The port at the head of the majestic Gulf of La Spezia, an impressively sweeping panorama of islands and rough headlands renamed the Gulf of the Poets, is workaday La Spezia.
A major naval and shipbuilding centre, it has a fine art gallery, the Museo Amedeo Lia, probably the finest collection of medieval and Renaissance art you can enjoy on a holiday to Liguria.
Sandwiched between the hills and the sea, La Spezia is now a largely pedestrianized grid of streets behind the palm-fringed harbour front promenade of Viale Mazzini and busy Via Chiodo, focused around the main pedestrian spine of Via del Prione and the central market square of Piazza Cavour, where there is a great selection of fish and other stalls. An excursion to this part of the port will bring you right into the heart of La Spezia where the Museo Amedeo Lia has a large and surprisingly interesting collection, including bronzes, illuminated manuscripts and a wide array of paintings, including lots of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italian works, in a restored seventeenth-century Franciscan convent.
At the western end of the seafront is the vast naval Arsenale. Just to the left of the entrance, the engaging Museo Tecnico Navale contains lots of wonderful figureheads, models of ships, submersibles and other nautical artefacts.
Before continuing your holiday around Italy you have to stop off at the breathtaking folded coastline of the Cinque Terre (Five Lands) that stretches between the beach resort of Levanto and the port of La Spezia. It’s named for five tiny villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – wedged into a series of coves between sheer cliffs, whose comparative remoteness and dramatic positions make the region the principal scenic highlight of the whole Riviera.