Beaches overlooking a crystal-clear sea, spectacular views, a marvelous artistic legacy, and small villages set within green valleys, alive with ancient traditions: all this and much more await the visitor in the Province of La Spezia.
One of the most wonderful stretches of the Ligurian Riviera can be found here: Golfo dei Poeti, Poets’ Gulf, named for the love that many great writers and poets have demonstrated for this land.
Steep cliffs, dense pine woods, romantic coves and exceptional beaches, along with picturesque villages perched atop the bluffs, draw the coastal landscape, striking the visitor's eye with all their beauty.
Lerici, Portovenere, the Island of Palmaria and the Islets of Tino and Tinetto are the best-known destinations, with La Spezia at the Gulf's center.
Eventually, the visitor arrives at one of the most beautiful scenes of Italy, the Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (together with Porto Venere) for their extraordinary relationship between man and nature, a harmonious balance that stuns the visitor.
The Cinque Terre ("the Five Lands") are five villages - Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.
These are places to discover one after the other, with each boasting its own natural and artistic treasures.
Along the furthest stretch of La Spezia's coast lie Levanto, Bonassola, Framura and Deiva Marina, charming villages surrounded by cliffs and beaches, by green hills and the beautiful sea.
La Spezia Province, however, is not made up of its littoral alone. The interior has many hidden treasures as well.
Green forests, rolling hills, wide valleys marked by the many streams, and Medieval villages unite to form astonishing landscape, filled with history and ancient traditions, removed from the noise of modern life, where people still lovingly work the land - actions reciprocated, of course, by the harvests that characterize the local cuisine.
The beauty of the coast and the maritime villages are, undoubtedly, the main attraction of the area; however, La Spezia has in store a few surprises. A walk along the promenade reveals a great panorama over the entire bay, with the Apuan Alps dominating the view. Another scenic gem can be admired from Castello di San Giorgio, renovated over time and recently restored to house the Museo Civico Formentini and its interesting archaeological collection. Among the other museums, noteworthy are the CAMeC – the Center for Modern and Contemporary Art - exhibiting a vast collection from the early 20th Century, and the Museo Civico Amedeo Lia, with masterpieces from Sebastiano del Piombo, Tintoretto, Tiziano and Pontormo.
Lerici and Porto Venere, facing each other across the Gulf of La Spezia, are must-see destinations. The icon of Lerici is its impressive Castle, one of the most interesting defensive structures in the Region, and whence one can enjoy an unobstructed view of Palmaria Island. Narrow carruggi and steep stairs wind past the picturesque houses of Lerici’s old town.
Art, nature and the sea are the three elements that set apart Porto Venere, with its small port at the bottom of the old town, the steep stairs that give the impression of hanging suspended over the cliff, and the brightly-colored houses dotting the green of the maquis. Visit the small Church of San Pietro - which seems to be one with the rock upon which it is built - and the Islets of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, now part of the Porto Venere Natural Park.
Less known, yet charming, are Ameglia, Tellaro, Bocca di Magra and Montemarcello, immersed in a gorgeous scenery: a steep slope to the sea, with multi-colored homes hanging onto the rock, and terraces with vineyards and olive groves, cliffs and coves open to a deep blue sea. The landscape seems but a painting and a harbinger of what is to come,i.e. the Cinque Terre.
Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are "five lands" marked by their incomparable beauty. Visit them one after the other along the Via dell'Amore or "Way of Love," the high-altitude path that links them all. It is the ideal itinerary for enjoying artistic and historical treasures, and for discovering the remotest corners of the area; each step is accompanied by colors and scents of agave, broom and mimosa.
Past the Cinque Terre, our tour traces the coast, where nature dominates yet where the towns offer all the comforts. Also known as the Valle dei Borghi Rotondi (the "Valley of the Rotund Villages"), Val di Vara is dotted with age-old charming villages; here the streets, piazzas and houses follow a plan dominated by the church or castle, as is the case with Medieval urban planning. Fresh streams cross the dense woods and the green valleys.
Remarkable are the Castle overlooking Varese Ligure, built around the Church of San Filippo Neri and Santa Teresa d’Avila, and the Brugnato Cathedral, erected upon an old Benedictine settlement, now visible through glass. Val di Magra is a variety of landscapes in one, lying between two mountain ranges and traversed by the homonymous River. Ancient villages, characterized by their Medieval plans, are scattered around this expanse on the border with Tuscany.
In addition to a visit to the two Fortresses and the Cathedral, every year Sarzana hosts cultural events and festivals to celebrate the local products. The Guinigi Tower, 108 ft high, rises above the town of Ortonovo, famous for its proximity to one of the nation’s most important archaeological sites – Luni – with its remains from the ancient Roman town.
In every line and curve, the Province of La Spezia is a remarkable exemplar of Mother Nature's magnificent beauty.
From mountains, valleys, and streams to beaches and the sea, its components and the ways to explore them are limitless.
Beginning at La Spezia's characteristic shoreline is practically obligatory.
So rich and beautiful, it is now a protected area, i.e. the Cinque Terre National Park.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are ideal modes for discovering the underwater treasures of this great marine heritage.
Sea fans and neptune grass, rocks and walls, caves and sudden drops are fascinating elements in and of themselves for those that seek to experience the profundities of the sea.
Every summer, whales, sperm whales and dolphins gather in the Cetacean Sanctuary where the Cinque Terre are situated; thus a whale watching excursion is an exhilarating experience for children and adults alike, a way to become more familiar with these gentle giants, and to learn the rules of conduct and conservation. The Sentiero Azzurro, or Blue Trail, meanders along the coast between Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Manarola, Coniglia and Vernazza. It is an opportunity like no other for enthusiasts of wilderness trekking and hiking. The stretch of land between Riomaggiore and Monterosso, carved in the rock during the railroad construction of the early 20th Century, is now called Via dell’Amore for the beauty of its panorama, rendering it ideal for romantic walks.
Canoeing, kayaking, rafting, canyoning and hydrospeed are fun ways to explore the waters of the Vara and Magra Rivers that meander past woods, rocks, caves and beaches.
Scenic hiking trails traverse the two valleys of the area and the Montemarcello-Magra Reserve. Whether trekking, mountain biking or horseback riding, innumerable are the ways to savor this pristine wilderness.
"Winetrekking" is a new and original mode of travel that fuses art, history, nature and the wines (along with tastings) produced in the environs of La Spezia.
Festivals, concerts and other cultural events are held almost everywhere; these are joyful gatherings where one can discover local traditions and products, spanning from cuisine to the handicrafts. Noteworthy is the Palio del Golfo dei Poeti, in La Spezia, a rowing competition between the 13 maritime contradas (or neighborhood teams) of the Gulf of Poets, always initiated with a themed costume parade.
Wine and olive oil make up the foundation of the local cuisine.
The vineyards that cover the sunny terraces and the Magra Valley Hills are the evidence of La Spezia Province's ancient viticultural tradition.
All this is evident, not only upon enjoying the scents and essences of this land, but when tasting a glass of one of the local wines.
The Luni Hills, Levanto Hills and Cinque Terre wines mate perfectly with the local gastronomy, simple and flavorful at the same time.
Golden with shades of amber, intense and persistent aroma with hints of apricot, dried fruit and acacia honey, this is the Sciacchetrà, the famous D.O.C. wine, ideal with sharp cheeses and, and its stronger, sweeter version, with pastry.
Another key component is the extra-virgin olive oil, obtained from the vast expanses of olive groves on the coast and further inland. The oil produced in this particular area between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian Sea is protected by the Riviera Ligure D.O.P. label. The local Riviera Ligure olive oil Consortium associates the qualifying producers of the four Ligurian provinces and guarantees their accordance with the rules of the Protected Origin Denomination.
The area's unique oil enhances the preparation of the local recipes, based mainly on the fish caught in the clean waters of the Ligurian Sea.
Among such delicacies are the ‘muscoli ripieni alla Vecchia Spezia,’ mussels stuffed with eggs, bread, mortadella, parmigiano, parsley and olive oil.
Excellent are also the Monterosso anchovies, either fresh with some lemon juice, fried, stuffed or pickled.
The fainà, or farinata, is a flatbread made with chickpeas, while the mesciùa (mix) is a delicious legume and cereal soup topped with a few drops of the precious local oil and black pepper.
Pizza, focaccias and handmade pasta are of course particular and made in abundance, as well as the trofie al pesto, now widespread throughout the Region.