La Spezia and its surroundings
When one thinks of Liguria, places like San Remo, the Cinque Terre, Genoa, Imperia, Portovenere, and Portofino are the first that come to mind. But there’s another Liguria, one yet to be discovered, made of back roads, alternative routes, and wonderfully authentic places. Such as La Spezia and its surroundings.
Where is La Spezia located?
Where is La Spezia? The province of La Spezia covers the southernmost and easternmost parts of Liguria. Its capital, also called La Spezia is the second-largest city in Liguria in terms of population: 94,000 inhabitants. Being very extensive, the province of La Spezia carries features typical of its Ligurian identity alongside those of the neighboring areas and regions. Among these, Lunigiana, a strip of land shared by Liguria and Tuscany, and its historical heritage, play an important role.
Today, La Spezia is an important naval base and industrial center. It is located on the tip of its namesake gulf, 100 km from Genoa and just over 20 km from the border with the province of Massa-Carrara, in Tuscany.
The Gulf of La Spezia includes 13 townships.
To the west:
- La Spezia Center
- Le Grazie
- Porto Venere.
To the east:
- San Terenzo
- Blue Venus
Southeast of La Spezia
Continuing southeast towards Tuscany, you’ll find other charming towns, including Lerici, Arcola, Ameglia, Sarzana, Montemarcello, Bocca di Magra, and Luni.
This area falls is part of the Montemarcello-Magra-Vara Regional Nature Park, an enchanted geographically diverse oasis close at hand. The park includes crosses as many as 18 inland and coastal municipalities between Bocca di Magra, Luni, and the Val di Vara. One can stroll through vineyards, hike in the hillside olive groves, play sports, or even just sample the local wines and mouth-watering local dishes.
What to see in La Spezia: must-visit landmarks
Planning a visit to La Spezia? If you are, you’re probably wondering what there is to see.
La Spezia’s most fascinating sights include:
- Il Castello di S. Giorgio
- The 15th-century cathedral (rebuilt in 1945); the Romanesque-style Church of Santa Maria Assunta;
- The naval arsenal (1861-69), and adjacent Naval Museum;
- Il Museo del Sigillo;
- The Center for Modern and Contemporary Art (CAMeC);
- The Amedeo Lia Museum, which houses paintings and sacred art;
- The Giovanni Podenzana Ethnographic Museum, with the history of Lunigiana.
Although few people know it, La Spezia’s historic center is first and foremost a beautiful place to discover on foot. Take a walk in the Parco Allende, admire the view of the gulf from the harbor gardens, or head up to the new Parco delle Mura footpath, and admire the view.
Exploring the surroundings of La Spezia
The province of La Spezia can be divided into 3 areas:
- The Gulf of Poets and Portovenere Regional Nature Park;
- The Riviera, including Cinque Terre;
- Val di Vara and Val di Magra.
Read on for details on the most picturesque villages in the area.
1. The most beautiful villages in the Gulf of Poets and Portovenere Regional Nature Park
The Portovenere Regional Nature Park is one of those places that can change one’s life. Off-the-beaten-tourist-track, it offers authenticity and biodiversity at its best. Plus, it provides visitors with plenty of things to do: walking, boating, canoeing or kayaking, diving, wine tasting, shopping, and much more.
Learn more about what you can do and see in the park.
The elegant, imposing Church of San Pietro “seals” the gulf, providing glimpses of refined beauty. It is one of the most iconic symbols of Portovenere, one of the 13 villages of the Golfo dei Poeti. The town is a true gem, rising splendidly among the rugged landscape and visible from both land and sea. History, culture food and wine, shopping, and breathtaking vistas make it a key destination for all those who wish to enjoy intense and unforgettable experiences.
Learn more about the village of Portovenere and its beaches.
Lerici, Venere Azzurra, and San Terenzo
Lerici is a small seaside town located on the eastern side of the gulf, opposite San Terenzo. The town is dominated by the Castle of San Giorgio, an imposing fortification that dates back to the Middle Ages.
Spectacular views, and beaches no less seductive than those of Portofino and Cinque Terre, are what make this short stretch of the Ligurian coast fascinating.
The village of Lerici is extremely picturesque. Illustrious writers and poets, such as Dante, Shelley, Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and Byron, have stayed here and drawn inspiration from its villas and seafront vistas.
Continuing toward La Spezia, you’ll find San Terenzo and Venere Azzurra.
What to see in Lerici?
You can visit Castello di San Giorgio (where temporary art exhibits are held), go shopping or explore the sites the romantic poets loved. You can stroll through the town center, and discover the surroundings; make sure you don’t miss the Fiascherino beach!
San Terenzo, a hamlet part of the Lerici municipality, is located just beyond Venere Azzurra. The famous poets and noble families of the past used to stay in San Terenzo’s grand villas. Villa Magni, for instance, was home to Mr. and Mrs. Shelley, Lord Byron, and other Romantic poets, while D’Annunzio and the playwright Sem Benelli often stayed at Villa Marigola.
Needless to say, the beauty of this area has been marvelously described in verses written in every language.
Two fine sandy beaches, set almost at a right angle, that lie between Lerici and Tellaro. Walk down the short, steep flight of steps that leads to the shore: Fiascherino will surprise you with its out-of-the-ordinary beauty! Remember to bring your snorkeling gear, and extra towels or a gym mat to make sure you’re comfortable.
Tellaro is a small fishing village located on the eastern shore of the Gulf of La Spezia. Part of the municipality of Lerici it ranks among the most picturesque villages in Italy. The symbol of the town is, curiously enough, an octopus. As the story goes, in the 1600s a giant octopus saved the population from the pirates by ringing the city bells and waking everyone up!
2. The Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is part of the surroundings of La Spezia as well. It will take you just 20 minutes by car, or train, to travel from La Spezia to Riomaggiore.
This fabled area offers visitors breathtaking landscapes that are a rare and unique blend of natural beauty and human skill.
The garden terraces are among the Cinque Terre’s most stunning features: used for centuries to grow grapes and olives, they are supported by some 6,729 km of dry stone walls. The scenery is truly spectacular: these incredible feats of ingenious engineering have molded the land, allowing the area’s inhabitants to farm vegetables and produce olive oil and wine, such as the famous Sciacchetrà.
3. Val di Vara and Val di Magra
If you’re looking for authentic local villages to explore, and curious about the inland, you can’t miss Val di Vara and Val di Magra. Verdant valleys, low hills, and lovely little villages such as Pignone, Varese Ligure, Vezzano, and Brugnato are what you’ll find!
Learn more here.
Located just 30 minutes from La Spezia, Sarzana is renowned for its cultural events (markets, exhibitions, festivals, and concerts) and medieval fortifications. These include two castles: the Sarzanello Fortress (the old Bishop’s Palace) and the Firmafede Fortress, built by the Pisans when Sarzana was a border town between the Republic of Genoa and the Medici possessions.
Sarzana’s religious buildings are also interesting: the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, built between 1204 and 1474 in Romanesque-Gothic style, houses remarkable examples of late Baroque and a painted cross by Maestro Guglielmo which dates back to 1138.
Vezzano Ligure – 8 km from the sea and 12 km from La Spezia – rises near the Magra River, straddling the Val di Magra and the Gulf of Poets. Its elevated position makes for exhilarating views of the gulf and allows travelers to get to the coast and inland towns easily.
It’s a pretty town divided into two parts, Vezzano Alta and Vezzano Bassa, and both house a castle and several churches, that testify to their importance over the centuries.
Vezzano’s most beautiful monument? The valley where it rises: rich-scented and dotted by olive groves and luxuriant vineyards that yield a precious wine.
20 minutes from La Spezia, and on the route to Tuscany, Arcola offers the opportunity to admire the urban layout typical of medieval Ligurian villages. Its cobbled streets are arranged in a ring and there’s a striking 11th-century castle, the Castello Obertenghi with a tall five-point tower still standing.
You can also admire the Baroque Church of San Nicolò and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Angels. As the story goes, the shrine was built to honor the spot where Our Lady miraculously appeared on May 21, 1556, and was seen by the five Fiamberti sisters. The shrine’s churchyard is paved with white, red, and black pebbles to form a rose, a customary decorative feature in Liguria.
The ancient village of Trebiano sits atop a hill and offers breathtaking views of the valley. It can be reached in about 30 minutes by car from La Spezia. Once here, you’ll enjoy exceptional views of the Apuan Alps towards Versilia on one side, and vistas of the Lerici hillside on the other. Make sure you visit the parish church, San Michele Arcangelo, with its 16th-century facade, and the ruins of the castle at the top of the hill.
The village of Montemarcello is in the province of La Spezia and counts some 280 inhabitants.
Located at 140 meters above sea level, it is included in the list of Italy’s Most Beautiful Medieval Villages and is renowned for the steep 700-step staircase that leads to the black sandy beach called Punta Corvo.
Montemarcello was founded in 1474 and owes its name to the Roman consul Marcus Claudius Marcello, who defeated the Apuan Ligurians here in 155 BC. You can visit the remnants of the ancient town, which date back to the 15th century. These include the old millstones, now converted into houses, a circular defense tower, and the parish Church of San Pietro.
This area is considered among the most environmentally interesting in Liguria, and as such is protected by specific regulations ever since 1995. The Montemarcello Nature Park offers a variety of spectacular trails, suitable for both experienced hikers and families. The great views, forest scents, and colors make for unforgettable hiking experiences.
Ortonovo – Luni
Ortonovo is the easternmost municipality in Liguria, 36 km from La Spezia and bordering the province of Massa Carrara, Tuscany. The territory of Ortonovo includes the ruins of the Romanesque settlement of Luni, an ancient port center that was at the center of many trade routes in Roman times.
To get an idea about places to visit in Luni, visit this page.