La Spezia (The spice) is a gateway to the Cinque Terre, one of Italy’s most beautiful and romantic spots along the Ligurian coast. It is a quiet and tourist free city and a good place to start when exploring the area. If you want to save a few Euros, the hotels and restaurants are not as expensive in La Spezia as in the nearby tourist towns. So, La Spezia could be a good place to use as a base during your stay. The best way to explore La Spezia is on foot; the locals are friendly and are more than willing to help.
When I first glanced at La Spezia, I saw what appeared to be an important trading area and military center with a crowded, industrial harbor. Its vistas are not as beautiful as those of the surrounding towns on the coast and I almost skipped La Spezia all together, thinking that there would not be anything of interest in this town.
However, as I strolled from the pier through the public gardens to Via Prione, and into the historical center (the downtown area), I quickly learned that the city has passed through many periods of significant historical development and is a good place to learn about a wide variety of architectural styles. You can find traces of Medieval, Renaissance and the Baroque periods, and onward to Liberty, Futurism, Deco and plain Rationalism styles (when straight lines and formality was the fashion). I took my time, after grabing an architectural book, to see how many styles I could recognize. Now, I feel that I can walk through many Italian towns and, architecturally speaking, know what I am looking at!
To get a lay of the land, I started at the pier off of Viale Italia. On a clear day you can see some of the small towns of the Cinque Terra: Porto Venere and Palmaria. The walk along the promenade was pleasant and I could tell that the locals are proud of their town’s history. Across from the harbor is a lovely public garden that offers a very nice stroll. You can cross the gardens to the tourist office, which is located on Viale Mazzini, across the harbor on the opposite side of the park. The tourism office has good maps of the area, and schedules for the boats which take you to visit the many other towns along the shore. The boats leave about every hour until 7 or 8 pm depending on the season.
A few places to visit along the walk:
• The Technical Naval museum – It is a good place to visit if you are interested in Italian naval history and equipment.
• On Via Prione, notice the Civic Theater, built in 1933 and designed by the famous Franco Oliva.
• Piazza S. Agontino, where you will get a feel for La Spezia and its baroque style residential and defensive buildings that look like a row of towers.
• The Diocesan Museum on Via Prione, where old time travelers passed through. This museum displays liturgical and ecclesiastical articles.
• Castello S. Girogio, which now houses the municipal archaeological collection. Even if you are short of time, the Castello visit is a must!