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Portovenere is one of the several picturesque towns that you can visit during a holiday in Liguria. It is located at about 15 km from the city of La Spezia, just at the end of a peninsula surrounded by the beautiful sea of Golfo di La Spezia.
Like the near villages of the Cinque Terre, Portovenere has narrow streets, pastel colored houses perched on the cliffs and historical building. With Cinque Terre and Palmaria island, Portovenere is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites.
What to see in Portovenere
Portovenere is perfect for a day trip. Here are some of its main attractions. St. Peter’s Church If you arrive in Portovenre by ferry, one of the first things you see as you approach the coast is the church of St. Peter perched on a rocky spur. Probably at the beginning you will mistake it for a castle because of its tower and walls.
This church was built from the 5th century, but it is very well preserved and can be visited. Its main feature is the decoration of black and white bands that can be seen both outside and inside. St. Lorenzo’s Church St. Lorenzo’s Church was built in the 12th century, and then restored and enlarged between 1494 and 1582.
It dominates the historic center of Portovenere and is quite close to the Doria castle. It is said that it was built where once was a temple dedicated to Jupiter.
This church is also known as the Sanctuary of the White Holy Lady.
A legend says that in 1399, during a plague, a man was praying for the salvation of the town while sitting in front of an image depicting the Virgin Mary when suddenly the colors of the picture started to shine brightly. Shortly after the plague disappeared and the event started to be considered a miracle.
The painting was then placed into the church of San Lorenzo where is still nowadays. The Virgin Mary depicted in it has a very light skin color, this is why she is called the White Madonna.
The Doria Castle The fortress is situated on a rocky hill overlooking Portovenere. It is an imposing, severe, bare building.
Once the access was through a drawbridge, but it no longer exists, even though the sliding slits for the ties are still visible. Today the access is through an impressive portal.
Nobody knows the actual date of construction of the first Doria Castle, perhaps it was built during the 12th century. However, it is during the 17th century that it started to look like what we see today. The castle is open to visits. One of its main features is the wonderful view of the city and the church of St. Peter that can be seen from its position.
Palmaria Island Palmaria Island is part of an archipelago with the islands of Tino and Tinetto.
It is the largest island in Liguria, located in front of Portovenere and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Those who loves hiking and walking will love Palmaria. On the islands there are plenty of paths completely immersed in nature.
Moreover, from its top it’s possible to enjoy one of the most stunning views of Portovenere.
On Palmaria there are many historical military buildings and also an abandoned quarry, from which people used to extract a precious black marble with golden streaks, called Portoro.
The abandoned cranes and the ruins of the miners’ houses are still there.
The Arpaia Grotto Also known as Byron Grotto, the Arpaia Grotto is one of the most famous natural attractions of Portovenere. Actually, the whole area around the town is characterized by sea caves. On the island of Palmaria they are more than 30!
The Arpaia Grotto is located near the church of San Pietro and the walls of the Doria castle. As you can imagine, its name comes from the English poet Lord Byron, who used to spend time in the grotto.
A legend says that Lord Byron swam from Portovenere to the nearby Lerici to reach his friend, the poet Shelley. It’s about 8 kilometers! The Byron Grotto is up to 20 meters deep, with a sandy bottom, fish-rich waters and rocks covered with colored anemones and crustaceans. It’s an incredibly fascinating place to visit.
As you can see, Portovenere is a lovely town and there are many things worth visiting during your day trip. I am sure you will collect unforgettable memories.
Liguria in April starts to be even more enjoyable than usual. Trees and flowers are in bloom and the warmer temperatures invite people to go out, take a walk in the parks or along the seafronts.
Day trips to Cinque Terre or cities like Genoa or Sanremo are a must during the weekends.
If you are coming to Liguria in April, many are the events that are held all around the region.
Among those, I’ve chosen 3 that I find particularly interesting for 2019.
Easter in Rapallo
Some days before Easter Sunday, a gigantic decorated egg is placed at the Chiosco della Musica at the seafront of Rapallo. The egg is an empty structure made of wood and iron that contains toys, sweets and other surprises for children. 100 of them can try to break the egg on Easter Sunday but it’s not an easy task! What if they aren’t able? Well, some members of the organization body will break the egg and distribute small chocolate eggs and surprises to all the children.
This event is particularly dedicated to children but adults will surely have fun watching them putting all their efforts to destroy the gigantic egg. Moreover, in Easter the town of Rapallo is embellished with all the floral sculptures of the local floral festival.
If you are brave and weather is good, Easter Sunday is a good day for trying to take the first swim in the sea.
The Flower Festival of Albenga
Liguria in April is all about flowers! They are the most typical product of this region, so it’s quite common to find events connected to them almost everywhere during Spring.
From the 20th of April to the 12th of May 2019 Albenga host the floral festival of Fiori d’Albenga.
For a month the historic center of the town is transformed into a huge floral park, with floral sculptures, beautiful flower beds and street stands dedicated to flowers and aromatic plants.
You can simply walk through the street and enjoy the view or attend to some of the collateral events, such as guided tours, art exhibitions, concerts.
On weekends Fiori d’Albenga includes some culinary events as well, usually dedicated to the 4 exceptional local variety of artichokes, asparagus, zucchini and tomatoes. However, this year there’s something new! Some of the menus will be all about flowers.
If you have never eaten flowers, well, that’s an opportunity!
Albenga is a lovely town that has preserved the ancient Roman structure with two main streets intersecting at the center, but it is also a medieval town, with several medieval tower, the cathedral and the baptistry that ooze the atmosphere of past time.
The Kite Festivals
Liguria in April 2019 will host kite festivals.
Is there anything more fascinating than watching kites floating in the air during a spring day?
Kite pilots and amateurs from all over Europe gather on the beach of Andora bringing their kites with them. Some are small and fast, others huge and static, some are simple, others are elaborate but all of them are colored and wonderful.
At the kite festival of Andora you can enjoy spectacular exhibitions of kites, battle of rokkaku, a typical Japanese kite, and attend to free kite piloting lessons. I read that this year a huge kite will drop candies all over the visitors.
Don’t expect a huge festival with thousands of people. It is more an intimate event in which you can easily start to chat with the one sitting next to you and calmly enjoy the seaside.
A similar kite festival is held in Imperia, however this festival is aimed to educate people about the importance of respecting the environment.
On the beach of Borgo Marina, world-famous kite pilots will perform with kites of all shapes and sizes. You can lay down on the sand and watch the choreographies and the acrobatic flights and once you are tired of them you can visit the stands that sell local products or attend to one of the collateral events.
Both the Andora and Imperia Kite Festival are held on the 6th and 7th of April.
Of course, Liguria in April has plenty of other scheduled events for visitors and residents. I’m sure that wherever you are going you will surely find something interesting to do.
The Carnival of Sanremo is an event that you should consider to attend if you are in Liguria around the 10th of March 2019.
Sanremo is a lovely coastal city, particularly famous in Italy for two reasons. First, it hosts the most popular music festival of the country. Second, the area of Sanremo is home of an intense production of flowers, that’s why it’s called the Floral City.
Sanremo, the Floral City
Sanremo is located a few kilometers from the French border and the city of Nice.
It’s the most appreciated tourist destination on the Riviera dei Fiori, a stretch of the Ligurian coast in which wonderful flowers are cultivated and exported all over the world. Just to give you an example, the flowers that decorate the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Viennafor the New Year’s Concert come from Sanremo.
The mild climate, the architecture of the buildings, the casinò and the many ornamental plants that embellish the streets make Sanremo an elegant city, particularly perfect for those who are looking for a luxury-like holiday.
The city administration has always considered thefloriculture as a fundamental activity for the local economy, that’s why they turn every public space into a showcase for carnations, roses and other pants. Not only the native ones. Along the streets of Sanremo you can see palm trees and other exotic plants that have adapted well to the city’s favorable climate.
Walking along the alleys or the promenade is a truly pleasant and relaxing experience, but if you want to enjoy flowers and plants at their best you should visits some of the lovely city gardens, such as the Marsiglia garden with its small rills, ponds and small waterfalls.
In Saremo there are also plenty of gorgeous villas built during the 19th century, like those along Corso. Unfortunately most of them are private and their gardens can be visited. Villa Zirio, Bellevue Palace, Villa Ormond and Villa Nobel are open to public.
The Carnival Floats of Sanremo
Flowers are the backbone of the Carnival of Sanremo.
The first edition of the Carnival of Sanremo took place in 1904 and it was just a parade of carriages decorated with flowers. However, this simple idea was so appreciated that in a few years it became an annual event and was also broadcast on tv. Then, I don’t know the reason, the parade was held for almost 20 years and was resumed only in the 80s, when the carriages were replaced with carnival floats.
A similar parade of floral floats takes place also during Carnival of Acireale However, the floats of the Carnival Of Sanremo aren’t only decorated with flowers. They are completely made of them!
The construction of the float itself may last a few months, but the positioning of every single flower to create the characters and the sets has to be done in a single night, in order to preserve the freshness, the colors and the scents of the flowers.
It’s a huge job! It requires a lot of care, love and high quality flowers.
The result is so beautiful that every year thousands of people come to Sanremo for the parade.
The parade takes place along the promenade and the floats are accompanied by musical bands and figures in costumes. Everyone can watch the parade, since the access to the course is free, but there are also some stands with paid seats.
If you’ve never been to Liguria, the Carnival of Sanremo and its floral parade are a good excuse to plan a holiday.
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Dolceacqua is a small medieval town located in Liguria, a few kilometers from the French border. It’s surrounded by green hills and crossed by the homonymous creek.
Its name, translatable into Sweet Water, may give you a hint about how beautiful it is. Consider that the painter Claude Monet, during his visit, loved the view so much that he depicted Dolceacqua in some of his paintings.
The charm of this town is due also to the fact that it didn’t change much throughout the centuries. On one side of the creek is the district of Terra, the historical part of the town. On the other side, there is the district of Borgo, where the modern houses are built. These two parts are connected by a perfect Roman single arch bridge. Built in the 14th century, it is 33 meters high.
The narrow streets made of stones, called Carruggi, connects the buildings towards the hill on which a castle overlook the town.
Just to let you know, only 2,000 people are living in Dolceacqua nowadays.
What to see Iin Dolceacqua
Besides the Roman bridge, the other main attraction of town is the castle, Castello Doria.
I didn’t find any information about the exact date of its construction, but I read that at the end of the 12th century it was already there. Initially Castello Doria in Dolceacqua was a simple circular tower, which is now is still visible at the center of the castle. In the 16th century a bastion and two identical square towers were added.
The façade with these two towers still looks quite intact, while the rest is marked by time. However, the remains of the castle have been restored and can be visited. The rooms host temporary exhibitions and information on the history of the castle.
The highlight of Castello Doria is certainly the panorama that you can seen from its position. A panoramic walk has been created to allow visitors to admire, using binoculars, every detail of the town, the valley up to the sea and the Alps.
As any other city or town in Italy, churches are worth a visit for the artistic and architectural value.
There are several country chapels scattered over the hills surrounding Dolceacqua, such as the chapel of San Bernardo, Saint Bernard.
At the entrance of the town is the Romanesque church of San Giorgio, Saint George, built in the 12th century. Behind the ancient appearance the church preserves the tombs of two historical figures, Stefano Doria and Giulio Doria.
Another church to see is Sant’Antonio Abate, Saint Anthony the Great. This church has a colored façade and the interior has rich decorations.
What to eat and drink in Dolceacqua
The typical products of Dolceacqua are linked to the geography and the climate of Liguria. They are more than one, but the most famous is the wine called Rossese of Dolceacqua. It’s a red wine, slightly bitter, perfect for meat dishes, such as the Cunio, rabbit in a casserole. Rossese of Dolceacqua is produced in a very limited number of bottles because its grapes grow on inaccessible areas, which make the farming quite difficult and almost totally manual.
As for the gastronomy, I would recommend two dishes.
First, the Barbagiuai, which are fried fagottini made with ravioli pasta, boiled pumpkin purée, seasoned with spicy cheese, eggs, garlic and parsley.
Second, the Michette which are a kind of simple brioche baked in the oven and sprinkled with sugar.
Special events in Dolceacqua
People in Dolceacqua are still tied to some ancient traditions. One is the procession of San Sebastiano that takes place on the 20th of January.
In the days preceding the procession, the members of a local ancient brotherhood cut and shape a large laurel shrub. They decorate each branch with colorful hosts which were prepared the nights ahead.
Then, expert craftsmen make the shrub thicker by adding fronds from other plants, carving the original trunk and supporting the structure with special tie rods. It’s a long work that need patience and skills.
At the end of the procession, the branches are cut off and offered to everyone in exchange for a spontaneous donation. The frond at the top is given to the person who donated the laurel.
I like the relaxed atmosphere and the lovely surroundings of Dolceacqua. They make a walk through it a wonderful way to discover Liguria outside the most tourist places. I hope you will visit this town soon or later.
If you areplanning a trip to Liguria during Christmas, I recommend adding to yourwish list a visit to the town of Manarola and its nativity scene.
Manarola andCinque Terre
Manarola is one of the towns known as Cinque Terre. I have already written an article about Cinque Terre, but it is good to make a small refresh.
Cinque Terre are 5 ancient fishing villages wedged between the indented coastline of Liguria and the sea. They are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Their unique atmosphere is due to the isolated position that protected them from modernity, keeping them exactly as they were in the past.
Thanks to their colorful buildings, the narrow and steep streets and the spectacular sea views these villages look like movie sets.
The uniqueness is so appreciated worldwide that in 1997 Cinque Terre were included by UNESCO in the World Heritage list.
Manarola is the second village of Cinque Terre, leaving from La Spezia.
The town has grown around the main street, from which narrow stone-paved alleys reach the houses and gardens perched on the promontory.
One of its most peculiar elements is the white pyramid that rises above the roofs. It’s not a religious or Masonic symbol, but a trigonometric signal for sailors.
In Manarola, as in the other villages of Cinque Terre, you can enjoy beautiful sea views. I think the most popular place in town is the panoramic square at the end of Via Belvedere.
Cinque Terreare particularly visited during the summer, since it’s the best season to enjoythe seaside life and the beautiful hiking trails, such as the famous Viadell’Amore. But these towns can be really suggestive even in winter.Christmas makes everything more magical, indeed!
This is particularly natavity scene
The Nativity Scene of Manarola
Nativity scenes are a popular Christmas tradition in Italy.
We call them ‘presepi’ and we reproduce them almost everywhere: at homes, churches, even under the sea! We use every kind of material, techniques or style, taking advantage of our creativity.
Mr. Mario Andreoli, an employee of the Italian railways, has taken this tradition to another level.
Every year, since 1976, he sets up a unique nativity scene on a hill slope above Manarola,
He designs, assembles and places nearly 300 life-size light shapes depicting Mary, baby Jesus, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, but also shepherds, peasants, angels, fishermen and more.
This unique nativity scene is made of recycled materials and needs thousands of light bulbs and electric cables, but it is an eco friendly installation, powered by a photovoltaic system.
The 4000 square meters of steep ground on which it is set up are not easy to reach. However, the final result is worth the strain.
First of all, it is reported to be the biggest light nativity scene in the world. Then, the lighting ceremony is a special event both for the local community and tourists. It usually takes place on December 8th and Mr. Andreoli himself presses the button that turns on the lights.
On the same day, Manarola hosts a religious torchlight procession, a small Christmas market and a great fireworks show above the sea. It’s a rich day, in which this quiet village is filled with life, colors and music.
In my opinion, Christmas has the power to enhance the beauty of this lovely town.
If you can’t attend the lighting ceremony, don’t worry, this year the nativity scene of Manarola will be lit every evening, until January 27th, 2019.
Where to see the Nativity Scene of Manarola
You can have one of the best views walking along the path between Manarola and Riomaggiore. There are 3 small observation areas, at different levels. To reach them you have to climb for hundreds of steps, so wear appropriate shoes and take a torch with you, as the trail is not lit during the night. I suggest you to find someone who knows the trail and can bring you safely to the right spots, such as a local guide.
Otherwise, the nativity scene can be easily seen also from the central square of Manarola.
But the most esclusive observation point is…from the sea!
Can you immagine something more suggestive than seeing the lights of the nativity scene perched on the promontory of Manarola from a boat that gently slips on the water, surrounded by the night?
How to reach Manarola
The panoramicroad from La Spezia leads to a small paid parking just outside the town.You must leave your car there, since Manarola, like the other villages ofCinque Terre, is closed to traffic. Unfortunately, the parking lot gets full quickly. For these reasons, the car is not the best choice to reachManarola.
Instead, by train is way simpler. There are frequent regional trains that lead to theCinque Terre stations, especially from the city of La Spezia.
Manarola andits nativity scene are just one of the various enjoyable things to see in Liguriaduring Christmas. Many are the traditions and the events linked to this special period of the year. If you are planning a holiday in Italy and wantto find the perfect accommodation near Cinque Terre, please check out our luxury villas and apartments.
One of the best things of Italy is that there is plenty of culture, food, art and beautiful landscapes and cities that make traveling a great experience even off-season. In particular, Liguria, with its mix of mountains and sea, is something special.
The most touristic spots in Liguria, like Cinque Terre, may look a little desolated in winter but, without the crowds, they acquire a more authentic atmosphere.
On the contrary, the largest cities, such as Genoa or La Spezia, offer museums, exhibitions, nightlife and activities throughout the year.
Moreover, as already said, mountains are really close and this is great if you like skiing.
Since many of the accommodations owned by My Rental Homes are located near La Spezia, I think it’s a good idea to talk about this city.
I decided to focus on the urban interesting places, leaving aside museums and historical spots.
The center of La Spezia: Via del Prione, Art Nuveau and Piazza Garibaldi
Of course you cannot avoid a walk through the center of the city.
Many streets are straight lines but they are placed on different levels, which means you have to climb stairs but you also can see the city from different points of view.
Via del Prione is a shopping street with nice historical buildings.
In La Spezia it’s easy to find Liberty Style buildings. One of them is the Civic Theater, first built in 1846. It hosts many shows, especially in winter, and is one of the venues of the La Spezia International Jazz Festival.
Between Via del Prione e Via Garibaldi is Piazza Garibaldi. This square itself is nice but nothing special. However, the Carrara marble fountain is something you should see, since is one of the most photographed spot in La Spezia.
The fountain depicts two sails but if you look at them from a certain angle they form the shape of an heart.
The Gulf of Poets in La Spezia: The Promenade of Costantino Morin, Ponte Thaon and Porto Mirabello.
Walking along a promenade that faces the sea is always romantic, isn’t it?
Doesn’t matter if it’s during a hot clear summer afternoon or a cloudy winter morning.
One of the best spots to enjoy the views on the Gulf of Poets is the historic Promenade of Costantino Morin, adorned with palms and flowerbeds.
The view ranges from the Apuan Alps to the east, to the jagged coast towards Porto Venere to the west.
If you are an early bird and weather is fine I suggest you to watch the sunrise from the Promenade. The sun rises above the sea, while the docked boats gently swing, the air is crispy and almost nobody is around…
The Thaon di Revel pedestrian bridge connects the public gardens to Porto Mirabello and offers some other great views.
It’s a modern cable-stayed bridge made of white steel. It is both functional and elegant.
Its name -that could sound like a Games of Thrones character’s one- comes from the World War I admiral of the Italian navy, Paolo Emilio Thaon di Revel.
Porto Mirabello is a great place for shopping, restaurants and if you want to take a closer look to some luxury yachts.
Don’t forget to stop at the bizarre statue of a wet girl dragging a whale and let me know if you figure out the meaning.
What to eat in La Spezia: from the market in Piazza Cavour to the restaurants
Every morning, from Monday to Saturday, the covered market in Piazza Cavour awaits its customers with fresh fish, local products, vegetables and flowers. It’s the right place to buy some good Pesto sauce.
Since La Spezia is a Ligurian city, Pasta with Pesto is something you have to try, especially if you have never eaten fresh handmade Pesto sauce.
Just a little refresh for those who doesn’t know what Pesto is.
It’s a a sauce made from basil leave, garlic, grated Pecorino and Parmigiano cheese and pine nuts, all smashed in a mortar and blended with oil of olive. It’s fantastic!
The Ligurian cuisine is a poor cuisine, as it originates from the habits of country people, mountaineers and fishermen.
It is based on simple, common and cheap ingredients. Just to give you a couple of examples, the famous Ligurian Focaccia is a flat bread with salt and oil of olive, and the Farinata is a very thin salted cake made of chickpea flour, salt and extra virgin olive oil. They may seems similar and too simple to be good, actually they taste different and they are really great – especially as a street food.
Two other typical dishes to try during your stay in La Spezia are Testaroli and Mesciua.
Testaroli are a kind of pasta made of flour, salt and water.
The batter is baked in special terracotta or cast iron containers, called Testo (that’s where the name ‘Testaroli’ comes from). Then, they are cooked as normal pasta, in boiling salty water, and seasoned with a sauce similar to pesto.
Mesciua is soup prepared with a mix of cereals and legumes that changes based on availability or personal taste. The name means ‘mixture’.
Liguria in Winter is a good destination for a trip and you cannot miss to visit La Spezia. Just remember that the weather can be unstable. Rains and winds are not rare, and temperatures may get low. So, remember to take with you an umbrella and some warm clothes to protect you from the cold.
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