33 residents, a handful of houses, a historic inn, unspoilt nature: this is Palmaria, a two-square-kilometer island in the Gulf of La Spezia, located right in front of Portovenere.
The island was, from the end of the 19th century to March of this year, a post of the Italian Navy. While always open to the public, it mainly served as a residence for military personnel. Since last Spring, the properties on the island have been passed on to the municipality of Portovenere and the plan is to reconvert those old buildings into possible tourist accommodations.
Palmaria is the ideal destination for nature lovers. There are no cars on the island, and no crowds like in nearby Cinque Terre.
A good way to start exploring the island is by sea: hop on a boat departing Portovenere and sail around the coast. You will even get to see the tiny islands of Tino and Tinetto; the archipelago, together with Portovenere and the Cinque Terre, was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1997.
Another great way to see the island is on foot: the classic trek, “Giro dell’isola” (Tour of the island), is an easy two-and-a-half-hour walk (9 kilometers), with several panoramic viewpoints, including one embracing the whole gulf: the terrace by the Umberto I fort, an imposing building dating to the 19th century. Along the way, you will find several trails descending to the sea; if you keep going and climb another 600 meters you will reach the viewpoint where you can see tiny Tino from up above. The highest point on the island can also be reached via this trek: Palmaria at its wildest, overhanging rocks and the screeching of seagulls. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Tuscan islands of Capraia, Gorgona and Elba.
Palmaria can be reached by boat from Portovenere in a few minutes or from La Spezia.