27 June 2011

Castle to Castle Along the Gulf of the Poets - A Travel Guide


The Most Romantic Walk in Liguria - Lerici to San Terenzo
Lerici Castle to Castle Walk
Gulf of Spezia (1884)   Henry Roderick Newman    Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Whatever romantic notions of Italy your soul harbors, this is the walk that will indulge them.  The painter Henry Roderick Newman clearly felt the romance as he painted the San Terenzo/Lerici shore, framed by its two castles, over 125 years ago.  Good writers and poets of every sort have striven to communicate the experience of these towns and this Gulf, and for good reason - this area is prose and it is poetry. Even though these villages and their little bays have been discovered as many times as love, it's your turn now. 

The small harbor of Lerici now has a lungomare (seaside walk) along the entire length of its shore, from the Castle of Lerici to the Castle of San Terenzo, and a bit beyond. The walk has a wonderful Ligurian feel and is so full of sights and sounds that you can walk it 50 times - and we have - and not tire of it. The length is only about 3 kilometers each way, but you should allow at least a half a day, including a lunch or a dinner. There are two towns to explore, four beaches, two castles, many restaurants, many stores, a harbor, and, not least, lots of people. For ideas on where to stay, what to eat, and other practical info, scroll way down.

Lerici Harbor

Read Below
   
  The Walk from Lerici to San Terenzo
  Arrival

  Parking
  Bus / Taxi / Boat Info
  Where to Stay
  Restaurants
  More Information.


The Walk. Along this shore, the Gulf of the Poets - as it's been called for the last century - meets the land  in a series of five scalloped bays.  The order in which you encounter them will depend on how you arrive, but this description proceeds from Lerici Castle toward San Terenzo (i.e. toward La Spezia). Orient yourself by looking at our Overview Map.

Lerici, a small port in Liguria
Lerici Harbor from the Castle
The largest bay is the harbor of Lerici, with its boat moorings overseen by its prominent castle. The castle was built by Pisa in the 1200's and is one of the most beautiful in Liguria, a superb example of military architecture. It is now a visitable Museum of Palaeontology, and it's worth a climb if only for the views of the Gulf, and the walk around the castle perimeter. The stairs up are accessible from the harborside molo (quay) which is interesting on it's own as there's a fish market, a breakwater, good views of Lerici, and the activity of the fishing and sport boats. When descending from the castle, follow the little alley-like streets inland and down. Walking among the crowded hillside buildings makes it easy to imagine the original town so different from the fashionable resort below. For more on one of these streets, Via del Ghetto, see our article The Jewish Ghetto of Lerici

Lerici Piazza Garibaldi
Piazza Garibaldi & San Rocco  Photo-Paolo da Reggio
These streets will bring you down, one way or another, to Piazza Garibaldi. This Piazza is lined with restaurants, cafes, and bars. It also has, on the sea side, one of the bus stops you might use for your bus or parking navette.  Near the bus stop is the tour boat landing where you can get tickets or inquire about boats to Portovenere, La Spezia, Le Cinque Terre, Tellaro, Bocca di Magra, etc. Across the street from Piazza Garibaldi is the picturesque Oratorio and Tower of San Rocco. The tower began as a Roman watchtower and the Oratorio dates from 1287. 




To the right of the church is Via Cavour, a charming little street that leads uphill. There are neighborhood shops, touristy shops, snack and food shops, and restaurants whose menus tantalize, including Bonta Nascosta near the top of the street. Tourists and locals bump along, everyone gawking at the shops and the menus and each other. When you come back down Via Cavour, turn right for more shops, including art galleries and an antique shop or two. Perhaps you'll notice a stairway or two leading off up the hill. Follow one up for a while and see a quieter part of the melange of history, resort, and hometown that is Lerici.


Lerici seaside vacation walk
Lerici, Liguria. Walk along the Gulf of La Spezia.
Along the harbor front across the street, you will be drawn to a shaded garden promenade that is our walk. The people watching is excellent here, since there is a playground and benches and an open area. You can pretty much depend on seeing grandparents with little babies, Senegalese sidewalk vendors, old guys trading opinions, and future soccer stars (note the no soccer sign). If you are here on Saturday, though, the market takes place along here, so the experience will be yet more lively.
As you continue to walk, you'll turn a corner and reach the small second bay called Lido, which is devoted to a pay beach club. It's seems quite family oriented, and always well maintained, but there's not much action.  Soon the sidewalk rises and curves to the third bay, which is Venere Azzurra. This is much larger and there's more to watch. There are pay facilities as well as a free beach. This beach seems to attract more teens and young adults, so there's always something happening - a ball game, a card game, a splash fest, burying a friend, etc. There are a couple of snack bars, and the sidewalk serves as a kind of a peanut gallery where passersby can watch, leer, envy, compare, and study - all without embarassment. Halfway along Venere Azzurra there's a bus stop and also a little side street which leads uphill to the large parking area of La Vallata, mentioned below. If the waves are large, there might be some surfers on the far side of this bay. It's a kind of a theoretical surfing, however, as the waves never seem to cooperate, but the dudes get an 'A' for effort and persistence.

San Terenzo beach, Lerici
San Terenzo, Liguria.
At the end of Venere Azzurra, around a small promontory one reaches the Bay of San Terenzo, the fourth bay. After passing a beachside hotel and pay beach, a lovely scene is revealed. San Terenzo - a string of oceanfront buildings with a church, apartments rising behind, a crescent-shaped, crowded sandy beach, and a castle on a small promontory. No major description is needed because the layout is obvious, but there's still lots to investigate. The beach here is more family oriented, but that's not to say conservative. The bus stop is at the waterfront, and the boat landing is on the breakwater pier.  The well-situated San Terenzo castle is open limited hours, and it's interesting if for no other reason than this phrase from the entrance: "Unique in the entire world, the people built a castle."

Lerici cliffs on the Gulf of the Poets
Lo Scoglio, Mano di Dio.
Beyond the castle, the fifth bay, Marinella, is a sheltered, cliff-lined little cove with a tiny beach. It is the foreground - without the walkway - in Mr. Newman's painting. The beach is so perfectly human-sized, there's always at least one person here, even if there's no hope of privacy.  If you keep walking past a little gate on the far side, the sidewalk ends and there are views of the rugged Gulf shore.  If the surf is heavier here, sometimes there's a 'thunderhole' where air, trapped by waves under the rocks, creates a great booming sound as it escapes.


Finally, perhaps you'll remember this walk with a line of poetry from the late San Terenzo poet, story teller, and fisherman, Serafino Fedi, known as 'Fino'. Mr.Fedi wrote in dialect and was a popular local character. (see More Info). You may have seen the memorial - posted along the walkway under the San Terenzo castle. The simple phrase captures and honors the nostalgia of human memory, just as painter Newman did:  "Bei mi tempi che va via..." which we translate as  "My sweet bygone days that fade away..."

Arrival By Driving  You can arrive by ATC bus from La Spezia or from Sarzana (see below). You can arrive by boat, with much less risk than Poet Percy Shelly (see below).  But most likely you will arrive by car. Yes, you can arrive by car, but usually not directly to the center.  The center of Lerici and San Terenzo is a ZTL (Zone of Limited Traffic) in the summer (June 15 to Sept.15) and on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays year round and thus requires a permit to enter, enforced strictly by police and cameras (N.B. the ZTL dates can vary in the political winds). Mercifully, Lerici has very clear ZTL signs with red and green traffic lights. ZTL Details (IT)  And even when you can drive in, the parking is very limited with confusing signs. However, the town has provided satellite parking and two free 'Girobus' routes (little buses a/k/a navette) to make visiting possible even when the ZTL is in force.  Note: If you are staying in Lerici, we would advise you to contact the police or your hotel before you drive into the ZTL .

Renting A Car in Italy  If you drive in urban areas at home, you can drive in Italy. Be sure to educate yourself on a site like this: Slowtrav Driving Intro. Car rental is not cheap, but don't rent based solely on low price. Many frequent renters swear by AutoEurope: Auto Europe.

Lerici gelato, Liguria
Gelato just tastes better when the sea is near.
Parking There are three pay parking lots off the Statale 331, and one parking garage above the town center. See the Overview map for locations. By far the largest is the centrally located La Vallata. Coming from Sarzana, it's a signed right off the statale just after the tunnel Guercio (do not turn off to Lerici at the roundabout before the tunnel). Coming from La Spezia, it's a signed right off the statale just before the tunnel Guercio. Parking fees are paid at a machine (coins onlyand one leaves the receipt visible on the dashboard. In June, 2013, the rate at La Vallata was 1.50 Euro per hour, and parking is 1.00 per hour from October through April, according to signs on the machine. The rates and dates were a bit different at the other lots, so pay attention to the signs. Lastly, if you do get a ticket in the lots, locate and pay the attendant as it will be cheaper - so says yet another sign.

The free Girobuses leave from the bus stops in the center and the top of La Vallata about every 15 minutes. Girobus Routes Map (Percorso PDF at bottom)  One Girobus circles to Lerici and one to San Terenzo. Of course, you can also walk downhill from the La Vallata parking, and you'll join the walk description at Venere Azzurra. From the other two parking areas, you can catch the Girobus on the statale or you can just walk downhill to San Terenzo and start the walk there.

Lerici parking signThe parking garage (unsuitable for large vehicles) above the town center is reached by following the road toward Lerici from the roundabout on the Statale 331. As you descend down into town, you'll encounter the ZTL sign at a tiny roundabout, and the entrance to Parcheggio Lerici Centro is off this roundabout. Take a ticket when you enter, and pay at a machine on the lowest level as you return to your car. The rate in June, 2012, was 1.50 Euro per hour from 8am to midnight, and .50 Euro per hour overnight.


ATC Bus Info. We have written a riveting piece on bus transport Getting Around La Spezia which will give you the skinny on the buses. If you are coming from La Spezia, midday buses leave about every 15 minutes. If you are coming from Sarzana, the buses run about every 1/2 hour. You can catch either bus at stops midroute, of course, and you can see the schedules and stops by going here: Orario (Schedules). The La Spezia-Lerici route is L/S and it begins on pages 48 and it's ticket codice 3. The Sarzana-Lerici route is also L/S beginning on page 48 and it's codice 2. (As we write this, the ATC Google Planning function is down, so we are avoiding mentioning exactly where in La Spezia and Sarzana the buses travel). However, if you drill down on our Overview map (by Google), you'll see little clickable blue bus stops which give ATC route info.

Boat Information. Lerici is served by boats that travel to La Spezia, Portovenere, and the Cinque Terre. The main website for the La Spezia area services is Maritime Coop which posts schedules only when the boats are operating. The boats arrive and depart from a pier near Piazza Garibaldi. You can see Summer 2013 schedules in our riveting story Cinque Terre Portovenere Lerici Boat/Ferry Schedules.

Taxi Information Taxi service is relatively affordable. For example, from Lerici/San Terenzo to Tellaro, is 12 to 15 Euro. The taxi stand in Lerici is across the street from the boat dock. One Lerici cabbie, Antonio Venturini, can be reached at  338-1801707. In San Terenzo, the taxi stand is at the major intersection in town, and Giorgio's cell is 338-3403008, and Marco's is 347-2795158.

Where To Stay
If you'll be staying in a Lerici hotel, the following hotels are along the Castle to Castle walk. Listings are from Lerici harbor toward San Terenzo. If you are driving, remember to contact your hotel regarding entry to the ZTL.

Click the Lerici hotel name for information or booking.

 The upscale Doria Park Hotel is on the hill which overlooks the center of Lerici. It's quite close, but you must climb a bit from town. The views of the Gulf are the compensation and its restaurant is well regarded. The entrance by auto does not involve the ZTL.

Hotel Shelley Delle Palme is close to the center of Lerici and on the lungomare. There are balconies on the front rooms. On our very first trip to Liguria, we enjoyed a bottle of wine on one while watching a lightning storm highlight the Gulf's points of interest.
Lerici Hotel at Venere Azzurro Beach
Hotel Florida overlooking Venere beach.

On the little bay called Lido, further along the lungomare, is the Hotel del Lido.

Hotel Florida overlooks the beach at Venere Azzurra, and also has balconies in the front.

Next door is the aptly named Hotel Venere Azzurra, also overlooking the Venere Azzurra beach, and also with balconies.

Hotel San Terenzo is a new hotel on the Lerici side of San Terenzo's bay. It is set below the lungomare, close to the water.

The B&B Il Nido is less than a 100 meters from the water, centrally located in the village of San Terenzo. 



Spaghetti allo Scoglio, Lerici
Spaghetti allo Scoglio. Mano di Fatima
Restaurants
For info on area specialties, see our article,  A Guide to the Local Food of La Spezia. For help with Lerici restaurant options, see our notated map of this Caprione Promontory, Restaurants Map. We've given info on restaurants we've tried, that Megan Guerrera of Bella Vita Italia has reviewed, and that a friend, Julie H., has tried. For planning purposes, note that the restaurants are concentrated more on the Lerici Harbor side of the towns. Lerici also maintains a listing on its website. Town Restaurant List  For picnic supplies, there are small supermarkets and prepared food outlets within an easy walk in both Lerici and San Terenzo.


More Information

Americans Abroad Gallery    MFA, Boston
Americans Abroad Gallery    MFA, Boston
MFA, Boston This article was prompted by the prominent display of the painting above, Gulf of Speziain the Americans Abroad Gallery of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It's in the recently opened wing  Art of the Americas.  The 1884 oil painting is by Henry Roderick Newman, an American painter, (1843–1917) best known for his water colors.  You can read a nice description of this work at: MFA Gulf of Spezia and also click to a larger view.


NY Times Lerici The New York Times has discovered Lerici, and they sent a good and sensible writer.


Fino Fedi. Friends of Mr. Fedi have posted two nice video tributes on You Tube. Photos of San Terenzo, both new and old, accompany Fino singing and playing. 'Bei mi tempi..' and  Il Piu Bel Fior.

Bella Vita Italia Megan Guerrera has created a nice blog and website from Lerici. She's offers rental lodging, reviews restaurants, blogs on many subjects, and is always enthusiastic for her adopted city and country.

Lerici Hikes. The Caprione peninsula on which Lerici is located has hikes every bit as enjoyable as those of Cinque Terre. We describe two in detail: The Forgotten Villages of the Gulf of the Poets and The Brides Walk, Ameglia to Tellaro


Written by Martha Bates

4 comments:

  1. This walk sounds wonderful can't wait for a cooler day to try it!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What an excellent description of a beautiful walk. You had me with the painting, it's so evocative of time and place - just gorgeous.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Took this walk just yesterday. We are in the Cinque Terre for a week, but wanted to see a bit more of what Liguria is like. We had a quiet day walking the Lungomare and delighting in the October sun. The beach scene was quiet but not totally absent of people. I think summer must be a madhouse, though! Enjoyed local focaccia with spinaci for lunch. Bus to and from La Spezia was easy enough, although we had to ask to figure out the right stop for the return trip. Thanks for the guide that allowed us to expand our Ligurian experience!
    Laurel
    Rome, Italy

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you so much for all the great info. Just got back from Italy and we spent some time here. The weather was a bit rainy but I was dauntless looking for writing ideas...I found plenty!! I love Liguria

    ReplyDelete