The two Italian ports on our trip are the two little fishing towns of Portoferraio and Porto Venere. The fact that they are both small, Italian and based around the fishing industry is where the similarities end, the two towns are quite different in feel and energy.
Portoferraio is a town in the italian province of Livorno, on the edge of the eponymous harbor of the island of Elba and is the island’s largest city. Because of its terrain, many of its buildings are situated on the slopes of a tiny hill surrounded on three sides by the sea. In June 1814 it was handed over to Napoleon Bonaparte, as the seat of his first exile until his escape in February of 1815. Personally, we are not sure why anyone would want to escape it.
We had signed up for a wine tasting tour on this day, however Brandi was feeling quite ill from the sun and exhaustion the days before so unfortunately we were forced to back out of the excursion. It was sad that we missed it however it gave us the opportunity to wander around Portoferraio, enjoy sights and sounds of the local open air market and buy a hat for Brandi to keep the sun off her head.
Feeling quite burned out, we returned to the ship for lunch and ordered up some a very tasty room service of a properly made caesar salad with anchovies and a Margherita pizza. This gave us the energy to do one last jaunt through the town on the little tourist train with a recorded commentary of the town’s history.
We felt well enough to dine in the restaurant again, and like the night before, made it an early evening – hoping to get our energy back for the next day, at Porto Venere.
Porto Venere is a town located on the Ligurian coast of Italy in the province of La Spezia and is comprised of three villages of Fezzano, La Grazie, and Porto Venere. In 1997 these three villages and the villages of Cinque Terre were designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site. A 12th-century Castello is only part of the local military past as the islands of Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto were all fortified during WWII as part of the axis occupation of the region.
The town reminded us so much of the towns in Cinque Terre (very near here) with its very warm and approachable ambiance. The buildings are also very similar – like colourful toy blocks stacked in the hills. Here, the homes along the waters edge were originally built as defense towers – seven stories tall, and only three meters wide, each. The streets are narrow and winding, built to be easily barricaded – throughout the town, many walls and archways still stand today, despite being built in 1161.
Interesting side note on this one: since being in this region in 2008, we’ve considered this area to be probably the most beautiful place we’ve been in the world. When we were speaking to the woman at the “hospitality desk”, she asked where we were from and she said “Oh! I have been there! And Banff! I think you live in the most beautiful part of the world!”.
We walked through an archway in an old brick wall, to find a beautiful little clear-turquoise cove surrounded by huge stone cliffs. There were sunbathers on the rocks, and some swimmers in the crystal clear water. This is known as Byron’s Grotto, after the English Poet who swam across the gulf from there to visit his friend Percy Bysse Shelley at San Terenzo. We could have stayed here all day, but knew we had more of this lovely little town to see. We wandered up to the thirteenth century church of San Pietro, which stands on a rocky tongue of land overlooking the sea – it was built on the site of a Roman temple to Venus. From there we climbed higher still, to Saint Ambrose’s Fortress (built in the sixteenth century) where the views were also breathtaking. At one little vantage point, Brandi turned to Brian and said, “wow, it couldn’t be any more perfect!”, but just then to prove us wrong, a butterfly flitted by.
Once we had taken in all the views we could, we headed back down into town for some focaccia and gelato. After that, we took a stroll along the water’s edge and a rest on a shady bench (within earshot of a very talented piano & flute duo). Our last little jaunt of the day was on a little boat tour of three nearby islands – Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto. They are currently uninhabited, but are impressive sites of rocky cliffs and ruins of military fortifications. Brian very badly wanted to take his camera into said ruins.
By this time, it was late afternoon and so we headed back to Seabourn Legend via tender, as it was a little too big to get right up close to the dock here. Once back on board, we decided to take a dip in the hot tub on the very front tip of the ship. We had yet another perfect meal in the restaurant, and you guessed it – bed time right after. We don’t really understand – we are certainly the youngest passengers on board, but just can’t seem to stay awake for any nightlife!