Cinque Terre, Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Sestri Levante… you have probably heard of Liguria’s most famous attractions. Yet, this narrow and long Italian region also offers a ton of off-the-beaten-track destinations, hidden gems waiting to be discovered and appreciated for all their beauty, history and heritage.
One of such places is the Gulf of La Spezia, also known as Bay of Poets. Are you intrigued by its name? Let’s find out why you should include this beautiful destination in your next Italian travel itinerary or consider it as a venue for an authentic special occasion!
A poetic background
The most mesmerizing aspect of the Bay of Poets – whether you arrive here by sea or by land – is its dramatic scenery, a sort of “water amphitheater” that is a true feast for your eyes and soul. The name of the gulf itself stems from the inspiration that the area has had on poets and artists who have been struck by its beauty. Among them: writers David Herbert Lawrence and Percy Bysshe Shelley, writer and painter George Sand, painter Arnold Böcklin, and the poets Gabriele D’Annunzio and Lord Byron. Italian playwright and essayist Sam Benelli coined the name Bay of Poets (Golfo dei Poeti) in 1919, while he was in the area working on the play called “La cena delle beffe” (The Jesters’ Supper).
Even the early-Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli created one of his most iconic masterpieces, the Birth of Venus, after visiting the local village of Fezzano. In fact, here is where he met Simonetta Vespucci, whom he chose to represent Venus in the painting. According to some art experts, the bays he depicted on the right-hand side actually represent the Gulf of La Spezia with the promontories of Fezzano, Pezzino, Varignano and Palmaria Island.
Location, location, location… and hidden gems
The Gulf of Poets enjoys a truly remarkable location, as it stretches between the renowned Cinque Terre and the fancy areas of Versilia and Forte dei Marmi on the northern coast of Tuscany.
The landscape is typical of the rugged Ligurian Riviera. It features colorful medieval villages, ancient forts that overlook the bay, and terraced hills with lush Mediterranean vegetation and vineyards.
One of the most surprising villages here is Portovenere (also spelled Porto Venere). It has been dubbed by some as “the Sixth Land”, for such is its beauty that it should be part of the other “five lands” (Cinque Terre). Even UNESCO has recognized its uniqueness by listing it as a World Heritage Site along with its surrounding islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, and the neighboring Cinque Terre:
“The Ligurian coast between Cinque Terre and Portovenere is a cultural landscape of great scenic and cultural value. The layout and disposition of the small towns and the shaping of the surrounding landscape, overcoming the disadvantages of a steep, uneven terrain, encapsulate the continuous history of human settlement in this region over the past millennium.”
Among the highlights in Portovenere are the Church of San Pietro, perched on a rock spur protruding into the sea; the panoramic Doria Castle; the pretty, narrow shopping alley called carugio; and the lovely Palmaria Island.
On the opposite side of the Bay of Poets is another gem, Lerici. Its grace is such that poets like Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley chose it as their home in the early 1800s. Lerici’s Castello di San Giorgio is a glorious castle that has looked this way since 1555 and that hosts the Museum of Geo-Paleontology with life-size, three-dimensional reconstructions of dinosaurs and other reptiles found in Italy.
The Bay of Poets offers a series of lovely seafront villages, such as Le Grazie, Fezzano, San Terenzo and Tellaro. Even though the town of Sarzana it is not located directly on the sea, it is only a 15-minute drive away from Lerici going inland, and it is therefore associated with the area around the Gulf of La Spezia. Local archaeologic ruins – especially the standing stones known as statue menhir – suggest that the area was already inhabited during Neolithic times. Sarzana features a charming and lively historic center, often busy with artistic and cultural events.
A sensorial journey along the Bay of Poets
Although associated with the hot summer months due to the sea and local beaches, the Bay of Poets offers a ton of activities that make it a great destination in the off-peak season too!
Combine sight with taste: just imagine yourself gazing at the unique coastline from a boat, while savoring wine from the Cinque Terre and fresh local fish on the rustic wooden deck. One of the typical food items in the culinary tradition of the villages overlooking the Gulf of La Spezia is the muscolo or mitilo, a Mediterranean mussel. As you sail the waters between Portovenere and Lerici, you can spot grid patterns formed by poles, floats and ropes that are home to these bivalves, which are an object of aquaculture. You can also meet local fishermen, called muscolai, and learn about their life at sea and ancient traditions.
Rediscover the senses of taste and smell by visiting local wine cellars, by exploring organic farms on the typically terraced hills, and by participating in wine tastings and in cooking lessons with local chefs. Visit the Museum of Wine Material Culture near Sarzana, where you can admire a collection of ancient agricultural tools and follow an itinerary that reproduces five characteristic scenes of the agricultural sector: the soil, the harvest, the artisan, the cellar, the wine.
Meet expert artisans in Portovenere’s ancient carugio street, peeking into their laboratories and workshops, and touching their handmade creations. Pottery, jewels, basil and pesto shops, chocolatiers, glassmakers: learn about each art through first-hand storytelling! In Lerici, visit the whitewashed Villa Magni to relive the myth of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, listening to the stories of their time spent on the Bay of Poets.
All of the available activities, which include trekking and eco-sports in Palmaria Island and in the Nature Parks of Portovenere and the Cinque Terre, make the area ideal for team-building outings and for enriching family & friend reunions.
The amazing landscapes and historic buildings – especially churches and castles – make the Bay of Poets one of the most romantic places for an authentic destination wedding.
If you need any help in planning and organizing your special occasion in Italy, do not hesitate to contact us for out-of-the-box, inspiring ideas and solutions!