One Of The Most Beautiful Tourist Villages In Italy Is One You've Likely Never Heard Of

One relatively undiscovered destination on Italy's Mediterranean coast is Lerici, which lies 26 miles south of Cinque Terre. Most visitors to the western side of Italy flock those hotspots like Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast, stunning areas that also have well-developed tourism infrastructure. Conveniently, this means that hotel and restaurant personnel probably speak multiple languages, attractions are well marked out, various kinds of tours are in operation, and plenty of online information is available for planning detailed itineraries. But these spots can also get annoyingly crowded. There's nothing less romantic than hiking the "Via Dell'Amore" (Lover's Lane) in Cinque Terre with your sweetheart while hordes of tourists swarm around you with their selfie sticks. But you won't have to worry about fighting crowds in Lerici.

Lerici is located on the southeastern edge of the Gulf of La Spezia, which is also known as the Gulf of Poets.  This is because renowned poets like Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley resided here, mingling with each other and drawing creative sustenance from the area's quietness and natural beauty. According to local legend, Byron once swam from a sea cave in Portovenere all the way across the gulf to Lerici to visit his friend Shelley, a distance of around five miles.  Other writers, artists, and intellectuals have also been drawn to the area, including Dante Alighiere, who even referred to the town in the Divine Comedy.  

Exploring the town and nearby coast

Aside from being a place that stimulates the imagination, Lerici is also an enchanting village that's ideal for on-foot exploration. Downtown is a jumble of candy-colored buildings along the harbor, culminating in a magnificent cliffside castle that overlooks the bay. The Castle of Lerici, which was erected in 1241, is considered one of the most striking in the entire region. A wonderful way to the slow travel trend is to stroll from the Castle of Lerici to the castle in neighboring San Terenzo via the "lungomare," or seaside walk. This route is around two miles (four miles round trip), with much to experience and discover: the impressive castles, the quaint harbor, lovely beaches, and piazzas lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. 

Definitely stop for lunch or dinner (or both) along the way, but make sure you work up an appetite before stepping into a local restaurant. You're going to want to eat — a lot! Focaccia, a Ligurian specialty, is exquisite in Lerici. It comes in many varieties, but the basic theme is thick or thin spongy bread topped with cheese or meat and sprinkled generously with salt, herbs, and olive oil. Other regional specialties are chickpea pancakes, stuffed mussels, and hand-rolled gnocchi, which are little rounded chunks of potato pasta.  After your meal and requisite gelato, if the weather is pleasant, find a spot along the bay to witness the brilliant magic of an Italian sunset over the Mediterranean. 

Beaches and special events

If you're visiting in the warmer months, you'll probably want some beach time, too. No problem there. The town of Lerici itself has some great beaches with even more along the adjacent coast. The Lido di Lerici Beach Club is a beach located on a scenic bay, whose calm and shallow waters make it ideal for swimming. The beach charges an entry fee but offers chairs, umbrellas, showers, and dining options. Those who prefer free public beaches should head to the Ciccillo a Mare, which can be accessed via a tunnel under the Castle of Lerici. There are two lovely cliffside beaches here as well as a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the sea. To explore other area beaches, simply walk along the "lungomare" toward and past San Terenzo, where the coastline is dotted with beaches — public and private, small and large, tranquil and lively. Take your pick!

Besides strolling, eating, and sunbathing, visitors to Lerici can also attend a range of cultural events throughout the year, like the Lerici Music Festival in July and August. The town also hosts the annual Premio Lerici Pea Golfo dei Poeti Prize, a major literary competition established to honor the area's lineage of famous poets. In 2022, Lerici held a special event to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of one of its most beloved poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who sadly drowned in the Gulf of La Spezia on July 8, 1822.