  4. Never knew these places existed! We visited Cinque Terre and fell in love with it but must agree that it is overrun by tourist. Being a fan of calm less busy places these are definitely towns that catch my attention. Thanks for sharing your awesome experience my dear!

    • Thanks, Bel! These two little towns are definitely worth placing on your itinerary the next time you visit the Ligurian Coast! Relatively much more laid back and just as beautiful as the Cinque Terre!

  5. This is actually a part of Italy that I haven’t discovered yet. And it is because of massa tourisme. I am so glad you give an alternative in the neighbourhour from where you can explore cinque terre and have a place where you still can relax and go to restaurants where they serve the local food and not being overwhelmed by tourist. Great article and beautiful footage!

    • Thanks, Sarah…it is great to have the best of both! The Cinque Terre are spectacular but Lerici and Portovenere are both amazingly beautiful and not as crowded.

    • On a first visit I would head to Rome for three days, Florence for three and Venice for two days, with the remaining days doing either the Ligurian Coast or the Amalfi Coast. Enjoy!

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