Renowned for the popular and highly visited Cinque Terre and the maritime capital Genova, the Liguria region has a lot to offer the millions of tourists and beauty seekers. But there is so much more to Liguria than these spots.
Characterized by a crystalline and peaceful coastline, albeit dotted with lidos and public beaches, Liguria remains an oasis of peace, far from the colorful fun nights of the Romagna Riviera. The emerald green of the lush hills contrasts with the gradual blue of the sea, creating a poetic algorithm. In addition to the very famous Cinque Terre, there is another stretch of land that deserves to be discovered. Immersing yourself in the charm of the Ligurian coast also means immersing yourself in the enchanting charm of the Gulf of Poets (Golfo dei Poeti), a transcendental experience when you know the gulf’s history.
Over the centuries, many famous poets, artists and writers have been attracted to the pristine beauty of the gulf. Many of them have been deeply touched by its vivid enchantment, so much so that its small towns and villages became meeting places and homes for these creatives.
A place of intertwined history and literature, the gulf was not so nicknamed by sheer chance. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelly’s spouse and one of the epic poets of the 19th century, visited several times before stopping to live in the small village of San Terenzo (he is said to have died on the boat trip back to San Terenzo from Livorno after a terrible storm). Nearby Portovenere has a cave entirely dedicated to Lord Byron. According to legend, Byron swam from this cave until he reached his friend Shelley in Lerici, on the opposite side of the gulf. In addition to these two, David Herbert Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and the writer and painter George Sand, together with Italians Petrarca, Montale, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti were all in love with the gulf and praised its rarest beauties in their texts.
It was 1919 when playwright Sem Benelli referred to this gulf, for the very first time, as the Gulf of Poets during his stay in San Terenzo while he was writing the opera La Cena delle Beffe:
“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.”
“Blessed are you, o Poet of science who rests in peace in the Gulf of Poets. Blessed are you, inhabitants of this Gulf, who have found a man who will worthily welcome the shadows of great visitors.”
The name continues to be affectionately used today to refer to the gulf. In this beautiful scene of landscape and culture, get ready to discover the many pearls that the gulf has to offer:
Punta Bianca is one of the most sought after free beaches in the gulf. The only way to get to Punta Bianca is a small path located to the left of the road that leads from Bocca di Magra to Montemarcello (also indicated by the CAI signs). Rocky and wild, the name Bianca comes from the conformation of the limestone rocks, which look like dunes emerging from the sea. The beach is a real pearl of the Ligurian Sea, certainly not the most accessible, but a cradle of inestimable peace and intimacy.
Tip: On the road to reach Punta Bianca, at the altitude of the municipality of Ameglia, you can try the experience of eating in a trabucco (the massive old fishing constructions almost entirely built from wood), in the restaurant of the same name Il Trabucco.
The opposite of Punta Bianca is certainly Punta Corvo with its very dark sand, sometimes black and burning, a result of the crumbling of slate rocks. To reach it, you must go down a staircase of about 700 steps. The contrast of the blue cornflower color of the sea and the dark color of the rocks will pay off in unexpected landscapes and breathtaking views of the nearby islands.
Tip: Upon returning from Punta Bianca and Punta Corvo, to relax and regenerate after the steep descents and the equally strenuous climbs, I recommend Caffè delle Ragazze in Montemarcello. Managed solely by female staff, the bar is in the center of the square of Montemarcello. It’s small, but always super crowded, and offers a wide range of local food.
Tellaro is the southernmost village in the Gulf of Poets, marked by the dream of colored houses that follow each other. From a distance, it looks like a single large rock overlooking the sea supports the village, almost like in a fairy tale. Closed to the circulation of motor vehicles, the borgo comes alive with the shouting of tourists during summer. It is different in winter, however, when the only shouting is what David Herbert Lawrence defined as the “eternal song of the sea”– the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks.
Tip: At Bar La Marina, also run only by women, you can eat delicious Ligurian focaccia with pesto (and possibly anchovies), accompanied by an excellent glass of Vermentino from the hills of Luni. All this with a sea view.
Fiascherino, known for its connection to the sea, is located halfway between Lerici and Tellaro. The rocky coast offers an alternative to crowded beaches; it’s customary to lie on the rocks in the shade of the maritime pines. But this doesn’t mean that Fiascherino is lacking in comfort.
Tip: Eco del Mare, in Maramozza, is a resort complete with a beach club and restaurant that enchants with its simple beauty in every detail. It’s an idyllic place, suspended between land and sea.
La Serra is a small hamlet of Lerici, most suitable for those looking for hiking trails and who prefer to observe the sea from above. From here, the panorama is not to be missed. You can see Lerici in the foreground, followed by San Terenzo, and the islands of the archipelago Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. This hamlet curiously has ancient defensive walls despite the elevated and hilly location.
Lerici smells of bougainvillea and sea, fresh fish and endless nights of Italian summer. Lerici is synonymous with exquisite focaccia, but for a fried food that meets all expectations, Siamo Fritti, in the heart of the town, is the right destination. The pier of Lerici is full of bars, restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy the sunset. I particularly recommend La Conscienza di Zeno.
The magic happens when you go down to the center via the staircase (located on the side of the road that leads from Lerici to Tellaro), where you often meet a characteristic cat waiting for the owner to return.
The village of Le Grazie is nestled among the dense olive trees between the Pezzino and Varignano promontory and is protected by the hills of Castellana and Muzzerone. In addition to the scenic attractions, the charm of Le Grazie is contained in its historical and archaeological wealth. The village takes its name from the Church of Our Lady of Grace around which it is built.
A small sailor village, Porto Venere’s name itself is a real poem. The name derives from the temple dedicated to the Goddess Venus Ericina (one of the cults of the Roman goddess Venus, protector of fertility and formerly known as Aphrodite Ericina) that stood on the same place where the Church of San Pietro stands today. The temple was placed wisely if you believe Venus was born from a shell that came out of the sea. (The famous cave of Lord Byron is also located in Porto Venere.)
Renowned commercial and military port, La Spezia is the second largest city in Liguria. The numerous museums testify to La Spezia’s rich history (especially those dedicated to maritime heritage).
Finally, the archipelago in the waters of Portovenere is made up of the three islands–from largest to smallest Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. (It’s possible to stay on Palmaria, where less than 50 people live, while the latter two are for visiting only.) The three, together with Porto Venere and Cinque Terre, have been included in the list of UNESCO heritage sites. From Porto Venere, the three islands are easily reachable by boat.