Portovenere, Liguria, Italy

Have you ever wondered why we refer to Heaven as if it’s slice-able, like some luscious pie or dessert? In Italy where religious icons abound, and food and sharing is a national pass-time, I’m sure they have. So it seems not only fortuitous but inevitable that tourists are going to experience a spiritual connection with food when travelling in Italy. We had several of these culinary epiphanies, our first on the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terra.

Across the small bay from Portovenere in Italy lies a rugged Island called Palmaria. This 1.6 square kilometer rock is world heritage listed, probably because evidence has been found in caves of human habitation over five thousand years ago. Why pre-historic man wanted to live on a rocky triangle shaped mountain Island, in caves accessible only by sea when the mainland was just 10 minutes away remains a mystery.

If you google Palmaria, you’ll find the island has only one restaurant. It’s called Locanda Lorena and it owns its own Venetian water taxi that collects and returns patrons from Portovenere. It’s location is superb complete with a romantic outdoor dining terrace and a gentle slope to the sea that leads the eye back across the bay to the colourful houses climbing their way up the steep Ligurian hills.

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We discovered Palmaria, not because we were looking for Locanda Lorena or fine dining, but because a water taxi driver in nearby La Spezia recommended it to us a perfect swimming beach. He didn’t know we were Aussies so as it turned out his idea of a perfect beach didn’t include soft sand and warm water for swimming but hot rocks and cold pools for floating.

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And his ferry boat, rather than stopping at the sheltered Locanda Lorena side of the Island, which would have been an acceptable compromise and compensation, landed us on the opposite southern side of the Island, the one that faces the open sea. The ferry dock was in a remote area near high overhanging cave-riddled cliffs, an abandoned black marble quarry and a naval base.

Pozzale the locals call it and when our negotiations with arriving naval staff failed to secure us a return trip to La Spezia or Portovenere, we were forced to wander the rocky quarry, steep paths and cliffs in abject misery. 

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We even floated in the cold Mediterranean, much as the ancient Greek Odesseus must have done while waiting to return home, and although our wait was only four hours for the returning ferry it stretched before us like his 10 years.

And then we discovered a RESTAURANT! It was rustic, perched on top of the cliffs with one waiter and an elderly man who sat on a chair in the shade taking customers money. We were its only customers.

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We ordered food and wine from the simple menu and then settled down to wait, unable to maintain our petulant moods with the view, the sunshine and the other diners, who began arriving in their private yachts and designer clothes. We were entertaining the idea that maybe they knew something we did not when our food arrived and…..  it was …..simple perfection.

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The steamed garlic mussels served with crunchy bread, olive oil and lemon we demolished, and the whole charcoal grilled fish, we’d almost eaten before we remembered to take a photo. The desserts weren’t so lucky but were equally delicious and we were so relaxed we unfortunately forgot to record them completely.

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Google still maintains Locanda Lorena is the only restaurant on Palmaria and we’re happy for it to stay that way but what the privileged few and we now know is that when you stumble off the well worn tourist path along the Cinque Terra, after the initial shock, you might just find yourself in a small slice of heaven.

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3 Responses to A small slice of Heaven: Palmaria, Italy.

  1. Ooh I love finding that unexpected hidden foodie treasure while on holiday. What a fab meal and what an amazing view, too.

  2. That does look like a slice of heaven.

  3. What a wonderful experience! Italy is a magnificent country, now another place I need to add to my dream holiday list :-)

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