Italians have a catchphrase for exactly what the pretty seaside town of Lerici is all about: far niente. It refers to the Italian art of doing nothing. While tourists cram into the popular Cinque Terre because everyone tells them to, Lerici and its neighbors are gloriously free from the English-speaking hordes buzzing to find something to do.
Visiting Lerici on the Gulf of Poets
Lerici overlooks the Gulf of La Spezia shown on the map above, or if you’re a hopeless romantic, you can call it the Gulf of Poets. Yes, Lord Byron swam in the protected waters. Percy Bysshe Shelley had a little place in the neighboring village of San Terenzo, a place of good eats, reasonably priced. Don’t worry if you forget the wandering poetsâ€™ names, signs on dozens of hotels in these parts will remind you of them.
Lerici has a castle perched above brightly colored houses and the harbor. From the placid little harbor there are boats taking you everywhere on the travel writer’s itinerary—and a few places that aren’t. During the tourist season you can float on over to Portovenere and on to the Cinque Terre if you want.
If you thirst for adventure, you can board the little boat that chugs along the craggy coastline to Tellaro, described as â€œmagical in its ambiance, in its ancient and colorful houses facing the sea in layers, in the shaded Ligurian lanes called caruggiâ€ in A Path to Lunch: The Most Beautiful Villages in Liguria.
There are plenty of hotels along the sea in Lerici but be sure to reserve ahead in the warm summer months.
Lerici is where we always go on the first warm day of springtime as it’s not too far from our home in the Lunigiana, northern Tuscany. Our ritual includes a sun-drenched seafood lunch by the harbor, a half bottle or so of the delicious local Vermentino, and a walk along the coast to Shelley’s San Terenzo. It is our rite of spring; it’s like living inside a dog-eared Italian novel set in the golden age and it’s one of our favorite strolls in Italy.
The Walk from Lerici to San Terenzo
So let’s take the Path to Lunch philosophy to heart and practice the balanced virtues of exercise and feasting. We park in the big parking lot that ends just above the waterfront. (In the season we’ll pay at one of the parking kiosks and put the little ticket on our windshield). We follow the road down to sea level on foot. With the endless blue surrounding us, we head not left toward Lerici, but turn right, away from it toward the little town of San Terenzo with its smaller castle.
Along the seaside promenade are resorts with their pay-to-sit beach chairs interspersed with stretches of â€œwildâ€ beaches, where anyone can just plop down and enjoy the sun or jump in the sea. Sun worshipers increase as we round the bend into town, and the trattorie, gelaterie, alberghi, and other signs of Italian good life begin to appear. We see older folks, Italian vacationers who come every year for the joy of having a home away from home where waiters and shopkeepers greet them by name.
Continuing along the coastline, the path becomes concrete and follows the shoreline. Look up and there’s a cafe promising sandwiches that may or may not be open when you want it. Then head back, this time skirting the little pleasure-boat port of Lerici. High on the hill is the castle, the oldest tower of which was built in 1152 during the Pisan occupation of Lerici. The Genovese arrived in 1256 and further revised and enlarged the castle. Today the castle is host to a Museum of Paleontology. Your kids will love the dinosaurs.
The romantic walk from Lerici to San Terenzo is well documented in Castle to Castle Along the Gulf of Poets. By the way, it’s not just a walk, you can also swim from Lerici to San Terenzo and this swim has a name: Il Miglio Blu, or The Blue Mile. Small buoys spaced 50 meters apart start just under the castle at Lerici and lead swimmers along the coastline to San Terenzo, ending at Shelley’s house, the Villa Magni, known locally as the Casa Bianca, or White House. The rules of the route are posted on a sign in the harbor.
Now for that Lunch…
The port is not only home to the boats that take you around the gulf, but it’s also lined with restaurants as you might expect. Most are quite acceptable. If not, the sun and sea will calm your displeasure soon enough.
If you’d like the real Lerici experience, find the tunnel that goes under the castle and emerges at a terrace overlooking the sea. Zounds! There’s a restaurant on the terrace! And it’s quite a good one. Ristorante Ciccillo a Mare is just the place to remind you that you are out for a seaside meal. You don’t want pretentious waiters and high prices. The adventurous among you might want polpo, octupus. It’s tender here and highly recommended. The wine list has that local Vermentino, great with seafood. Pig out. Your walk justifies a long meal and the great coffee you’ll have after.
If you’d like to eat award-winning pizza, head to Pizzeria La Gerla or if you want to eat inside a proper restaurant, we also like Il Frantoio in town just behind the port on Via Cavour. For good eats in San Terenzo, we recommend La Palmira.
How to Get to Lerici, the Cinque Terre and Other Compelling Destinations
There is no train station in Lerici so if you don’t have a car, take a bus from the port city of La Spezia, on the main rail line. From La Spezia you can also take the Cinque Terre Express train that stops in each of the 5 villages.
From La Spezia, ferries travel to Lerici from late spring through early fall, a nice way to arrive. See the Consorzio Marittimo Turistico schedule. From Lerici’s harbor, their boats can also take you to the colorful town of Portovenere or the villages of the Cinque Terre. There is also the little ferry that takes you to Tellaro.