Portovenere. Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Portovenere

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Lying in the sun on the bow of a boat after indulging in a feast of freshly harvested oysters has to be one of the best moments of my life. Cinque Terre, Italy—a dream destination for many—surpassed my expectations to the point of feeling imaginary. The lesser-known town of Portovenere, just outside of Cinque Terre, offers a blissful way to experience not five, but six stunning towns.

A forty-minute drive from Pisa, Cinque Terre is a region comprising of five distinct towns—Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso—connected by breathtaking hiking trails, ferry routes and trains. Each town originated as a medieval settlement, protected by a castle guarding against sea attacks and raids.

The Town of Portovenere

View of Portovenere from hotel terrace. Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Portovenere
View of Portovenere from hotel terrace. Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Portovenere

Located on the Ligurian Coast in the province of La Spezia, Porto Venere is renowned for its gorgeous natural beauty with dramatic coastal cliffs and historical architecture with colorful houses peppered along the harbor.

Portovenere itself is a delight to explore, with its charming streets lined with shops, gelaterias, and inviting restaurants. As you wander further uphill, the views become increasingly dramatic, offering breathtaking vistas of the Ligurian coastline.

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The town boasts historic churches and cemeteries, each providing panoramic viewpoints perfect for capturing stunning photographs. Whether you’re seeking cultural landmarks or simply soaking in scenic beauty, Portovenere offers a rich and rewarding experience for every visitor.

Where to Stay in Portovenere

Grand Hotel Portovenere

Suite with a view in Grand Hotel Portovenere. Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Portovenere
Suite with a view in Grand Hotel Portovenere. Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Portovenere

Located right on the Marina di Portovenere, Grand Hotel Portovenere is a gorgeous historic hotel constructed from an ancient building called the Dimora Storica, dating back to the 1600s. It has served many purposes over the years: a monastery, a hospital, and the headquarters of the Municipality of Porto Venere.

In 2014, the building was transformed into Grand Hotel Portovenere, a 5-star boutique hotel carefully reconstructed to preserve its historical features. The rooms have brick arches and vaulted ceilings with big windows overlooking the marina. The first thing I did every morning was open the window and smell the salty air and freshly baked focaccia.

Dining in Portovenere

Palmaria Restaurant

Rock octopus at Palmaria Restaurant. Photo by Isabella Miller
Rock octopus at Palmaria Restaurant. Photo by Isabella Miller

With a sprawling view of the sea, the Palmaria Restaurant in Grand Hotel Portovenere has an elegant yet modern interior. It is decorated like the inside of a ship with nautical elements and has outdoor seating on the veranda.

The original and decadent menu features flavors inspired by the seaside setting. It offers plenty of seafood options and fresh takes on traditional Italian cuisine. The executive chef focuses on utilizing the finest local ingredients with quality of flavor as a priority.

During my stay, I indulged in pumpkin gnocchi with butter and sage, rock octopus and a unique spin on tiramisu. On the last night I had their truffle carbonara, my two favorite foods combined into one dish of perfection.

Trattoria Tre Torri

Pesto pasta at Trattoria Tre Torri. Photo by Isabella Miller
Pesto pasta at Trattoria Tre Torri. Photo by Isabella Miller

Trattoria Tre Torri is another wonderful dining option, a two-minute walk from Grand Hotel Portovenere. Pesto and focaccia are two of the region’s famous specialties due to the quality of the basil and the strong flavor of the olive oil, which is particularly richer than olive oil from other regions. Here, I couldn’t help but order pesto pasta, which surpassed my expectations.   

Excursions and Experiences

Aside from hiking throughout Cinque Terre (more on this later), I recommend taking advantage of the unique local excursions close to Porto Venerne. There are many options that can be arranged through the hotel including a pristine wilderness hike on the nearby island of Palmaria, a boat excursion with a fresh oyster feast and a trip to a vineyard in Riomaggiore for a local wine tasting.

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Palmaria Island Hike

View from Palmaria Island. Photo by Isabella Miller
View from Palmaria Island. Photo by Isabella Miller

Palmaria Island is a short ferry ride from Porto Venere. The island is completely uninhabited with beautiful plants and wildlife and untouched nature. The hike around the island can be steep at times but the views are worth it. It’s such a serene escape that most tourists don’t know about which makes for a great way to experience the region without crowds.

Learn More About the Palmaria Island Hike Tour Here

Oyster Boat Excursion

View of Chiesa di San Pietro from the oyster boat excursion. Photo by Isabella Miller
View of Chiesa di San Pietro from the oyster boat excursion. Photo by Isabella Miller

Later that afternoon, when the sun shone brightly on the teal water, we hopped on a boat directly from Palmaria Island and anchored in the middle of the marina, with gorgeous views of Portovenere and the surrounding cliffs. A feast of freshly harvested oysters was prepared for us with pesto pasta and white wine. Afterward, I lay on the ship’s bow, soaking in the sun. We traveled through the islands and gained a new perspective of the stunning coastline.

Learn More About the Oyster Boat Excursion Here

La Possa Winery Tour and Tasting

La Possa vineyard terraced into cliffside. Photo by Isabella Miller
La Possa vineyard terraced into the cliffside. Photo by Isabella Miller

After hiking through Cinque Terre, we visited La Possa Winery in Riomaggiore (https://www.erwineshop.com/producer-portraits/la-possa), beginning with a tour of the vineyards. I’ve never seen views so spectacular from a vineyard, carefully terraced on the cliffside overlooking the deep blue ocean. The three-hectare property produces 25,000 bottles of wine annually, with 70% sold in Italy and the rest internationally.

The owner, Heydi Bonanini, is dedicated to creating Slow Wine. Like Slow Food, Slow Wine is all about sustainability and natural growing processes with minimal pesticides and irrigation. He also prioritizes giving back to the community by teaching children about plant cultivation and supporting a charity for disadvantaged locals.

We got to taste a few of the wines, all made from grapes specific to the Liguria region. The wines were unique, featuring a light and crisp quality with mild salinity due to the proximity to the ocean.

Learn More About La Possa Winery Tour and Tasting Here

Learn About Other Grand Hotel Portovenere Experiences and Excursions Here

Hiking Through Cinque Terre

Colorful boats and houses in Vernazza. Photo by Isabella Miller
Colorful boats and houses in Vernazza. Photo by Isabella Miller

Via dell’Amore

Via dell’Amore (The Trail of Love) is one of the most famous hiking routes in Cinque Terre. It connects the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola. This is the easiest of the routes, featuring a flat path and stretching only one kilometer in length. When I visited in April, Via dell’Amore was sadly closed due to a recent landslide. Fortunately, the trail is expected to reopen on July 19th, 2024.

Vernazza to Corniglia

View of Vernazza from the highest trail point. Photo by Isabella Miller
View of Vernazza from the highest trail point. Photo by Isabella Miller

We began our hike in the town of Vernazza, where colorful boats and homes lined the bright turquoise marina. Before our hike, we visited the church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia (constructed in 1318), a beautiful stone church with a breathtaking view of the surrounding area, including the Castello Doria perched on a cliff in the distance.

Then, we began our ascent up what felt like a neverending staircase with unfathomable views at every corner. We took frequent breaks, not only to catch our breath but to admire the scenery. Once we reached the top, the views were spectacular, surpassing even the stunning vistas we had seen earlier.

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After the first ascent, the path had some redeeming flatness but there were still a few tough ascents along the way. We made a pit stop at a stand along the way to buy some refreshing oranges, eating them while admiring the cliffside views of the ocean.

After about two hours, we finally reached the second town of Corniglia, the least visited of the five but not to be missed. Here, we had fresh focaccia, the region’s specialty. We spent some time strolling through the quaint town, admiring the shops, winding cobblestone streets and cafes.

Good to know: This hike is not for beginners and is fairly challenging due to the lengthy inclines.

Riomaggiore Pit Stop

From Corniglia, we took a short train ride to the nearby Riomaggiore (which is walkable but would require another 2 and a half hours). If you aren’t interested in hiking to see all five towns, ferries and trains are an effective mode of transport that can save time and allow you to see as much as possible.

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How to Get Around Cinque Terre

Grand Hotel Portovenere private boat. Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Portovenere
Grand Hotel Portovenere private boat. Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Portovenere

In most instances, I don’t advise renting a car. From Porto Venere, getting to Cinque Terre is easy by ferry, which departs right outside of the Grand Hotel Portovenere door. However, the ferry does not run if the weather isn’t ideal, which is more likely to happen in the Spring months. I was there right after Porto Venere started to reopen for tourism in early April.

The ferry didn’t run on the first day we were there, so we had to go by train departing from La Spezia. You could arrange a transfer service through Grand Hotel Portovenere to bring you to the station. Depending on the train schedule, it takes about 20 minutes to reach the furthest town (Monterosso), where you can hike through all the towns depending on your stamina. By ferry, it takes about an hour depending on the time of year and is a wonderful way to see the five towns by sea.

Learn More About Ferries Here

When to Visit Cinque Terre

Because Cinque Terre is such a popular desintaiton, I advise visiting during the off-season (November – February) or right on the cusp of peak season (March/April or October). Our visit in April was ideal because the weather was cool enough to hike uphill and there were hardly any crowds.

The most crowded months are May, June and September and the hottest months are July and August. Visiting during off season means that it would be overall cheaper but there might be limited choices on hotels and restaurants because a lot of them shut down. It is also significantly colder. 

If You Go:

Portovenere is a great base for exploring Cinque Terre and the surrounding region. The town has so much charm, and the crowds are more manageable than directly staying in one of the five towns. Whether you choose to visit during peak season or plan your trip for the off-season, there is plenty to enjoy and experience.

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Isabella Miller

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