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Gulf of Poets

 
“Beato te, o Poeta della scienza che riposi in pace nel Golfo dei Poeti. Beati voi, abitatori di questo Golfo, che avete trovato un uomo che accoglierà degnamente le ombre dei grandi visitatori.” (Sem Benelli, 1910)

Gulf of Poets
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We will talk about arsenals and military fortified sites, productives days spent catching sea breams in the bay, windy storms, three islands, a gulf, many villages, each with its own identity, all under the aegis of slightly larger, unique and refined municipalities.

In one word poetic.

Is it due to the development, of the area that poetry pressed on the land and its structures , at the beginning of the Twentieth century the playwriter Sem Benelli, who owned a house in San Terenzo, worked on the words, still set in the common imaginery: the Gulf of Poets.

To be honest, such term comes from the fact that before and after Benelli, many other poets, writers and artists haven’t missed a single day of vacation in the hamlets of the areas, struck by the beauty of a successful “triplet”.

The Gulf of Poets starts with the village of Porto Venere and ends, including Lerici, with La Spezia, which is in the middle of the Gulf. The landscape is the so-called water amphitheatre where the inhabitants know everything about the sea, mussel farming, grape harvest and good olive oil, besides they know how to make an excellent “pesto sauce”, but all this depends on the destination you decide to choose.

If our way leads us towards Porto Venere, the blue fish will make us feel at home, the  words are unnecessary to describe the beauty of what we will see, salty fishermen’s ropes in the sea, colourful tower houses; and then  at the end of the promenade, we bump into the oustanding, ancient church of San Pietro, that probably dates back to 1277, the grey stone and the marvelous marina have made this village a World Heritage by UNESCO, of great importance is undoubtedly the archipelago in which the islands of Tinetto, Tino and Palmaria are situated.

If we decide to stay in La Spezia in summer, there is a particular turmoil for the boat race called Palio del Golfo, we find sensible, dancing lights that liven up the night life at Porto Mirabello. The Town Hall is committed to various services, infrastructures, habitability and most of all  day and night tourism, according to the rhytm of the night life. The town centre is perfectly kept, and in the restaurants the mussels are the main dishes of its cuisine, talking about Lerici, we must say that it is an excellent vacation place, thanks to its fairy tale colours, that look like as if they were stolen from the colour box of a child,  it reminds us of the Greek coast, and it was much loved by the poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley .

While staying in Lerici we suggest  to pay a visit  to the  beach Venere Azzurra, and the inhabited area of San Terenzo. We must also mention the symbolic hamlets of Pugliola, Solara, and the majestic buttresses of Punta Corvo.

Located at a stone’s throw is the Regional Park of Montemarcello Magra, a protected area that merges a marine environment and the lush landascape of the river, till we reach the eastern border; on the west side we find the Cinque Terre with the National Park of the Cinque Terre and the Protected Marine Area, close to Porto Venere, where we find Middle Age parish churches, foot paths and cultivated areas in equal measures.

In the heart of the villages we find more complex worlds that live taking advantage of the favourable conditions of the deep inlet. The Gulf is protected by a mountain chain and by hills, closed to the west by the Promontory of Portovenere and to the east by the beaches of Lerici, that help to avoid the cold south west wind Libeccio.

Through the eyes of those who love the Gulf of Poets, and know how to tell stories that not only belong to the province, but  also to an independent territory, we can embellish the stories told by the old grannies in Le Grazie, a village with a handful of houses, situated  in a charming natural cove, that hosts the archeological site of the Roman Villa in Varignano, and  is close to bay of Porto Venere.

Another important small hamlet that we must not forget to mention is Fezzano,  it is situated after the shipbuilding context of Cadimare and before the village of Le Grazie, this is a charming place with typical alleys, pine groves in the mountains of Castellana, situated just behind the village.

Cadimare hosts the Air Force Logistic Support Centre; Marola is situated on the hills, among old quarries; on the hills we also find Campiglia, with its breathtaking sea views, here people rest rocked by the defeaning sound of cidas, instead there is urban mockery in Fossamastra, a small area no longer popular among the bourgeoise of La Spezia.

The inhabitants of Lerici know exactly what to do to keep their natural heritage, after Muggiano, a busy area with many important shipyards, we reach a never ending seafront that goes from San Terenzo to Tellaro, dotted by many villas and promontories, and guarded by imposing Castles. The area attracts longtime devoted tourists, not only  Italians but also  French, Russians and Germans, that lie under the sun and love the real food of the Eastern Riviera, no matter if we are talking about focaccia or testi with sauce.

Tellaro is little known, however it does not lack stunning sea views. The village is a docking area for pleasure boats, that can be reached passing by Maralunga and Fiascherino; it is the right balance between Corsica and the hint of far cliffs, with its beautiful pink church, built on the cliff and touched by the waves when the sea is rough. A legend tells that a huge octopus saved the village from being ransacked by the pirates, by ringing the church bell.

La Serra is the typical hamlet, where you can come accross old style agritourisms,  managed by friendly familes that work directly with yachtsmen of the river Magra, as well as with craftsmen in Versilia, La Serra was once a village of merchants, it is located on a hill where you can enjoy a beautiful landscape that  tempts the most refined food lovers… not only for its fish cuisine.

 

We will talk about arsenals and military fortified sites, productives days spent catching sea breams in the bay, windy storms, three islands, a gulf, many villages, each with its own identity, all under the aegis of slightly larger, unique and refined municipalities.

In one word poetic.

Is it due to the development, of the area that poetry pressed on the land and its structures , at the beginning of the Twentieth century the playwriter Sem Benelli, who owned a house in San Terenzo, worked on the words, still set in the common imaginery: the Gulf of Poets.

To be honest, such term comes from the fact that before and after Benelli, many other poets, writers and artists haven’t missed a single day of vacation in the hamlets of the areas, struck by the beauty of a successful “triplet”.

The Gulf of Poets starts with the village of Porto Venere and ends, including Lerici with La Spezia, which is in the middle of the Gulf.

Gulf of Poets

The landscape is the so-called water amphitheatre where the inhabitants know everything about the sea, mussel farming, grape harvest and good olive oil, besides they know how to make an excellent “pesto sauce”, but all this depends on the destination you decide to choose.

If our way leads us towards Porto Venere, the blue fish will make us feel at home, the  words are unnecessary to describe the beauty of what we will see, salty fishermen’s ropes in the sea, colourful tower houses; and then  at the end of the promenade, we bump into the oustanding, ancient church of San Pietro, that probably dates back to 1277, the grey stone and the marvelous marina have made this village a World Heritage by UNESCO, of great importance is undoubtedly the archipelago in which the islands of Tinetto, Tino and Palmaria are situated.

If we decide to stay in La Spezia in summer, there is a particular turmoil for the boat race called Palio del Golfo, we find sensible, dancing lights that liven up the night life at Porto Mirabello. The Town Hall is committed to various services, infrastructures, habitability and most of all  day and night tourism, according to the rhytm of the night life. The town centre is perfectly kept, and in the restaurants the mussels are the main dishes of its cuisine, talking about Lerici, we must say that it is an excellent vacation place, thanks to its fairy tale colours, that look like as if they were stolen from the colour box of a child,  it reminds us of the Greek coast, and it was much loved by the poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley .

While staying in Lerici we suggest  to pay a visit  to the  beach Venere Azzurra, and the inhabited area of San Terenzo. We must also mention the symbolic hamlets of Pugliola, Solara, and the majestic buttresses of Punta Corvo.

Located at a stone’s throw is the Regional Park of Montemarcello Magra, a protected area that merges a marine environment and the lush landascape of the river, till we reach the eastern border; on the west side we find the Cinque Terre with the National Park of the Cinque Terre and the Protected Marine Area, close to Porto Venere, where we find Middle Age parish churches, foot paths and cultivated areas in equal measures.

In the heart of the villages we find more complex worlds that live taking advantage of the favourable conditions of the deep inlet. The Gulf is protected by a mountain chain and by hills, closed to the west by the Promontory of Portovenere and to the east by the beaches of Lerici, that help to avoid the cold south west wind Libeccio.

Through the eyes of those who love the Gulf of Poets, and know how to tell stories that not only belong to the province, but  also to an independent territory, we can embellish the stories told by the old grannies in Le Grazie, a village with a handful of houses, situated  in a charming natural cove, that hosts the archeological site of the Roman Villa in Varignano, and  is close to bay of Porto Venere.

Another important small hamlet that we must not forget to mention is Fezzano,  it is situated after the shipbuilding context of Cadimare and before the village of Le Grazie, this is a charming place with typical alleys, pine groves in the mountains of Castellana, situated just behind the village.

Cadimare hosts the Air Force Logistic Support Centre; Marola is situated on the hills, among old quarries; on the hills we also find Campiglia, with its breathtaking sea views, here people rest rocked by the defeaning sound of cidas, instead there is urban mockery in Fossamastra, a small area no longer popular among the bourgeoise of La Spezia.

The inhabitants of Lerici know exactly what to do to keep their natural heritage, after Muggiano, a busy area with many important shipyards, we reach a never ending seafront that goes from San Terenzo to Tellaro, dotted by many villas and promontories, and guarded by imposing Castles. The area attracts longtime devoted tourists, not only  Italians but also  French, Russians and Germans, that lie under the sun and love the real food of the Eastern Riviera, no matter if we are talking about focaccia or testi with sauce.

Tellaro is little known, however it does not lack stunning sea views. The village is a docking area for pleasure boats, that can be reached passing by Maralunga and Fiascherino; it is the right balance between Corsica and the hint of far cliffs, with its beautiful pink church, built on the cliff and touched by the waves when the sea is rough. A legend tells that a huge octopus saved the village from being ransacked by the pirates, by ringing the church bell.

La Serra is the typical hamlet, where you can come accross old style agritourisms,  managed by friendly familes that work directly with yachtsmen of the river Magra, as well as with craftsmen in Versilia, La Serra was once a village of merchants, it is located on a hill where you can enjoy a beautiful landscape that  tempts the most refined food lovers… not only for its fish cuisine.

The cuisine

Gulf of Poets in terms of cuisine performances means ricycling left overs, creativity and tradition. Recipes handed down by skilled housewives and ingredients borrowed from a rugged land, using wisely aromatic plants, dry fruit, fresh fish and vegetables. Meat includes wild game, while testi and fillings can be made well in the oven or using two greasy pans.

Grain soups as well as some tasty marinades never dissapoint customers. Cooking in this area, goes beyond simple dressing with pesto sauce, and would never exist without the influence of its close borders, that include Val di Vara, Val di Magra and Lunigiana. The natural dressing used is extra vergin olive oil, of strictly quality controlled origin.

Slow food and street food coexist and offer conviviality, that is why in La Spezia we can find farinata, made with chickpea (in local dialect it is called fainà), pinzimonio, raw vegetables dipped in olive oil or other sauces, aperitifs and trattorie that have remained the same in centuries.

If you take a starter in the main town, it will satisfy your appetite and you won’t be disappointed, to give you an idea of the type of local offer it includes trays full of salted codfish fritters, panissa, fried courgette flowers… and also whitebait fritters, these are just a few of the dishes you may find, and we must not forget the delicious stuffed anchovies.

As regards main courses the most popular is undoubtedly mesciua, made with legumes and served warm, preboggion, made with plenty early cabbage is served in a soup plate, this dish is mostly common in the hamlets of the area.

We continue our list of dishes with Genoese vegetable soup called minestrone, capponada, testaroli which look like pancakes, however the dough is different, they are baked in the oven, and then dressed with pesto sauce, or tomato sauce, sometimes testatoroli garnish the evenings in winter, dressed with freshly made walnut sauce.

The influence of other regions can be perceived when restaurant owners prepare the most yummy fritters with chestnut flour from Villafranca in Lunigiana, or panigacci from Podenzana, to taste as you please with seasoned cheese, stracchino cheese and salami. The undisputed king of second courses is codfish, served with chard and tomatoes, and plenty pine nuts; rabbit alla cacciatora, stewed tripe, Genoese stuffed cima.

There is a traditional food market, just passed Piazza Verdi, where you can find achovies caught in the bay in Tramonti. There are also many organic products that we can buy inland, in Carro, Pignone and Caprigliola, where we can find a great variety of meat, guinea hens and above all lamb meat, from very special suppliers.

The art of pasta making creates trofie, trenette, bavett and raviolini to be cooked in meat broth.

The inhabitants of Lerici,  the so called Lericini, live in the “land of sea” and prefer fish to meat because it celebrates long time memories of their great grandparents, who once caught stone bass, snappers, gilthead beams and took what was necessary from salty shellfish and sea urchins, there is a sort of black gold that comes mussels, called “muscoli” in this area, you will enjoy the most appealing spaghetti dinners, with stuffed ravioli, tordei without forgetting dishes “en tian”, the divine anchovies, and other honorable dishes.

Those who weren’t born in this land, the so called “foresti”, will have to use the proper words to order mussels, that are made with bread softened in milk, a little parmigiano cheese, parsley and other ingredients chosen by the chef, so they will have to say to the waiter I’ll have “muscoli ripieni”.

There are many fish farms in this area, however another a popular dish is octopus that goes straight in the salads or is boiled and then placed on toasted bread, or stewed.

Tellaro organizes every year, a traditional fair called the octopus fair, the main ingredient of the dishes is of course octopus, cooked in different ways, the octopus takes part to this celebration as the animal isthum ..since it saved the village from the pirat’s ransack.

Stockfish with potatos is strongly appreciated, mussels can be used also in soups, while mixed fried fish can be considered a high quality main dish, then we can order a Bagnum (a fish sauce with plenty anchovies and toasted bread), or anchovy and potato pie, in the eastern area up to Monterosso al Mare.

Daily catch has done a great job in terms of types of fish and cuts used inside the kitchens of the restaurants in Porto Venere. The best fish dishes can be ordered while strolling in the Marina.

There are places where tourists have to possibility to learns the skills of how to make fresh egg pasta and figure out the secrets of how to make a good pesto sauce.

Focaccia, home made bread, sgabei and many colourful or stewed risotti play a significant role in the local cuisine.

However Gulf of Poets means above all wine, the grapes are pressed to favour the creation of wines such as Vermentino, Pigato, or the well appreciated Trebbiano, PDO and PGI brands are common as the climate favours important harvests.

Sciacchetrà is an old mate, this wine, with its amber yellow colour, is perfect  to accompany your desserts. Its production is allowed only in some municipalities of the Province of La Spezia. It is made letting the grapes dry naturally, it has a fortified texture, ideal to taste, all in one go at the end of a dinner, while eating a castagnaccio, garnished with pine nuts and raisins, it moistens the traditional buccellato cake, and with its apricot scents makes the famous spongata from Sarzana, a cake made with jam and dry frui, a special dessert.

Lifestyle

The bay of the Gulf of Poets is well sheltered, so as to ensure the protection of the villages, and first of all the urban centre of La Spezia, the bay is framed by the profile of three islands Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. The shape of the bay is a blessing, as it ensures a good climate, not particularly suffocating in summer, that keeps away the cold in winter, autumns are quite rainy, and mild.

La Spezia stands out as a cultural centre, however you don’t have to go far from the town centre to bump into slate stairways, bakeries, inns, bistrots, convenient hostels, and mingle with its inhabitants admiring the flower beds of its tidy public gardens. The lenses of the cameras and the smartphones will capture delicate liberty-style villas and, other interesting period buildings, built in rationalist or futurist style according to the most recent contemporary trends – a good example of which is the post office building, built in the typical rationalist rigor style.

Starting from the junctions of Via Chiodo, a crucial area for strolling under the shady porticos, with tree-lined boulvards that show a town described by Ernest Hemingway as a place with ”wide streets and tall yellow houses”, we find the famous Navy Naval Technical Museum, that welcomes its visitors with evidence related to the history of navigation and the Navy. Next to the museum there is the main entrance to the Military Arsenal, that was rebuilt after WWII, it houses the offices of the Navy and therefore it is not fully accessible. A must see is the museum Amedeo Lia, one of the most sought after Italian private collections, adapted as a civic museum, and the Archaeological Museum Formentini located inside the suggestive San Giorgio Castle, its treasures include some Stele Statues from Lunigiana, the museum belongs to the Municipality, and finally the Diocesan and Ethnographic Museum located in the former oratory of San Bernardino. The Museum of the Seal is something unique in the world, it is housed inside Palazzina delle Arti. A stone’s throw from the seafront, there is the Centre of Modern and Contemporary Art – CAMeC, a three storey building where the work of the major contemporary artistic phenomena is on display.

In Piazza Cavour, the buzzling traders and the iodized smell of fresh fish become the essential components for strolling around the covered food market. On the first Sunday of each month, starting from October, Piazza Cavour becomes the location of a charming antique market where you can find books, furniture and even various period relics. Porto Mirabello was inaugurated in 2010, it has shops, refreshment points and an incredible number of quality berths and designer boats, the classic yachts to envy; it was built in a short time, transforming this area is a very livable place, that lights up even the cannons situated on the Promenade Morin, on the waterfront, inviting the visitors to enjoy the night life in the best sheltered corner of the bay. The pedestrian bridge Thaon designed by Revel, connects these two places, with areas dedicated to fishing and pleasure boats, as well as facilities for ferries to reach the islands and the Cinque Terre.

The seafront and the historic centre drag night life lovers out till late for an aperitif or something else… Among the most popular clubs we must mention Papilio Disco Dinner, open in winter and situated in Via del Canaletto; Mama Disco Club, situated in th outskirts of the town, and at about 18 kilometres from the town centre, in Sarzana, Variante Aurelia there is another popular club the Jux Tap.

Cadimare is a charming village to visit both in winter and in summer, it is separated from Marola, by a strip of land where the Tower of San Gerolamo once stood. Via della Marina crosses the village from side to side, with a display of charming summer residences with coloured facades and lovely villas clung to the hills. Do stop at one of the local trattorias, because the fish is cooked really well. Campiglia combines sea life and mountain life, the inhabited area is spread at the end of a carriage road that climbs up the hill with short hairpin bends and crosses enchanting chestnut woods, you can take this road from Acquasanta. Campliglia is an interesting place for those who dare to venture along the less beaten paths of CAI n.1 (PortovenereLevanto), willing to train their muscles in the green, rocky outdoor gym Muzzerone.

Night life in Porto Venere combins distant sounds of pleasure boats and undertow. You can stroll in the quiet alley or stop in one of the many popular pubs and bars situated by the sea. Bar Lido, in traversa Olivo is part of a tourist complex that includes a residence, restaurants, and facilities for tourists, and if you are looking for an informal place for a happy hour, ask for Bar Naviglio. When Porto Venere wakes up in the early morning, it is the perfect hideout for sailors and buccaneers, the witness of ancient raids, but also and important area for trading via land, in addition to the cultivation of olive trees, placed all along the shady, coloured terraces, there was in fact a secondary activity, the extraction of the black marble called Portoro. The centre of the village is via Capellini, from which you can take one of the narrow alleys that lead to the Castle, there is a fee to enter the castle, but it is worth every penny. You will enjoy the splendid views from here, such as the timeless postcard view of the Church of San Pietro. Close to the castle there is a small cemetery, where the explorer and journalist Walter Bonatti, who recently passed away, was buried.

From the small harbour, boats leave to reach Palmaria island, separated from the village of Porto Venere, by a small canal where a strange military building Torre Scola comes out from the water. Once you are on Palmaria island you can enjoy a healthy day trekking in the circular paths that take just about two or a three-hours. It is worth taking a look at the caves and the quarries, stop and enjoy a swim in Pozzale in the summer and spring, or book a special dinner at Locanda Lorena. Tino is an island owned by the Navy, therefore the acces is forbidden except when the celebrations for the patron Saint San Venerio take place in September. Visitors can admire the fortifications, the museum and the military buildings, overlooking the rocks. There are some interesting vestige dating back to the eleventh century, including a church dedicated to worship San Venerio.

Le Grazie is a quiet and tidy hamlet, a former town of surface -supplied divers, an oasis that is part of the Municipality of Porto Venere, as well as Fezzano. The hamlet hosts several initiatives related to its history and military past of shipbuilders, and is at the same time a natural landing place, placed in a perfect geographical position, that makes this village one of the most ancient moorings of the Gulf of La Spezia. The village has a lot of restaurants and pubs, its centre is built around the cathedral called Nostra Signora delle Grazie, the Patron Saint of Le Grazie. Lerici was a Medioeval port disputed for years by Pisa and Genoa, the village is dominated by an imposing castle built on a hill, that is one of most characteristic buildings.

In Lerici there is a pier where ferries will take you to the most popular destinations, besides remembering the writers who once stayed in the Gulf of Poets… omitting the already mentioned authors, we remind you of David H. Lawrence, Giosuè Carducci e Gabriele D’Annunzio, Virginia Woolf, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Mario Soldati, Indro Montanelli. You can still breathe the atmosphere of a traditional port, even if seaside tourism has replaced sea trade, we can only image how pilgrims and wayfarers arrived and crossed Sarzana, travelling along Via Francigena, to reach the Pope or crossing in the North of Italy, the Cisalpina.

The main square of the village is dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi, and houses the small oratory of San Rocco, the historical memory of ancient pilgrimages, while in the upper part of the village we find the church of San Francesco, built in baroque style. The base of the castle can be reached by entering the Jewish ghetto, while with a pleasant walk, tasting a good icecream, you an reach the promenade of San Terenzo, protected by a defensive fortification. Halfway between Lerici and San Terenzo there is Villa Marigola, a perfect venue for weddings, concerts and important conventions. The sandy beach Venere Azzurra, is located just below the splendid villa, it is full of sun umbrellas and Mediterranean maquis, luckily the sea bottom does not have pebbles like the one in the Cinque Terre, and therefore pleases even the most demaning customers, this is probably the reason of the constant and peaceful turnout. Tourists may become addicted to its cuisine right from the beginning, as it combines sea food with sea bass and breams, or good local meat, we should also reward the good vegetables, courgettes, chestnuts and fried food, and in case all this is not enough to satisfy your needs, there are ferries that can take you to the Cinque Terre, to the Eastern Riviera, including Portofino and Genoa. If you want to enjoy night life, without having to stay out late, the right place is Circolo Arci Borgata Marinara, in Piazza Garibaldi, it is well apprecciated by local youth and many others.

A few kilometres from the Tuscan border, we find the village of Tellaro, awarded as one of the most beautiful hamlets in Italy. It is a sort of magic place, with coloured houses, overlooking the clear sea, the concentric structure of the village is based on fortifications, and the houses are surrounded by walls on the north western side that become tangles or bushes at the end of Fiascherino. The sunny blue that shines on the alleys is the reason why Attilio Bertolucci, one of the greatest, contemporary Italian poets came here to escape from the world, if it became too chaotic. You can swim in front of the pink church of San Giorgio, built on an isolated spur and test your strengh reaching the wildest areas of Spiaggioni, or you can try one of the most strategic walks to reach La Serra, the healthy breeze of the small hill of Vernazzano, once inhabited by traders, and known as the place of origin of the family of the famous Giovanni da Verrazzano. The hills are dotted by the ruins of Portesone, Barbazzano and the tiny hamlets of Pugliola and Solaro, the ourskirts are worth a visit for it outstanding landscapes and the uniquie view of the gulf.

Nature

Despite the population density of the county seat of La Spezia, the whole ecological niche of the Gulf of Poets remains a small, healthy and half unspoilt gem, full of garrigue, salt cedars, and protected areas situated at a short distance from the town.

The Gulf of Poets, Gulf of La Spezia, or whatever you want to call it, is an area that shares the luxury of being  the main character of another charming site, the Cinque Terre, and has been for ages the sovereign  of a jagged stretch of coast, where five wonderful and well known villages are situated; they are called Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, they are unique places in terms of quality, these villages have been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and can be considered as well as our Gulf a good reason to visit this strip of Eastern Liguria.

Over time we tend to go back to the places we have always loved, as some of the great writers and poets of the Nineteenth  and Twentieth centuty did, their tours in this area contributed to name it “Gulf of Poets”.

The three main influenes allow, in terms of landscapes, a wider sphere of action for tourists, and most of all satisfy any needs, you can enjoy the views, or experience new adventures, swetting and getting your hands dirty by climbing the rocks full of precious metals and incredible fossils.

Portovenere is perched on a promontory of dark rocks, at the end of the village we find the famous church of San Pietro, with its white and grey stripes on the facade; it was built in gothic style, this church represents the landmark of the village. The steps that lead to the castle of Porto Venere were carved in the rocks and are surrounded by Mediterranean Maquis. When you reach the top of the castle you can enjoy the small archipelago, where once lived San Venerio, the patron saint of the Gulf of La Spezia.

The Protected Marine Area of Porto Venere includes the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, the green terraced woods that lead to the foot paths to reach the village of Riomaggore, and are part of the protected Natural Regional Park of Porto Venere, over 400 hectares of very enjoyable nature.

Palmaria island was once a military post, at present the military beach resort is still open in summer. The island is surrounded by a fishy sea, and offers the possibility of visiting the inland thanks to some foot paths. The ravines and the caves continue along the coast at sea level, don’t forget to visit Byron’s cave, where the famous English poet loved to spend his time, meditating.  The area represents a great opportunity for divers and also for people who love swmming, the pebbles on the coast will challenge you, however it will not be a problem.

The marine environment, is covered with gorgonia and posidonia, the rich, dark corners are provided by Mother Nature (by the way someone has even carved the area, go and have a look, if you like!), lights and shadows follow one another and typical organisms inhabit the sea, such as ruby red stars, groupers, moray eels, and seahorses enjoy the harshness and protection of men.

Continuing our chat about the protected luxury beauties situated in Porto Venere, it is important to point out how  the community is concerned and cares about the park and its wildlife, where the lovely cornflowers in Porto Venere have a delicate purple colour …. that says it all, cornflowers are herbaceous, perennial plants that form bushes above the steep cliffs.

The Mediterranean Maquis soon tranforms into shady woods of holm oaks and Aleppo pine trees, that cover the area up to the mountains.

We leave Porto Venere and we go east, towards the cultural town of La Spezia, a generous mother that hosts a National Park, two Regional Parks in Porto Venere and Montemarcello, four Rete Natura 2000 sites, and a protected area.

The municipality of La Spezia is dotted with green areas, such as Parco della Maggiolina, Parco della Rimembranza and the public gardens facing the promenade. On  the hights of Mount Parodi we can find fitness trails, where migratory birds and woodland animals have moved from Val di Magra and Val di Vara, or have escaped from the careful census of the Protected Oasi in Arcola.

A stay in this area allows  the opportunity to spend some time in a fresh place in summer, and enjoy a clean area in winter, perhaps glimpsing a blackcap in the fountains in Piazza Europa.

The suburbs of the stretch of the river Vara is mainly wooded and well kept, while on the river Magra the landscape gently descends towards the plain, full of shiny maritime pines and deciduous woods, where valuable plants find a shelter. The most interesting place are the hills in Montemarcello, wandering about mount Carpione.

While visiting Montemarcello why not stop at the Bothanic Garden situated on mount Murlo, the garden is included in the list of Bothanic Gardens and nurseries of the protected area of the Region Liguria.

Those who have sensible shoes and strong legs may try the trail called “Sentiero dei Poeti“, that follows the better known Alta Via del Golfo. Enjoy hiking among olive groves and then take a rest and taste some tigelle, when you finish hiking in Alta Via dei Monti Liguri. A suggestive landscape is that of the sandy coasts of Lerici and San Terenzo, the two villages were a source of inspiration for the works of the English writer D.H. Lawrence, as well as for the Italian writer, journalist and film direct  Mario Soldati.

Lose yourself looking at the pastel colourful houses, the villas and the nice English gardens situated above the alleys, walk up and down the historic centres of the hamlets, where you may catch sight of the deep blue sea.

The area has received the awards Bandiera Blu and Quattro Vele Legambiente, for the outstanding beauties of this land, and why not mention San Terenzo, where the sea touches the houses of the village, or the buttresses that create a bond with the castles of the hamlets,  there is a sort of  suspended atmosphere in Fiascherino, enjoy the sunsets by the sea in Tellaro. The surrounding hills, provide Lerici with relaxing landscapes, necessary for town mice that seem like aliens.

Leaving La Spezia, the Natural Regional Park in Montemarcello acts like a bridge  to reach new ad more quiet lanscapes, escaped by the waves of the rough Ligurian sea. We go straight towards Ameglia or inland in Lunigiana. The coast in Punta Corvo becomes impervious, while in Punta Bianca, that has different colours we find an excellent and useful place for hiking.

The foot path that starts from the centre of Montemarcello leads to the beach Punta Corvo, you may need good legs and a bit of energy to reach your destination, however once you get there, you will be pleased of all your efforts.

The cunning area of Lerici combines the power of the waves that crush on the shore,  the rural quiet olive groves and the woods of Alta Versilia.

Places of interest

Every year the territory of La Spezia thrives thanks to concerts, shows, fairs, dinners, gatherings, conferences and educational actvities, a cultural centre where you can enjoy antiques exhibitions, cozy candlelight dinners in one of the best fish restaurants or a perfect ballroom for dancing in the evening. If you start your trip from the hills and go down towards the sea, you will be able to admire an original building planned by the architect Franco Oliva, Villa Marmori Cerretti, a good example of floral architecture, with polychrome stained glass windows, a clear example of the Liberty style. The villa was commissioned in 1923 by Teresita Marmori and her husband Amedeo. The building is on three floors, inside there are frescos and painted pannels made by Luigi Agretti. In 1984 the villa became the premises of the Conservatory of Music Giacomo Puccini.

In Piazza Europa we find the imposing, modern cathedral Cristo Re which has a circular plan (a reference to the sacramental bread given during mass), a dome supported by twelve columns and a churchyard open towards the hills. This is the main religious structure of the town together with the co-cathedral Santa Maria Assunta, the inhabitants of La Spezia called “Spezei” know that the crypts of Cristo Re contain the relics of San Venerio, the grave of the religious mystic Italia Mela and of the first bishops of the Diocese, that deserve the utmost respect. The church Santa Maria Assunta built in Gothic Ligurian style, is situated in Piazza Beverini, inside there are various works of art of different periods and styles.

La Spezia has buildings of different styles we can’t forget to mention the theatre Teatro Civico, situated in Piazza Mentana, close to Via del Prione right in the historic centre. The theatre was built in neo classical style by the architect Ippolito Cremona, the bas-reliefs on the facade represent Bacchus, Tobacco and Venus and therefore are an allegory of enjoyment. On the hills of Fabiano there is the secluded monastery of Santa Croce dell’Olmo a building that provides serenity. The monastery was originally dedicated to the Madonna del Monte, then it changed name due to the elm tree that is in the square, it is worth a visit for its hilly location, an excellent place for trekking or for taking pictures at sunrise or sunset. Artsenal Festival in La Spezia hosts the most famous and contemporary actors and dancers, musical events of all kind, opera, classical, pop music and rock take place inside the navy area of the former barracks Mardichi. Those who wants to be considered as natives should attend the two sought after events that take place in town every year: on the first sunday in August there is a boat race called Palio del Golfo, thirteen villages compete against each other, rowing inside boatsgozzi made by local craftsmen with strenght and handicraft, then on the 19 March a huge fair is held in the public gardens, on the promenade, piazza verdi and via Domenico Chiodo, to celebrate San Giuseppe the patron saint of the town, there are stalls that sell all sorts of items food, clothing, household and much more, why not try sliced porchetta or book the dj set for the white night.

In March people are attracted by the events that take place inside the Exhibition Centre Spezia Expò situated in the outskirts of the town, just passed the borough of Canaletto, we are talking about the main trade fair of the year which is called Fiera Campionaria, you can find delicatessen from Lunigiana, crafts, and antiques exhibitions. In July there is the Mussel fair in Cadimare which is organized to raise money to support the local village for the boat race Palio del Golfo, excellent dishes will be served in the evening. There will be dancing at the sound of the orchestra and the music bands, stalls and benches will be illuminated by the water along the promenade.

Porto Venere tells us a century old story of its past thanks to the magnificent castle that was built with a low structure close to the stones of the promontory. The castle dates back to the sixteenth century, while the oldest part was built in the year 1000, there have been extensions as it was used as a military outpost. Porto Venere became a popular destination in the nineteenth century, after the arrival of the English romantic poets Lord George Gordon Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, that is why the Gulf of Poets bears this name. To remember the presence of such distinguished guests every year the historical open water crossing Byron Cup takes place on the last Sunday of August in the narrow stretch of sea between Portovenere and San Terenzo. It was held for the first time in 1949, and since then it has involved not only municipal authorities and the organization called Pubblica Assistenza assistance but young and more experienced athlets from all over the region Liguria.

On the spur of rock jutting out towards Palmaria, in the area of an ancient pre-existing temple dedicated to Venus Ericina, the gentle Superba, the town of Genoa decided to build a large gothic Genoese style structure to repay for the help received fighting against Pisa, we are talking about the iconic church of Saint Peter. This church has two distinct areas, one with a bell tower decorated with vertical rows of mullioned windows, surrounded by alternating black and white stones, and the other one with a rectangular plan and semicircular apse. Some steps lead to a very pleasant panoramic open area next to the roof of the building, from which you can enjoy the wind and the view of the whole coast.

There are few important building in the municipality of Porto venere, the parish church of San Lorenzo in the upper part of the village, built in Romanesque and Gothic style, its facade was made by the Antelami masters, and the church of San Giovanni Battista, built in Baroque style in the centre of Fezzano. The white gothic style sanctuary of Nostra Signora delle Grazie situated in Le Grazie, stands out in the quiet hamlet, surrounded by magnificent olive groves, you can reach it going up a few steps. Let’s talk about the events that take place in this area, Madonna Bianca on 17 August in Porto Venere, there is procession along the alleys of the village which is all illuminated up to San Pietro. In September the feast to celebrate San Venerio, with free access to the island of Tino, refreshments, the usual visit to the chapel and related church service. On the island of Palmaria a noncompetitive ecological walk basically organized in spring.

Lerici merges the sacred and the profane, ancient and modern comforts, it is an ideal place if you are looking for a quiet break, contact with nature and ancient traditions. The town hosts a rather unusual museum, the Geopaleontological Museum inside the halls and courtyard of the castle, it was established thanks to the discovery of dinosaur prints dating back to about 220 million years ago. In town there are two important libraries, and interesting cultural events related to cinema and poetry – we shall just mention the “Golfo dei Poeti Film Festival”, an international competition that takes place during the third week of August. Villa Magni is situated on the main road that goes from San Terenzo to Lerici, it became famous thanks to Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley who stayed at the villa from April to September 1822, owned by the Marquis Ollandini. In the past the sea reached the white porticos of the building. There is another important building nearby called Villa Marigola, it is situated in a panoramic and dominant position, close to a promontory full of holm oaks, the villa is used for cultural events, conferences and weddings. In the adjoining tower once lived the writer Sem Benelli. The magnificent parish church of San Terenzo was built in late baroque style in the seventeenth century to honour Santa Maria Assunta. Inside the church, behind the apse there is a high relief representing the Saints Fabiano, Rocco and Sebastiano and a bas-relief made by Domenico Gar, a sculptor originally from Lorraine, that can be dated to the sixteenth century.

In the western part of Lerici stands the bell tower of the church of San Rocco, on the opposite wall there are tombstones and bas-reliefs linked to the history of the community, the style of the church reminds us the Baroque style, the interior has a single nave with four side chapels, with beautiful frescoes worth to see, the facade is characterized by a statue of Saint Erasmus. There is a big, spacious church devoted to San Francesco and to Madonna di Maralunga, the original church was built in 13th century, then it was rebuilt between 1632 and 1636, it is situated at a stone’s throw from the seafront, the facade is made of pink stones from Finale, with frames and pilasters made of Carrara marble, in the chapel we can admire a wooden picture of the Madonna and Child found by some fishermen after a brigantine stranded in the middle of the bay.

In March Lerici welcomes and celebrates the glories of the Madonna, patron saint of the village together with Saint Erasmus, with a fair and religious procession. The event is followed by a traditional fair, at the end of the month on the waterfront, at the pier and in Piazza Garibaldi, you will see dozens of stalls selling items of all kind. On May 31 a religious procession takes place where the wooden table depicting the Madonna was found, in Maralunga. The choreographic celebrations in honour of Sant’Erasmo take place on the first weekend of July, people lay hundreds of floating candles in the bay and watch the procession, which ends at the gates of the church of San Rocco. The event ends with fireworks display and lots of conviviality. Lerici is in Bloom for the three days at Easter, the town centre makes room for stands and stalls, plants, herbal products and themed objects, delicious opportunities for gardening and floriculture lovers.

In Tellaro the Octopus Festival takes place in August, the celebrations recall the myth according to which the village was saved from pirate attacks thanks to the octopus that raised the alarm by clinging to the rope of the bell tower.

Monumental Lunigiana in the presence of the witnesses of time

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