WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Want to know which big city in Italy isn’t overcrowded with tourists? It’s the picturesque, historic, seaside city of La Spezia, in Northern Italy. I hadn’t planned on going, but changed itinerary and decided to stop in La Spezia on the drive from Parma, rather than go straight to Cinque Terre. I’m glad I did, because La Spezia is a lovely city and there are plenty of awesome things to see and do. It really surprised me and I’m sure it will surprise you too.
La Spezia lies on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, within the Gulf of La Spezia, in the province of Liguria near Genoa. This seaside city has unbelievably managed to stay under the tourist radar. It surprises me that it doesn’t attract more holidaymakers. Many people mistakenly think there isn’t much to see and do here. Most tourists are just passing through La Spezia, a gateway to other more famous destinations, such as Pisa, Florence and Milan, which is a shame, given that everywhere in this beautiful country there are treasures to appreciate. La Spezia is certainly no exception. I stayed a couple of days to check out this charming city.
The city is far less touristy than other major Italian cities, given that travellers don’t give much thought to stopping here, often on their way to Cinque Terre, because it’s so close, or Porto Venere. Many cruise ships dock at the port before heading off to other European locations. But you don’t get that touristy vibe that you do in more popular locations where there is an abundance of souvenir shops, selfie sticks and tour groups.
The beauty is you can actually appreciate real authentic Italian life. You can mingle with the locals who are more patient here, shop in real shops, not souvenir filled stores, and eat real local Italian cuisine in the restaurants, not what tourists expect to eat. In the narrow back streets and little piazzas I found there to be a great atmosphere, filled with wonderful restaurants and cafes and locals out in the evenings.
Places to see
The Port at La Spezia has been a major port of Italy for hundreds of years. It is a naval base, a military arsenal, a large commercial port, a shipyard and the location of many industries which produce such things as metal products and machinery. Cruise ships dock here at the Molo Garibaldi.
The marina is full of beautiful yachts and boats for you to admire. For marine enthusiasts there is a Naval museum to explore, the Museo Tecnico Navale (Technical Naval Museum), with historical naval paraphernalia and ships on display. La Spezia has always been a major military base of Italy, and still employs military personnel. It was heavily bombed in WWII and then rebuilt.
Ponte Thaon di Revel bridge is a modern new structure built in 2013 and named after a WWI Admiral. It is a bascule bridge, which opens to allow for tall boats, which you can stroll across and enjoy the views of the port over the water.
Garden and Walks
The beautiful Parco Giardini Pubblici (Public Park Gardens) is near the waterfront, as is the Passeggiata Costantino Morin (Promenade of Constantino Morin). Delightful palms along the promenade give the area a tropical feel. It’s a popular area to stroll along, admiring the spectacular yachts moored in the port.
I spent quite a bit of time down here by the waterfront, as it was close to my hotel, the NH La Spezia. The scenic view of the gardens and the port from our hotel room was absolutely delightful.
The medieval Castello di San Giorgio (Castle of Saint George) that still exists today, dates from 1371 and was once a fortress. Now there is an archaeological museum inside of relics and statues carved from stones dating from pre-Roman times of the Neolithic Age and other pieces of the Roman era, including marble carvings.
The castle sits high up on the hill that overlooks the Gulf of Poets. So there’s a nice uphill walk, well worth it for the magnificent views of the gulf. Some of the castle’s features are original, such as the walls with arrow slits.
Open Wednesday to Mondays.
Golfo dei Poeti (Gulf of Poets), also known as the Gulf of La Spezia, is a gorgeous part of the Italian Liguria region, with pretty cliff-side buildings over the sky blue waters. It was home to some of the most famous poets and writers in the world who drew inspiration from the natural picturesque surroundings. English writers Percy and Mary Shelley, D. H. Lawrence, Lord Byron and the Italian literary master, Dante Alighieri, who wrote ‘The Divine Comedy’, all lived or worked here.
An archipelago of 3 islands sit in the Gulf which you can venture out to from La Spezia by hiring a boat or by ferry in the summer months. They are Tino, Tinetto and Palmaria with lovely beaches, caves and rugged coastline. Palmaria is south of Porto Venere. There is a B&B with a restaurant called Locanda Lorena.
From La Spezia
After touring around La Spezia for a couple of days, I headed off to the famous Cinque Terre coastal towns by train. It takes a mere 8 minutes to arrive at the first town of Riomaggiore. How easy!
Alternatively, you can visit another big port town, Genoa, to the north in 1.5 hours by train. Or Pisa to the south by train also which is only a 50 minute ride. Or Florence, inland, in 2.5 hours by train. Trenitalia is the best option.
TIP: It’s well worth considering first class train travel, for only a small cost extra, to give you more leg room and space for luggage.
Tours I recommend
La Spezia will surprise you, with plenty to see and do. You won’t be disappointed. So please don’t miss it on your travels around Northern Italy.
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