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San Terenzo, Bay of Poets

San Terenzo on a sunny winter's day
An ideal winter Sunday in San Terenzo
Secret places of Tuscany tour

Directly across the Bay of Poets from Portovenere at the southern tip of Le Cinque Terre sits the under appreciated little town of San Terenzo. Two hundred and two years ago Percy Bysshe Shelley woke up in his house on the beach one morning to the sight of his friend, Lord Byron, emerging from the water after swimming across the 4+ miles stretch of water from Portovenere.

San Terenzo, Liguria
The Sunday afternoon passeggiata. Shelley's old house is the white one on the right

Lord Byron was known to be a strong swimmer and 12 years before had famously swum the 2.5 miles across the Hellespont or Strait of Gallipoli, commonly accepted as the boundary between Europe and Asia.

Byron could never have imagined then that two centuries later his achievement would be celebrated every August in San Terenzo by a large number of swimmers who follow his route in a competition for the Byron Cup.

Byron's Grotta in Portovenere
Byron's Grotta in Portovenere

Shelley and Byron were close friends by early 1822 after having met in Geneva several years earlier and then solidifying their friendship with subsequent reunions in Ravenna and Pisa.

Both had fallen in love with Italy and both were forced to flee England for different reasons, never to return. By 1822 Shelley was renting a house called Casa Magri in San Terenzo with his second wife Mary (the author of Frankenstein) and Byron was spending the summer across the bay in Portovenere where today there is a sea cave named after him, la Grotta Byron, to commemorate the place from which he supposedly drew poetic inspiration.

Unlike Byron, Shelley had no affinity for the sea and by many accounts he could not even swim so when a storm capsized his sailboat on his return to San Terenzo from Livorno, he and his two companions drowned. Shelley’s body washed up on the beach at Viareggio several days later in a bad state so he was immediately cremated on the sand.

The funeral of Shelley painted by Louis Edward Fournier
The funeral of Shelley painted by Louis Edward Fournier in 1889 that hangs in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. Fournier painted the scene as if in winter to make it more gloomy when in reality it was a hot August day.

Legend has it that Shelley’s waterlogged heart would not burn, prompting his friend Lord Byron to pluck it from the fire, preserve it and present it later to his widow who kept it for the rest of her life wrapped in Shelley’s famous elegy to the poet John Keats who had died the previous year in Rome on his way to visit Percy and Mary Shelley in Pisa.

As an aside, Lord Byron himself was to die only two years later having become a hero of the Greek war of independence against the Ottoman empire. The life of an English Romantic poet in those days was remarkably short.

The plaque on Shelley's house in San Terenzo, Liguria

Even two centuries later it is easy to see why Shelley was attracted to San Terenzo and his house remains standing today, still painted white but now with a plaque on it commemorating Shelley’s residence there in 1822.

The town retains much of its charm, being much less famous than the neighboring town of Lerici, and on a sunny Sunday in February it’s also much easier to find a parking spot in San Terenzo than in Lerici, though everywhere on the Ligurian coastline can be a parking nightmare in the summer months.

San Terenzo, Liguria

We’ve mentioned before the beneficial winter microclimate of the Riviera di Levante when describing Moneglia and here not very far away in San Terenzo the warm sun allows everyone to sit outside in comfort with the cold winds from the north-east blocked by the Apuan Alps that tower over this stretch of coastline.

San Terenzo, Liguria

February remains a very underrated month for visiting Italy but for year-round residents like us it’s nice for a change to hear only Italian voices in attractive places like San Terenzo.

We’ve also written before, in our Camogli article, about the usually reliable tactic of choosing a restaurant away from the main seafront promenade in favor of one somewhere in the narrow backstreets.

La Creuza de Mauri restaurant, San Terenzo

These restaurants typically have to work harder for their customers as they can’t rely as much on passing traffic and they tend to have a loyal Italian clientele.

Our restaurant pick in San Terenzo was La Creuza de Mauri, whose name was inspired by a famous song (and album) by the legendary Genovese singer Fabrizio de André. The lyrics, which are all in the dialect of Genova, are about sailors, fisherman and traditional Genovese dishes so a good choice for the name of a restaurant in Liguria.

Among the five dishes the three of us ordered for lunch the following ones stood out for us. A primo piatto of fregola sarda (tiny Sardinian pasta that is dried and toasted until it resembles cous-cous) with mussels, clams and slivers of calamari (top left photo below).

Another primo piatto of artichokes and calamari served with paccheri pasta (top right photo) and finally a secondo piatto of polpo in crosta di mais (bottom left photo). All washed down with a very good bottle of Vermentino from the nearby Colli Apuani. A very small DOC that we need to explore more because our Ligurian vermentino expertise is mostly concentrated in the adjacent Colli di Luni where Ottaviano Lambruschi is located.

The final bill for 3 people came to 115 euros, not unreasonable for a good seafood restaurant in a chic place like San Terenzo.

The castle of San Terenzo, Liguria

On a promontory known for very good reason as Tana dei Turchi sits the San Terenzo castle. First constructed as a simple watchtower in 1360 it was heavily fortified a century later to defend the village from the increasingly aggressive Ottoman raiders.

They were a constant threat for hundreds of years along the Ligurian coastline which resulted in the construction of many defensive fortifications, including the one at Zoagli in the 16th century. The people of San Terenzo stage a re-enactment every year in full medieval costume of one of the more famous skirmishes.

San Terenzo as seen from across the bay in an early winter sunset
Shelley's house is one of the last in town to see the final rays of the setting sun in winter


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