Gulf of Poets
La Spezia is a surprisingly beautiful city. I almost skipped it because it is mainly known as a gateway to the Cinque Terre and a port and a naval base. I am glad I did not. The architecture is stunning. There you can find great examples of Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Liberty, Futurism, Art Deco and even Rationalism styles.
The city is colourful and people lovely.
Hotels there are cheaper than in the Cinque Terre and around Portovenere because it is not touristy.
The centre of La Spezia is car free. The main sites are easily reach by foot anyway.
The city has a tropical feeling.
Walking or taking the elevator to the castle is well worth the ride because the view from there is splendid.
From La Spezia you can take the ferry to Portovenere and the Cinque Terre (in season), as well as the train. Many people leave their car here because parking is scarce and expensive in the Cinque Terre.
The Technical Naval Museum, focused on technics, is one of the oldest museums of this kind and one of the more important in Italy.
A bit old fashioned, it shows naval warfare from the 16th century to the mid 20th century.
As for the hotel, I stayed at Affittacamere Lunamar (no affiliated link) right next to the train station.
One of the most beautiful places on the west coast of Italy, Portovenere was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the villages of Cinque Terre.
There is no train station but the ferry ride from either La Spezia or Cinque Terre is really pleasant.
From scenic churches and a castle to beautiful and colourful narrow streets, there is a lot to see here.
You can also take a boat tour to visit the nearby islands.
Originally a fishing town, San Terenzo is a beautiful and colourful traditional Ligurian sea village. Many artists and intellectuals came here.
Here you can bath, sunbath, hike, sail...
Access is by car or by bus from La Spezia.
On the way to Lerici from San Terenzo, there is a big white house with colonnades. It is where the creator of Frankenstein lived. Shelley actually drowned in the bay, although it is not sure weither it was a accident or a suicide.
The Magni house was built in the XVI century as part of a monastery of the Barnabite priests.
It was sitting directly at the sea until 1888, when the San Terenzo Promenade was built by its owner.
The walk from San Terenzo to Lerici offers beautiful views over the bay and both villages. Beware that there is not much shadow.
This promenade was recognised as a “Meraviglia italiana” (Italian Wonder) in 2011.
Mentioned by Dante, Lord Byron, the Shelleys and many other artists, the “Pearl of the Gulf of Poets” is another beautiful village, with its castle standing on a rocky promontory and overlooking the bay.
The castle is one of the most impressive fortifications in Liguria and is considered a great example of military architecture.
Home to the geo-paleontological museum, you can visit it but check the schedule ahead and beware that the walk up there is really steep.
It is also home to Maddalena di Castello, also known as Madì, former manager of the Ostello della Gioventù (Youth Hostel) from 1949 until the mid-1970s and now a... ghost!
Do not miss the simple but striking Oratory of San Rocco in the centre of the village.
From Lerici you can reach the tiny village of Tellaro by shuttle or by foot. Avoid taking your car, there is almost no parking.
Tellaro is a beautiful not so hidden gem anymore. Off season, it is quiet and you have it almost for yourself.
The view over the bay is splendid.
And the pink church is one of the most scenic churches in Italy.
Tellaro is best known for the Natale Subacqueo (Underwater Christmas). Every year, the statue of the Infant Jesus emerges from the water, carried by a group of skin divers, and is then placed in a setting with more than 8.000 small lights. There are also spectacular fireworks over the sea.
Although not directly on the seaside, Sarzana is a great destination as well. Best known for its well preserved fortifications, the little town also has some interesting churches, palaces, castles...
The city can be accessed by train and by bus.
The medieval centre is car free and easy to walk.
Because of its position on one of the most important Roman trade roads to France, the famous “Via Francigena”, Sarzana always had a strategic value for Florentines, Genoese, and Pisans. Hence the presence of two fortresses and a big city wall.
The Fortezza Firmafede can be visited.
See the "Related Posts" section at the end of this post.